The thieves who stole Norman Marden's classic 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible seven years ago weren't interested in chopping it up: They apparently fixed it up, restored it and slapped on a new coat of white paint.
So when Marden, 72, got it back after police discovered it in the yard of Don Faison in Quartz Hill recently, you'd think he'd be pleased.
You'd be wrong.
When Marden bought it straight out of high school, the car was all black with a black interior, and Marden wanted to keep it that way.
"It was more special before because it's not the same car," Marden said standing in front of his new-old car at Mid-Valley Towing in North Hollywood. "It's going to cost me so much money to put it back in its original shape, and whether I'm up to it now at my age or not, I don't know."
Marden's Impala was one of three classic cars police detectives recovered in Quartz Hill. The other two classics were a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, stolen in May 2011 in Santa Monica, and a 1960 Chevrolet Impala hardtop stolen from Monrovia in April 2011.
Los Angeles Police Detective George Molina says a task force has been investigating a rash of vintage car thefts for the past two years, ever since the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air of TV host "Dr. Phil" McGraw was stolen and later recovered.
"We noticed that it stretched all the way from Bakersfield down to the Orange County area," Molina said. "Southern California has a lot of beautiful classic cars, and this is a prime target area to steal them."
Molina said police have found a returned between 25 and 50 cars to their owners that the cars are found in various states of repair. The thieves, he said, repair them, switch the Vehicle Identification Numbers, and either sell them or keep them.
Norman Marden says his Impala was stolen the same year one of his grandsons died in an accident.
"I'd rather have the grandson back than the car," he said.
He's debating whether to sell the car, which police value between $50,000 and $80,000 dollars or try to restore it to exactly the way he bought it.
"I'm in such turmoil right now," he said.