California police locate “Wild Cherry” van stripped and vandalized


California police have found the Wild Cherry van—what’s left of it anyway. On October 23, the same day that Hagerty posted an update about the search for the infamous vehicle that appeared in the 1979 movie Van Nuys Blvd., California Department of Transportation employees notified police that they had located the red 1975 Chevrolet custom van that was already at the center of a theft investigation.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/11/12/wild-cherry-van-found


My guess is that Carter stripped it or had someone else do it for him. Why lose everythying you’ve put into it even though you never got permission to restore it or even take ownership of it.


Your guess would seem correct. If I was in that situation I would do the same to make sure I have the parts to BUILD ANOTHER ONE when I got out of the gray bar hotel.


A complete tear-down such as this, to the point of partial repainting, strongly suggests some sort of vengeance or jealousy trip. This was done with a frank and earnest applied dedication.


Though he took what he thought was an abandoned van, it’s unfortunate he couldn’t work something out with the true owners. They, on the other hand were IMHO going to benefit from a van restored for free. Not fair to both parties.


Good for him. Thats what I would have done. The previous owners only wanted the van because of the money and hard work he put into it, they would have left it to rot forever. And it wasnt theft, because he was told it was abandoned and given access by the people who had access, which included a local sheriff, all of whom he told beforehand of his intentions. There existed no intent to steal from an unwilling owner, therefore no crime. Now the previous owners can have it back just as it was found, I guess everyone wins… ?


Even in that shape it is in better condition than when he got it burned.


He should have put the tree back on top


When you take property without permission, try to profit from your theft, and then leave the property in worse shape, you are going to spend a lot of time in prison. No sympathy for the guy. He just ruined his life over a car that, had he acted properly, might have been able to resurrect legally.


Full Circle? Definitely an inside job.


First of all he took the van without permission of the owners . The minute he swapped vins and registered it as another van he was up to no good. Had he gone through proper channels he, would have had to of sent a certified letter to the last registered owner and then when he got a response he would have had to given it back or bought it legally. Before he ever restored it. Besides its a tribute van anyway now that it is registered to the other vin from the donor van. Another thing no thief is going to steal shag carpet this was stripped by someone who wanted every nut and bolt that they put on it .


Excuses, excuses, excuses. He didn’t do it by the book. Period, When the Judge asks him if he had permission from the owners to go onto their property, and does he have a bill of sale from the owners, he will have to answer no. End of story. Guilty as charged. How can one be any plainer then that? As to who stripped it well that is plain as day also.


I’ve been around restoration shops and restorers as well as hobbyists for a number of years. If it was a pro job I commend their schedule. Heck it takes 12-18mo minimal to even get into the door of most shops. They work damn quick, and from the picture they are thorough. I’d hire them in a minute! So seriously we are looking at some dedication hobbyists, Carter hopefully had the forethought to be in Illinois when deconstruction occurred. But afore thought hasn’t been his strong suit.
On other notes of the story in Illinois he could have received a clean bonded title legally for a few hundred bucks, maybe a grand depending on what he thought he’d have in it. That’s the same amount the shell and vin was worth when he found it. Going grey market can always get you the matching bars!


Still does not meet the requirement to be the crime with which he is charged. There isnt a ‘book’ for most of this stuff dealing with old cars. I have gotten many cars from people who got it when grandad passed away and title was eaten by rats, or was left in a field and someone wanted it gone. There is a precedent and process to legally take possession of ‘abandoned’ property and he did contact the apparent owners, then local law enforcement, and when he found the title he contacted the actual owners. Thats what we call ‘by the book’. It shows a clear intent not to defraud and some due diligence on his part. The obvious issue is that several months after being contacted and not concerned with the van, but after seeing it restored, the old owners THEN decided it was stolen, even though they had all been in contact with each other months prior. He was maybe overzealous, but that alone does not a criminal make.


Interesting that all the moralists couldn’t give a rat’s patoot about the thousands upon thousands of cars that are actually stolen in California each year, or the fact that virtually no one goes to prison for car theft, but they want to lock this guy up and throw away the key. The real sketchy players here are the couple who suddenly remembered that they cared about it when they saw dollar signs in it for them. I woulda stripped it, too. Hope he’s got everything stashed securely for a new build.


What are the chances Wild Cherry is stored away somewhere? This could be a shell that was found spend some time cutting window holes and add Wild Cherry on the side and trade out the VIN plate. Would you put it past him to throw off the police?


@adamayor - Interesting theory. There have been so many twists in this story that would be a heck of a surprise ending.


If the reply just two or three above this is correct, Carter did do everything “by the book” and the owners did know he had it. Did nothing about it. If they wanted money for the “abandoned” van, they should have asked for it at that time. Then, after it’s completely restored, they claim it was stolen. This is almost like extortion or blackmail by the original owners, and Carter refused to play the game by stripping it and giving the carcass back to it’s owners.

With all these twists and turns it wouldn’t surprise me if the Gogin’s did contact Carter demanding money for the van - or the return of it - and when he refused, they filed the theft claim. The story is getting as complicated as a crime novel with all sorts of twists, turns and red herrings.


You all seem to be unfamiliar with Los Angeles and Van Nuys. Park anything of value on the street there and there’s a pretty good chance that it will be gone when you come back. Someone stole the van, drove it just far enough to be out of sight of the owner, and stripped it. The engine and transmission were probably taken out using a tow truck.


This is a crazy story to begin with and now it’s even more crazy. If somebody really wanted the Wild Cherry Van why not steal the entire van? It could never see the light of day again anyway so why not take the whole thing? If the intent is to find a '75 donor van and install the original stripped parts to make a Wild Cherry clone, the “owner” couldn’t show it, sell it or tell anyone about it. Or has it really gotten that bad that someone would bother to completely strip a '75 van of parts that have little to no street value and then do a half-baked paint job to conceal its true identity? Besides all that, the youngsters that usually engage in this activity probably have no idea what the Wild Cherry van was anyway. There are more pieces to this puzzle for sure, otherwise this episode makes no sense.