Father-Son Restoration Project Turns Into Nightmare After Screw-Up

Mario Caperon bought himself a 1963 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible in 2011 with the goal of restoring his car with his teenage son. Two years and $15,000 later, they and a friend brought it back from a decrepit, wrecked state. And then the state of Arizona seized it.

The tale told in this AZCentral.com report can only be described as a "restoration nightmare," the kind of thing where a crappy situation keeps getting crappier and crappier. I really feel for the family involved, and I wouldn't wish this on anyone. (Almost anyone.)

Caperon bought the car on Craiglist for $2,500. It was in a sorry state, but he and his son Gino brought it back to life, bonding over the project as countless fathers and sons have done before.

But after they dropped it off at a paint shop, a passerby noticed the car and recognized it as the same one stolen from his friend 20 years ago. He claimed it was his to the police, who matched it to a theft report from 1995.

Caperon thought he was good to go, since he obtained the title to the car legally. Plus, he bought the car from its previous owner with a clean title.

But it turns out that in 2000, a state inspector wrongfully issued the Cutlass a new VIN after being unable to find the original number. That should not have happened.

A Call 12 for Action investigation found there was little doubt the state erred when the inspector gave the Cutlass a new vehicle identification number in 2000. The VIN is the automotive equivalent of a fingerprint, a unique numerical code assigned to each vehicle used for license and registration.

[...] "You have a paid employee from the state that's trained to find these hidden numbers and they can't find the hidden numbers," Caperon said. "But when it gets down to the impound lot where the police officers impounded it, they were able to find the number within 15 minutes."

Caperon's car was impounded, according to the story. He attempted to get it back in court, but a judge ordered it returned to Jerry Rockwell, the man it was stolen from in 1995. The judge also ruled Caperon was not entitled to any compensation for the work he did to restore the car.

Caperon offered to buy the car from Rockwell, who said he "didn't care about it," but Rockwell turned around and sold it to the man who spotted it at the paint shop. And then the car's new owner, Mario Lavin, threatened to sue Caperon.

Like I said: bad to worse.

After buying the car from Rockwell, Lavin threatened to sue Caperon for the parts missing from the car. He demanded $5,000 for the bumpers, molding and other parts that had been removed from the car when it was being prepped for the paint job, Caperon said.

The parts had been in storage when the car was impounded. Caperon said he did not return the parts because he had bought them and they were not part of the judge's order to return the car to Rockwell from impound.

Caperon said he attempted to negotiate a sale and ultimately agreed to sell the parts to Lavin for $700.

So now Caperon and his son have no car and no compensation for the time and work they put into it — time and work now being enjoyed by someone else. It's a shame that the car Caperon bought was stolen, yes, but he didn't know that and bought it in good faith. Also, the only reason it ended up in his hands anyway was because the state inspector made a mistake and issued the car a new VIN.

At the same time, it's hard to come up with a solution that's equitable for everyone involved here. Rockwell deserves the car that was stolen from him, regardless of circumstances.

I'm really not a fan of Lavin's threats to sue Caperon, especially since he got a restored car out of the whole deal without having to put in any work. That seems low.

Either way, it's a shame for Caperon, but he tells AZCentral he and his son haven't given up on their dream of restoring an old car. Let's hope their next project has a little more luck.

Photo credit GM

Hat tip to Jonathan!