Stolen, restored '79 Corvette reunited with owner

Holly Fournier, and Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Birmingham -- It’s been more than three decades since George Talley drove his 1979 Chevrolet Corvette, stolen from a downtown Detroit street in 1981. But man and car were reunited at the Woodward Dream Cruise Saturday in Birmingham, thanks to General Motors Co. and Chevrolet.

“I’m grateful for General Motors and everybody for what they’re doing for me. It’s a real blessing, that’s all,” Talley said shortly after revving his car’s engine for the first time in three decades.

The car was revealed at the Chevrolet display at South Old Woodward Avenue and George Street in Birmingham.

“It sounds great. The motor sounds good, it looks good,” Talley said. “I’m ready to ride it. I’m just glad to be here.”

After vanishing without a trace three decades ago, the silver coupe resurfaced last year in Mississippi, after someone tried to register the vehicle.

“It was an exciting call,” Talley said of realizing the car had been found. “I thought it was gone forever.”

Talley said he never filed an insurance claim on the Corvette when it vanished, so the resurfaced car still belonged to him. He paid to tow it to a police station in Mississippi, where it sat until GM executives learned about the story and offered to cover the cost of shipping the car home and restoring it like new.

The GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights and Autometric Body Shop in Center Line worked to restore the car, including a new interior, paint job, and replacing rotted metal, Chevy marketing manager John Fitzpatrick said.

“The car was a little rough,” Fitzpatrick said before the big reveal Saturday. “It  was stolen, so it wasn’t exactly taken care of.”

Repairs costing “thousands and thousands of dollars” were completed in about a month and a half, Fitzpatrick said.

Talley previously got to see the restored silver beauty, but it was not in running condition. Those working on the car at one point worked seven days a week for up to 20 hours a day.

It all began with a letter, Talley said in a video shot during his sneak-peek of the unfinished car prior to the Dream Cruise.

“I wrote this letter and I sent it to Mark Reuss and he responded right away,” Talley said in the video put together by Chevy and posted to the brand’s YouTube Channel. “And here I am now in the Heritage Center with my car in the back restored.”

Reuss, GM’s head of global product development, purchasing, and supply chain operations, in the video said GM wanted to help Talley.

“I’m in a position in the company where we can make some of these calls to give back. And when they come up, you’ve kind of got to seize the opportunity,” Reuss said. “He’s been a customer of GM forever. He’s a veteran. Those things are what makes the country great. We owe a lot to these people and we’ve gotta give back.”

At the Dream Cruise Saturday, Talley fired up the engine to a cheering crowd of onlookers, and drove away in the long-lost Corvette alongside his 7-year-old grandson. The two planned to cruise in the coupe for a few hours before returning to the Chevy display Saturday evening.

Talley said caution would be his first priority while navigating the like-new Corvette, especially on area expressways.

“Believe me, I’m not going beyond 45 or 50 miles per hour,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll be in the slow lane.”