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Man finds his prized Austin Healey on eBay -- 42 years after it was stolen from his home

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In this image provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. the stolen car sits on small transport trailer as it is delivered to Robert Russell 's home in Texas.

A man whose prized sports car was stolen 42 years ago recovered the vehicle after spotting it on eBay, authorities said Sunday.

Robert Russell, 66, a retired sales manager, told the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department that he had never given up searching for the 1967 Austin Healey after it was stolen from his Philadelphia home in 1970.

Russell recently spotted what he thought was his car listed on eBay by the Beverly Hills Car Club. He checked the vehicle identification number on the website with the one on the car's title certificate and found they were a match, the sheriff’s department said in a news release.


Russell, who now lives near Dallas, Texas, contacted the department in May, and Detective Carlos Ortega tracked down the car in East Los Angeles.

"Detective Ortega located the stolen Austin Healey at the dealership listed in the eBay ad and confirmed that the car was the same vehicle reported stolen by Mr. Russell," the department said.

After working with Philadelphia police to resolve vehicle identification issues, the department told Russell he could pick up his car.

AP

Robert Russell and his wife with the car back in their Texas garage.

He has since brought it back to Texas.

Russell told deputies that he bought the vehicle for $3,000. It's now valued at $23,000.

He said "he continued his search for the vehicle, not for its monetary value, but because it had sentimental value to him and his wife," the department said.

Russdell said he didn't hold out much hope of ever finding the vehicle he paid a friend $3,000 for back in 1968, only to find it stolen the morning after taking his future wife out on their second date.

"The fact that the car still exists is improbable," he told NBCPhiladelphia.com. "It could have been junked or wrecked."

See original story on NBCPhiladelphia.com

Russell and his wife, Cynthia, drove to Los Angeles on June 16 and took possession of the car two days later after paying roughly $600 in impoundment fees.

They also paid about $800 to have the Austin Healey shipped to their Southlake, Texas, home, where it arrived June 23.

"We were probably out $1,500 plus six days of travel and hotel costs," Russell said, NBCPhiladelphia.com reported. "I'm not complaining about any of that. I couldn't get the credit card out of my pocket fast enough."

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The Beverly Hills Car Club said it had no idea the car may have been stolen.

"Beverly Hills Car Club found the Austin Healey on Craigslist and purchased the car from a seller in New Jersey who claimed to have owned the car for 42 years. The VIN matched the registration and paperwork, had no liens and was clear and unencumbered from the State of New York, when it was issued to the seller in 1970," Versa Manos from the Beverly Hills Car Club said in a press release. "In good faith, we purchased the car and paid to have it shipped cross-country, where it was detailed, photographed and displayed for sale on our eBay page."

The Beverly Hills Car Club said it immediately took down the listing after getting a call from Russell  saying that the car was stolen in 1970. The matter was handed over to the dealership's attorney for investigation into Russell's claims.

"To our knowledge, the car had a valid title and there was no report on it being a stolen vehicle, which was apparently due to an error by the Philadelphia Police Department," Manos said. "This could have happened to anyone buying a car on the Internet."

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The car club said it cooperated with local authorities to return the car to its rightful owner.

"We are all very happy that Mr. Russell has gotten his car back," says Manos. "However, we are victims in this situation. We have lost $27,000, which is what we paid for the car plus the cost to ship it to California.”

The car club said  the previous “owner” had the car in his possession for the past 42 years and had been driving the car on a regular basis.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com's James Eng contributed to this report.

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