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Abandoned 'Vette's Owner Found

Car stolen from South Florida home while chiropractor was gone.
March 2, 2006

Police have found the owner of a prize-winning, classic fire-red convertible that was mysteriously abandoned two weeks ago in a desolate part of Scottsmoor.

As police investigated, a chiropractor had been about 170 miles south of the town, wondering where the 1960 Chevrolet Corvette he spent three years improving could be -- and who stole it from his garage.

"It's too weird," said 38-year-old Lee Smith of Coconut Creek. "I think a couple of kids took it."

The car enthusiast said he locked his home and garage Feb. 11, and took his family on a three-day trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando. When he returned home, "honestly, I thought someone was playing a joke on me because my garage was wide open."

Corvette enthusiasts have said that kind of car may be worth $25,000 to more than $150,000. Smith wasn't sure about the car's value, but said an Arizona auction company sold a similar modified one last year for $250,000.

Smith reported the vehicle stolen to the Broward County Sheriff's Office. Police found no signs of forced entry.

A Brevard County sheriff's deputy found the Corvette in the area of Interstate 95 and State Road 5A in Scottsmoor.

"It's not every day you see one on the side of the road in Scottsmoor," said Sgt. Andrew Walters, sheriff's office spokesman.

The Broward County Sheriff's Office is still investigating the theft. Smith rode with his 7-year-old son often, but the car's odometer still only read about 34,000 miles.

Smith at first thought professional crooks saw his car, followed him home one day and waited until he left to steal it. But considering the car was stripped of its motor and transmission, he now thinks amateurs stole it.

"It's much more valuable kept together than it is in pieces," Smith said.

Initially, investigators released a photo of the vehicle to the news media and said it was made in 1958 or '59. Covered in the photo were features only the owner would be able to identify, including shiny 17-inch Boyd Coddington rims on the front tires.

But an expert later weighed in, and police broadened the search to Corvettes from 1960, police told Smith.

Police later found records showing the stolen vehicle's identification number was assigned in Pennsylvania. Smith said that's because four years ago, he bought the car for about $32,500 through eBay, the online auction service.

All told, Smith said he has spent $80,000 in parts for the car, but that figure doesn't include the hundreds of hours of labor he paid to have pieces custom-made and installed on the car. He took it to an annual Corvette show, where it won first place three consecutive years for its category.

The Brevard County Sheriff's Office still has the car and plans to return it to either the insurer or Smith.

Smith, unaware about the exact damage, has mixed emotions about the car being found, because he doesn't know how much the $100,000 insurance policy will pay.

"I kind of made my peace with it being gone," Smith said.