By Ben Hooper
Virginia man Tommy Cook was reunited with his 1969 Camaro when he spotted it in a Maryland garage 17 years after it was stolen. Cook said the vehicle had been painted green and given a fraudulent VIN to disguise it. Photo by Bruno/Wikimedia Commons
Dec. 28 (UPI) -- A Virginia man whose 1969 Camaro was stolen 17 years ago was reunited with the vehicle after spotting it in a garage while helping a friend buy another vehicle.
Tommy Cook said the Hugger Orange Camaro was stolen from his auto repair lot in Woodbridge in 2003, and after reporting it stolen he kept renewing the vehicle's missing status with Prince William County police through the mail in the ensuing years.
"I never wrote that car off," Cook told The Free Lance-Star newspaper. "I knew there would be a day and a time when I would get that car back. I didn't know where, but I knew it was out there somewhere."
Cook said he had no leads until 17 years later, when a friend considering the purchase of a 1968 Camaro asked him to take a look at a vehicle listed for sale online by a Maryland man near La Plata.
Cook said he arrived at the auto shop to look at the 1968 Camaro, but his attention was grabbed by a hoodless 1969 Camaro in the corner of the garage.
The man told Cook the green car had originally been painted Hugger Orange, the color of his stolen car. Cook said he took a look at the dashboard VIN and thought it seemed suspicious, so he checked the VIN in another spot under the hood -- and it matched his missing car.
The Charles County Sheriff's Office in Maryland had the Camaro towed to a storage lot, and Cook then had it towed to his new shop in Spotsylvania.
Cook said the car has received some upgrades since he last owned it -- including an engine being installed in the formerly-engineless vehicle. He said the car had apparently changed hands four times since it was stolen in 2003.
"Some people had put money into it," Cook said. "It was better than it was when it was stolen, but it's still an ugly green."
Police in France solved a missing vehicle case after an even longer amount of time had elapsed in 2017. Chalons-en-Champagne police said a property owner called authorities to report a muddy pond had receded amid drought conditions, revealing a the top of a Peugeot 104 buried in the muck.
Police determined the car had been reported stolen from its third owner in 1979 -- 38 years before it was found in the swamp.