Never say never.
That’s certainly the case for a New Jersey man whose 1965 Corvette disappeared from in front of his house in Kearny, N.J., 36 years ago.
“The car is gone; I’ll never see it again,” Tony Peldunas said he thought at the time. “By the time I woke up (the morning it was stolen), it was probably halfway down south somewhere on a trailer.”
Peldunas normally parked his Corvette in his garage back then, but that particular night, friends and family were pulled in the driveway so he just parked it along the street.
Bad timing to change his routine: His Corvette turned out to be one of six sports cars stolen in the town that night, according to the Kearny Police Department.
An officer explained to him the way the thieves worked that night. “All professionals,” Peldunas said, “they steal a big four-door car, load it up with six or seven people and drive around town at night, and when they see one, they drop a guy off and he steals it. They see another and drop off another guy until they are all done.”
The Corvette carried a lot of sentimental value for Peldunas, who had bought the maroon Sting Ray in the late 1970s and restored it over the years with the help of a neighbor, a high school student whom Peldunas even let drive the car to his senior prom.
Two months ago, though, Peldunas got the shock of his life when his wife, Donna, called him at work to tell him she had gotten a call from the Kearny Police Department, who told her the Corvette missing for 36 years had been found in a small town near Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
“Somebody tried to trade the car in at a car lot,” Peldunas explained. “It was all redone, and apparently the owner of the lot was really into these types of classic cars. He saw the VIN plate had been tampered with. He noticed it had been double stamped.”
After further investigation, authorities wound up confiscating the car, sanding down a spot on the car to find the original VIN, which matched that of Peldunas’ stolen Corvette.
Ironically, the car had been changed so much that Peldunas didn’t believe it was his at first.
“Honestly, the first time I saw it,” he told the New Jersey Herald, “it didn’t hit home to me that it was my car because nothing looked the same. I thought out loud, ‘Maybe if I saw a little bit of burgundy paint on it, I’d believe it.'”
Once home, Peldunas and a mechanic did indeed discover a piece of paint chipped off under the firewall, revealing burgundy paint.
“Then it hit home: Yup, that was my car,” he said. “It was the last thing I ever expected.”
The car had been transformed into a Grand Sport Sting Ray semi-replica (painted silver with blue stripe) with a 500 horsepower V8 engine under the hood and racing harnesses and switches to turn on the car instead of a key inside – and just 300 miles currently showing on the odometer.
The good news is that the car is worth much more – an estimated $30,000 based on the police report – than Peldunas had invested in it back in the day.
“I bought it for less than $2,000,” he said, “but probably put about $6,000 into it at the time.”
Peldunas just wishes he knew where the car had been all these years.
“My wife said, ‘If only the car could talk, what stories it would tell,'” he said.
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