From the San Jose Mercury News, Leslie Griffy reporting…

A car stolen from Palo Alto 31 years ago is headed back to its rightful owner. The 1956 Ford T-Bird – just like the car the blond cruises in during the movie “American Graffiti” – was located in Southern California this week.

Today the owner lives not far from where it was stolen one night in 1976. Palo Alto police are trying to figure out how to get it back to him and sorting out whether he or his insurance company owns the car today.

Tracking the owner down, using 31-year-old records, was no easy task. The original paper report of the incident had been tossed out. But officers tracked the stolen car through old computer systems and gave the owner a call this afternoon.

“He thought I was crazy when I started asking him about the car,” officer Brian Philip said. “He said, `it’s been gone for more than 30 years.'”

Well, now he’d better make room for it in the garage and get ready to take it back on the road. The California Highway Patrol reports it is still in cherry condition.

The odometer read only 24,979 miles on it, according to the CHP. It landed in the CHP’s hands after a Southern California woman bought it from a seller in Ohio. She went to a CHP office to get help finding the vehicle identification number so that she could register the car in California, according to Philip.

Suspicious because the VIN on the title didn’t match the VIN on the car, officers ran the car through a database of stolen vehicles. And they got a hit, 31 years after the report was taken.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like this happen before,” Philip said.

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