38 Years in a Stolen Car

11:23:00 AM

SAN DIEGO – It turns out the beloved 1965 Ford Mustang coupe Judy Smongesky has had since high school graduation nearly 38 years ago doesn't really belong to her.

Judy Smongesky of City Heights said she is resigned to the fact that she may lose the car she believed was hers for almost four decades. A check of identification numbers revealed that the car had been reported stolen. The vintage vehicle had been reported stolen two weeks before her father bought it as a present when she was 18.

The Mustang actually belongs to Eugene Brakke, who is retired and lives in the Los Angeles area. Police notified him this week that his long-lost car has been recovered. He has not decided whether he wants it back, said Smongesky of City Heights.
Smongesky and her dad, who lived in Long Beach at the time, had looked at another car before they found the Mustang for sale at what she remembers was a used-car lot in Bellflower. She got behind the wheel and fell in love with it. They paid $1,114 for the harvest-gold car with a 289-cubic-inch V-8 engine and 69,000 miles on the odometer. She drove the car for 20 years and rebuilt the engine and repainted the body twice before she parked it in her garage with the intent to fully restore it.

At one point in the 1990s, a neighbor interested in buying it noticed the car had different vehicle identification numbers on the door and under the hood. Smongesky called police, who sent someone out to look at the Mustang, and was told everything checked out.
She didn't worry about the discrepancy again until she recently spent $4,000 restoring the car. Before sinking in more cash, she thought about the vehicle identification numbers. “I had a very bad feeling,” she said. She researched the numbers and discovered that the one on the door belonged to a 1964 model. Smongesky called police, who checked the VIN under the hood and discovered that the car was stolen. It turns out the driver's side car door belonged to a different car.

Smongesky has spoken to Brakke, who said he wants to see it but has not stated what he plans to do. She said he did not seem happy or excited; rather, she said, he seemed dismayed that the car had been painted. “He said it wasn't the same car,” Smongesky said. As the rightful owner, he can just get in it and drive away, Smongesky said. Still, she said, she feels like she did the right thing. “And sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing to do,” she said. Smongesky, 55, who has worked in the restaurant industry, drives a 1990 Honda Civic. She said it does not compare with the Mustang, which has 266,000 miles. She said she does not know what the Mustang is worth – the engine is rebuilt but the interior is not in good shape and the silver-blue paint is faded and rusted in some places. Still, she loves it and wants to keep it.
Smongesky said she hopes she and Brakke can come to an agreement, but she is resigned to the fact that she may lose the car she believed was hers for almost four decades.

“I'm hoping he says, 'You can have it,' but it's his car,” she said. “I will keep it if I can.”

Update: Judy did get to keep her car, mr Brakke sold it to for $1.00 for every year she had it.

Debbi Farr Baker

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