Classic car theft
Special report – who’s stealing classics, where they’re going and what you can do to help stop it
‘Classic thefts are higher than they have ever been’
It has long been accepted wisdom that classic cars were not on thieves’ radar. Too unusual, no ready market, too distinctive and noticeable. But times are changing and classic thefts are higher than they have ever been, according to vehicle crime consultant, Ken German. He tells us, ‘In the UK more than 27 rare classic cars have been reported stolen within the last month. These include E-types, 911s, Minor convertibles, a Sunbeam Tiger, early Minis and eight rare Fords. Also an MGB, captured on CCTV being taken in broad daylight. None of these has so far been recovered.
‘Five years ago the media reported a rise in classic car theft, with certain areas of the country a target for Minis, Escorts and VWS. Now social media sites devoted to classics suggest all types of classic vehicle are under threat – in most areas.
‘Demand on the black market and “dark net” for rare cars is growing. In the enthusiast markets of today – Asia, Africa, China – due to forgery and fraud, bribery and where few questions are asked, classics can be sold for strong prices all day long.
While only 15 per cent of stolen classic cars are ever found in good condition, another three per cent are recovered severely damaged or completely burned out, attributable to opportunists or vandalism.
‘Classic vehicle fraud is on the increase throughout Europe and criminals exploit internet access to comprehensive factory records, helpful and informative owners’ clubs and enthusiast sites helping fraudsters to fake histories, counterfeit registration documents, dating certificates, etc.
‘A stated legal case decrees a stolen vehicle remains the owner’s property. Anyone else who subsequently has it in their possession can never legally own it or pass title to anyone else. That said, identification remains difficult, particularly if a car is in pieces minus all its numbers, perhaps even with the paint removed. Adjudication in a court of law will need at least six or seven unique alterations, marks and additions made or observed by the original owner prior to theft to convince them.
‘Retrieval of erased, altered or re-stamped serial numbers using chemical or heat treatments to gather evidence can be done but is expensive – too costly for police other than in connection with a very serious crime. Refurbished dynamos, magnetos and distributors all have their restorers’ initials for their own reference and these too have been useful in proving ownership of a car.
‘With the lack of both required expertise and funding for such evidence, for what is still perceived as a low priority crime, police are outsourcing the specialist classic identification skills they once had to experts and enthusiasts for their opinions on allegations of theft and disputes.
‘Tracking companies that follow and seize stolen vehicles (several post 90 per cent plus recovery rates) are working with police, as are specialist security firms who supply transponders and covert DNA markings that assist police in identification and recovery of stolen items.’
These are just some measures to be considered seriously by all classic owners. Hanging onto your beloved vehicle is a whole lot better than trying to replace it. Especially as any emotional attachment with a car may be gone for good.
1960 Mini on the left was stolen from Hackney, London. It had been a gift from Anne Rogers (right).