Was the Wild Cherry Chevy van from Van Nuys Blvd. stolen or rescued?

*UPDATE*: The “Wild Cherry” saga has taken a very sour turn. Chris Carter of Collinsville, Illinois, has been arrested on felony charges, accused of stealing the then-dilapidated van from a California couple last year. Click here and here to read the latest details.

It’s been a wild ride for “Wild Cherry.” And it’s about to get wilder. The red 1975 Chevrolet custom van, known throughout the vanning community for its appearance in the 1979 movie Van Nuys Blvd., has gained even more notoriety in recent weeks due to an ownership dispute that may end up in court.

According to Teri Maddux, who has been covering the story for the Belleville News-Democrat in Belleville, Illinois, the van’s current owner may not be the owner at all.

Last year, Chris Carter of Collinsville, Illinois, saw a Facebook photo of the dilapidated—and, he presumed, abandoned—van parked just off a dirt road in a California wilderness area. A large tree had crashed onto the roof, and rust and neglect were taking their toll. After Carter, 39, tracked down the van’s whereabouts, he and a friend drove 1900 miles to the location, had a neighbor unlock a gate, loaded the van onto a trailer, and towed it home.

The owner of the property, 54-year-old Laura Godin of Burbank, California, says she never gave Carter permission to take the van. Adding to the controversy, Godin waited six months to report the vehicle stolen, after Carter had finished an extensive restoration and had already planned a cross-country celebration tour. On June 25 she filed a stolen-vehicle report with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Carter claims he discovered the title in the van and used it to reach Godin’s son, Steven Jr., who was “ecstatic” that he was restoring the vehicle. Carter also says he spoke to Godin’s neighbors, who called the van “abandoned.” Those same neighbors unlocked the gate, giving him access to the van, he said.

Wild Cherry Van post restoration
Wild Cherry Van / Facebook

The vanning community is taking sides, calling Carter everything from a hero to a thief (and worse). Godin hasn’t escaped criticism either. The discussion became so heated on Facebook that Bill Hitz, administrator of the Vanner Inc. enthusiast page, recently removed a thread that had generated more than 200 comments. He asked followers to stop posting about Wild Cherry because the discussion had become a “distraction.”

That inspired a group to create its own page, Wild Cherry Van, to continue the conversation. The group says the forum is open to “anything van related,” and encourages discussion, no matter how controversial the topic. “Feel free to talk about what the other groups would block you for even asking about.” And so it goes.

According to Maddux, Carter recently led a group of van owners on the “Wild Cherry Van Run” from Illinois to Los Angeles. Last week, the caravan participated in a car show before cruising Van Nuys Boulevard, just like in the movie. Godin had planned to attend the car show and call police as soon as she saw the van, but Maddux reported that Godin wasn’t feeling well and skipped it.

In addition to the central issue, Carter also upset some enthusiasts by creating a GoFundMe page to help him defray restoration costs (he took in $5908). And he didn’t win any sympathy by posting a photo of himself on social media posing with two California police officers on Van Nuys Boulevard, his middle fingers extended.

Carter’s Facebook page has since been taken down, but the ownership issue may prove not so easy to dismiss.

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