A Corvette dream has turned into a nightmare for an owner of a 1966 Corvette when he found out that his 427 big block had a forged vehicle identification number.
Robert C. Ernst of North Tonawanda, NY found out about the problem after his Corvette was disqualified from a National Corvette Restorers Society judging event in Ontario last summer.
That revelation has led to criminal charges filed against the man who sold him the Corvette with the allegedly false VIN.
The 65 year old Ernst is no stranger to Corvettes. He says he has restored six vintage Corvettes previously, selling each for a profit.
He bought this Corvette from Ronald Ellis of Wilson, NY for $49,700 after seeing the unrestored car at a Riverside collision shop in 2008. “All Corvettes are kind of significant, but being an older one, the ’63 through ’67 [models] are considered special. This had a 427 [cubic-inch] engine,” Ernst told Thomas Prohaska of the Buffalo News. Ernst says he then spent an additional $75,000 to completely restore the Corvette to its original condition. “It’s some of my retirement money,” he said.
On June 9, 2011, Ernst took the Corvette the NCRS show in London, Ontario.
“There are five teams of judges that go over the areas of the car. I was in the second area when the judge asked me if they could take a picture of the VIN tag,” Ernst said. A few minutes later, the judge returned and told Ernst the Corvette was disqualified because the VIN was counterfeit. The judge told Ernst that the number was right for the car, but the lettering font and die marks on the tag were different than the ones GM used originally in 1966.
Ernst said, “They looked at this thing with a jeweler’s loupe,” a specialized magnifying glass.
After returning from the NCRS event, Ernst told his story to an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office.
“Somewhere along the line, the car might have been stolen and recovered,” Ernst said. “It had this weird sticker on it, ‘GA7558.’?”
The investigation showed the Corvette was originally sold in 1966 by a Chevy dealer in Georgia. It was stolen was eventually recovered by police sometime between 1966-1969. Because the original VIN was missing when it was recovered, Georgia’s Department of Motor Vehicles rebranded it with the GA7558 sticker. That of course, pretty much ruined the Corvette for future collectors.
The history of the Corvette also turned up seven previous owners in Niagara County.
Ernst believes that Georgia sticker was on the car when Ellis purchased the Corvette from a previous owner. He believes that Ellis used the existing VIN on the transmission as the basis for forging the new tag. “Apparently, the transmission never left the car,” Ernst said.
The District Attorney’s office charged Ellis with nine felonies – second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, forgery of a VIN, illegal possession of a VIN and five counts of offering a false instrument for filing.
Ellis has pleaded not guilty and the case is pending before the North Tonawanda City Court. Herbert Greenman is an attorney representing Ellis and says that his client had nothing to do with the replacement VIN tag.
“My client’s a terrific guy. He’s got a good job and a good family. He’s never had anything to do with the law,” Greenman said and added “What was happening with the VIN took place long before my client had the car. What Mr. Ernst believes to be a Georgia VIN, my client had nothing to do with.”
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