1959 Chevy Corvette Seized by Police Returned to Owner After 5 Years With $28K in Damage

Rich Martinez’s classic ‘Vette was seized by police after the wrong screws were used to affix the VIN plate following a restoration.

byRob Stumpf| PUBLISHED Nov 2, 2022 11:58 AM
1959 Chevy Corvette Seized by Police Returned to Owner After 5 Years With $28K in Damage
screengrab via KCTV
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We've told you the story of Rich Martinez's 1959 Chevrolet Corvette before: a restored classic seized by Kansas authorities and sent to the crusher despite no wrongdoing by the owner. Now—after five long years—this story is finally coming to an end. Martinez's Corvette has been returned to him, according to local news station KCTV.

The Corvette arrived on the back of a rollback at a Kansas inspection station—the same place where his legal battle first began—late last week. The Corvette's paint, once shiny and glowing with life, was completely covered in a layer of dust from years of storage-related neglect. The Indiana dealership's plate was still affixed to the front of the car and its original temporary registration from 2016 was stuck to the rear. Despite all of the problems, it was a bittersweet moment when a state trooper handed the keys back to Martinez for the first time in five years.

The long legal battle began after Martinez purchased a classic C1 Corvette from an Indiana car dealership in 2016. Per Kansas' titling requirements, the out-of-state purchased Corvette went through an enhanced inspection in order to register it in Martinez's home state. During the process, it was determined that the Corvette had an improperly affixed Vehicle Identification Number plate—rivets were used to hold the plate onto the car rather than its original Phillips-head screws. This occurred during the restoration process before Martinez even purchased the vehicle, and despite other VIN matches on the car and the FBI confirming that it was not stolen, Kansas authorities determined that the car qualified as "contraband." Under Kansas law, the finding was grounds for civil forfeiture. Martinez's $50,000 dream car was seized by police in 2017 and would await its date with the crusher.

Martinez took the seizure to court. Over the next five years, he prolonged the car's destruction while it sat in a state impound lot. It was unclear if Martinez would even get his car back until legislators became aware of the case and formally changed state law in order to exonerate the vehicle and return it to its rightful owner.

Now that the car has been returned, the process of restoring it to its former glory needs to start all over. The once-perfectly-restored vehicle sustained an estimated $28,000 in damages while in storage, and the engine no longer starts after sitting for so long. Sadly, the entire process ended up costing Martinez more than he spent to buy the car in the first place. On top of the damages, the legal fees to contest the crushing of the car would end up costing approximately $30,000. Martinez was reimbursed the maximum amount that state law allowed: $20,000. It doesn't make him completely whole, but at least now Martinez finally has his car back.

“It’s been a long six years,” Martinez said to KCTV. “But it’s home, and we are going to start fresh.”

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