Hot Property: the story of our red E Type's theft & recovery
Hiring out classic cars, inevitably, comes with a few risks. But theft is, thankfully, not usually one of them. Until a fateful day in September 2016 when our beautiful red E Type coupe didn't come back from hire.
We have been hiring cars to customers since 2006 and, thanks to careful identity checks and vehicle trackers, theft is not considered a major risk. These are distinctive cars that are not easy to steal and conceal.
The E Type was, it turns out, an early casualty of a growing trend. Classic cars are being stolen in increasing numbers - either to order or to sell for parts overseas. Many of these cars, like our E Type, are not just vehicles they're part of the family. So these thefts are particularly unpleasant crimes.
There was nothing about the E Type hirer to particularly raise alarm. He paid in full in advance, his driving licence and credit card checked out and he was aimiable and pleasant when he turned up. He just didn't bother to come back.
When the car failed to return we got the police involved. Although helpful they weren't optimistic. They explained that the car hadn't appeared on ANPR cameras and was probably in a covered transporter within minutes of the theft.
For the next year we heard nothing. And then a man in London called the office to say he thought he might have our car in his car park. And, it turned out, he did.
The thief had rented a parking space from him and driven our car directly to it from our unit. The mileage on the car when we found it was exactly the distance from our unit to the parking space. He'd paid the rent for the space in full for one month in advance, but then never paid again or been contactable.
Perplexed and irritated that the car was taking up a valuable London parking space, the landlord started looking around the car. He eventually found a map in the car with the name of one of our road trips on the cover. He googled the name and found us. Without that effort and foresight we may never have got the car back.
Although the thief had stolen the E Type and driven it 150 miles he'd managed to evade detection by ANPR cameras by changing the number plate. He had researched and found a similar E Type and cloned the number plate. The car wore these plates when we found it and the landlord had initially contacted the owner of the car before finding us.
When we recovered the car it was in a fair condition. Luckily the car park was underground and therefore covered, it was also dry. But the car had clearly deteriorated in the intervening year. Once back in our workshop we identified rotten sills and floors, a common problem on the E Type. By the time we got it back it was too late to get it ready for the 2018 season, so 2019 became our target. The car would need hundreds of hours of work to get right, plus a full respray - we didn't want to cut corners.
In December 2018, a little over two years after it was stolen, the car is virtually ready to go back on the road. You can read the story of its restoration here.
All of which leaves one question: why go to all the cost, hassle and risk of stealing an expensive classic car only to park it in an underground garage and forget about it?
We can only guess of course. If we knew the answer, perhaps we'd share the mindset. The police believe the car was stolen 'on spec', one of probably many cars stolen by this thief and hidden around London awaiting someone who wanted that particular car.
Given that the thief achieved nothing and we lost our car for 12 months, I'm not sure what the point of it all was. We're just glad to get our car back. And for you to be able t enjoy it again in 2019.