Story highlights

Robert Russell's 1967 Austin-Healey was stolen in 1970 in Philadelphia

He tracked it to a dealership in East Los Angeles

Authorities in Philadelphia and Los Angeles helped to return the car to its rightful owner

CNN —  

It was a reunion more than four decades in the making.

Almost 42 years after Robert Russell’ s prized 1967 Austin-Healey sports car was stolen, he has it back, thanks largely to his own detective work.

Off and on for years, Russell, who lives in Texas, trolled the Internet looking for his vehicle, which was stolen in 1970 from his home at the time in Philadelphia. He finally struck gold, finding what looked to be his car being sold on eBay and kept at a dealership in East Los Angeles.

Viral vigilantism, Tony Hawk style

Russell spoke with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, enlisting its help. All those years later, he still had the car’s title that listed its vehicle identification number (VIN), which matched the VIN on eBay.

But there was one last catch. The car was not registered in the National Crime Information Center, an electronic clearinghouse of crime data.

So over the next few weeks, Russell and Sheriff’s Detective Carlos Ortega were in touch with the police in Philadelphia. As it turned out, the car’s VIN was incorrectly recorded at the time of the theft.

The error was corrected, and Ortgea was able to go to the dealership and confirm the car was, in fact, the one that was stolen.

He took possession of the vehicle, which in its current condition is estimated to be worth around $23,000, according to the sheriff’s department. Russell and his wife later arrived in Los Angeles to pick up the car – righting a wrong after 42 years.

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