Detroit — Police confirmed Monday the recovery of a 1971 Chevrolet Camaro that belongs to John Schnatter of the Papa John’s pizza empire that was reported stolen during this year’s annual Dream Cruise festivities.
Officer Shanelle Williams said the vehicle was found on the 14400 block of Pierson, north of Interstate 96 on the city’s west side. The vehicle was abandoned between two boarded-up, derelict homes.
Detroit Police Sgt. Cassandra Lewis earlier reported the Camaro, used as a promotional vehicle for the pizza company, had been inside a trailer attached to a truck that was parked at 960 E. Woodbridge at midnight Saturday. At 7:30 a.m. Sunday, the truck, trailer and classic car were reported missing, she said.
Police recovered the truck about a block away.
Lewis said the Camaro was “highly marked” and used in pizza commercials and as a racing car.
Police believe media attention, backed by actions from citizens, led to the swift recovery.
"We believe the pressure of the media forced them to dump the vehicle," said Sgt. Jonathan Parnell, of the Detroit Police Department's commercial auto theft unit.
"We received a 911 call about the vehicle at about 9:30 a.m. The vehicle was intact with minimal damage. We took the vehicle into evidence to see if we can discover any information about the people who stole the car."
The initial discovery of the high-powered car was made by lawn maintenance man Ernest Webster.
"I saw the car parked between those two houses," said Webster, pointing to two brick, single-story homes on a lot filled with foot-high weeds.
"I said, 'Man, that looks like that Papa John's car.' I looked inside and it was really clean. I called my brother-in-law, who is a cop, and he told me to call 911."
Asked if thought there might be free pizzas in his future for discovering the Camaro, Webster just laughed and said: "I don't need pizzas. I need money."
Papa John’s said it will issue a $16,000 reward to the individual who discovered and alerted authorities to the car’s whereabouts “once the investigation is closed."
"Papa John’s can confirm that John Schnatter’s beloved replica Chevy Z28 Camaro, which was stolen this Sunday night from the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit has been discovered. We are thrilled that a piece of our company’s history has been recovered, and we will continue to work with authorities during their ongoing investigation.”
Schnatter, founder of the pizza chain, originally sold the gold-and-black Camaro Z28 for $2,800 in 1983 to keep the family business afloat.
The money helped save his father’s tavern in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and he used the remainder to start what would become a worldwide pizza business.
But Schnatter always missed the car and spent years searching for it. He created a website on the search, held promotional appearances and eventually offered $250,000 to whoever found it.
It paid off when Schnatter was reunited with the muscle car and regained ownership of it in 2009.
Authorities in Oakland and Wayne counties, meanwhile, are searching for two other classic Dream Cruise cars reported stolen.
The first car, a red 1966 Chevrolet Corvette, was reported stolen Saturday afternoon in Birmingham. The convertible with a black soft top and custom license plate ITSMY66 was taken from the Park Street parking structure between 12:30 and 2 p.m.
News of the theft of a second classic car in Bloomfield Hills emerged early Sunday.
Victor Martin, general manager of the Kingsley Inn on Woodward, confirmed that a guest at the hotel had reported the vehicle missing. He got word between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.
A black 1966 Chevelle 300 Deluxe was sitting on a trailer overnight in the parking lot of the inn. A 2007 Chevy Silverado that had been pulling the trailer and the Chevelle was also taken but was recovered on Sunday by Detroit police. The classic car remains stolen.
Detective Noel Clason with the Bloomfield Hills police department said the 2007 Chevy Silverado that had been pulling the trailer and the Chevelle was found sometime Sunday with damage to the steering column.
The Chevelle, which has a vintage 1966 North Carolina license plate with blue letters and an orange background, remains missing, Clason said.
Clason said there were attempts to steal cars in Berkley and Bloomfield Hills. Police are looking for a vehicle they believe could be responsible for the stolen cars and the attempts. It is a white conversion van with a stripe.
According to Parnell, there's a good chance the suspects who stole the Camaro were also responsible for the thefts of the two other classic cars during the Dream Cruise.
"The theft of three classic vehicles within 24 hours is making us take a look at that possibility," Parnell said. "The cars might also have been a crime of opportunity. Cars from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s didn't have the kind of anti-theft devices that are available today, so that might also make them a more tempting target."
Parnell said the thefts of the three vehicles will probably mean more security for next year's Dream Cruise.
The 21st annual Woodward Dream Cruise was Saturday along a 16-mile stretch through nine host communities: Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Pontiac and Royal Oak.
The one-day automotive event is billed as the nation’s largest, drawing about 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars each year, organizers have said.
To report information to Birmingham police, call (248) 644-3405. Bloomfield Hills police can be reached at (248) 644-4200.
In addition, tips can be called into HEAT at (800) 242-HEAT.