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Rescuing a rarity

The winding tale of a stolen classic car and its unlikely recovery

In the 28 years he’s owned his 1967 Plymouth GTX 440, Greg Reamsbottom has never once experienced the joy of driving it.

For much of that time, it has sat idle in the Lower Mainland, missing necessities like an engine and transmission.

As the GTX approaches road readiness for the first time in more than a quarter-century, Pique shares a tale of how a car no one expected to go anywhere was taken on a wild ride, thanks to a brazen thief, before being recovered with the help of some trusty detective work on the part of Reamsbottom and his family. 

Rescue No. 1

Our story begins years before Reamsbottom achieved local legend status as one half of Whistler’s perennial favourite band The Hairfarmers, or even before he set up shop in the Sea to Sky at all.

It begins in 1993 with a rescue under far less mysterious circumstances, as Reamsbottom—then in his mid-20s—drove 18-wheelers for a living. Perched high in the cab, he could peer into places the general public couldn’t. 

“There was an area near the Patullo Bridge in Surrey that had blocks and blocks of auto wreckers. Some of them were open to the public; some, not so much,” he recalls, noting one yard with an opaque metal fence had piqued his interest. “I could see over the fence and I noticed a very distinctive roofline for a ’66 or ’67 Dodge or Plymouth B-body. 

“These days, it would be a big car, but back then, it was a mid-sized car. I could tell it was a two-door hardtop.”

With the roofline continuing to poke out amongst the rest of the metal, Reamsbottom eventually saw an opportunity to save the GTX from becoming a far more compact car when the auto yard’s gate was left open. He flagged down the operator and got a closer look at what he discovered was the 1967 Plymouth GTX, which at the time was already becoming a rarity.

It was Plymouth’s first-ever unified performance model, including all of its performance elements as standard, according to musclecarclub.com, adding that the company positioned it as a “gentleman’s hot rod.”  

Reamsbottom’s find lacked an engine and transmission and was in need of repair, but he saw potential in it and struck a deal to purchase it for $1,200.

He sold his existing vintage vehicle, a 1971 Plymouth Road Runner, to help fund initial paint and body work on the GTX. Disappointingly, as the restoration ramped up recently, Reamsbottom discovered that the body work was shoddily done.

Apart from that bit of activity, though, the GTX sat in a barn in Langley, owned by Reamsbottom’s uncle, for almost 25 years. 

“I just stashed this one away for future considerations,” he reasons.

Not long after, Reamsbottom made his way up Highway 99 and settled into mountain life, latching onto other pursuits. With some distance between them, Reamsbottom thought of his GTX less and less. 

“I ended up moving to Whistler shortly thereafter, ended up getting into Harley Davidsons and customizing them a bit,” he says. “It was life and I let the car slide.”

Bushwhacked

Fast-forward past Y2K, the Olympic Games and too many Hairfarmers gigs to list. 

Reamsbottom’s relatives purchased a horse ranch near Kelowna, leaving just a cousin living onsite before he, too, moved out and left the roughly four-hectare property empty while it was up for sale. With the prospect of a large payday given the property’s proximity to the Trans-Canada Highway and a sprawling Langley, Reamsbottom’s family was more than happy to bide their time waiting for the right deal to cross the table. It also meant there was no rush to move the GTX.

“The house really didn’t get used anymore and no one was living there anymore,” Reamsbottom recalls. “There was a great big blackberry bush around the barn and it had grown up to epic proportions. You weren’t really getting into the barn, so I knew the car was safe.”

Still, as 2017 came to a close, Reamsbottom had a plan to finally begin restoration work the following spring. But, as fate would have it, a neighbourly act gave the vehicle away and on Dec. 22, 2017, someone pried open the barn’s metal doors and towed the GTX away from its long-time home. 

“Right before Christmas, the neighbour who was keeping an eye on the place, who was also a farmer, he thought it would be a helpful gesture to go with his industrial mower and mow down the blackberry bush, so now the barn is just sitting there with no natural defences and no one really watching it that closely,” Reamsbottom says. 

The next morning, the same neighbour noticed the barn had been broken into and the car gone, and in the midst of a busy season for The Hairfarmers, Reamsbottom received the bad news from his cousin.

Rescue No. 2

Reamsbottom reported the theft to the local authorities, who quickly let him know that the car was still registered to its former owner, who had subsequently died. However, a notarized declaration submitted to ICBC cleared up that paperwork snafu.

He then enlisted the power of social media for assistance solving the caper, posting the GTX’s information across several collector car sites from across the province, and the Lower Mainland in particular. The post even made its way onto an Alberta-based message board as the vintage car community at large looked to lend a hand.

“Next thing you know, I got a message from a guy saying, ‘I saw it being towed down 216th Street in Langley,’” Reamsbottom says. “A friend of his lives on that street and has a security video camera on his front gate, which also shows the street. He calls his friend and his friend checks the footage, and lo and behold, now we’ve got video footage of the car going down the street. And now we know what the truck looks like that took it.”

Armed with the new information, Reamsbottom posted an update online and soon heard that the vehicle was apparently a common sight in the Lower Mainland. After passing along the photo to the police, Reamsbottom tapped into the trucking community and, despite the brazen crime, was feeling confident in the moment that he’d be reunited with his GTX.

“The night it was getting taken, I was surfing around on eBay, looking at different cars and goofing around. I found a nice die-cast model of my car,” he says, adding that he ordered it for his desk to inspire him to initiate the repairs. “Now I think it was the car reaching out to me, saying ‘Help!’

“The timing of it was a little bit too surreal to discount because I had never even considered buying a model of that car, but it popped out at me and I bought it.”

After a few quiet weeks on the case, Reamsbottom’s aunt came to him with a hunch that the thief might be a young man in the family’s orbit who was known to have sticky fingers.

“She got a hold of him, leaned on him a bit, and said, ‘I know you’ve been in trouble before and I’m sure you don’t want to be in trouble again. If you know anything about this car, you had better let me know,’” he says.

A few days passed, and the young man replied to Reamsbottom’s aunt about the GTX’s location. Reamsbottom’s brother followed up on the tip, but the property owner said that while the car was brought to her home, she had refused to store it. She had, however, taken a picture of the truck, and sure enough, someone else at the house took a look, recognized it, and was willing to lead Reamsbottom’s brother to its location.  

“We found [the thief] and gave him the option of returning the car or suffering the wrath of my large Irish family, and he was more than happy to give it back,” he says. “It had not been touched. They had it hiding in a barn in the Langley area. It was obviously a chop shop, but they weren’t going to call the police on us for taking it back.”

Reamsbottom’s brother declined to comment for this story, reasoning he could not add any further details.

On Jan. 31, 2018, just over a month after it was first pinched, the GTX was back in Reamsbottom’s possession. If it had taken much longer, Reamsbottom theorizes that it would have been stripped down for parts. It may have given the criminals away, though it would have made restoring the ride much more challenging.

“I don’t think they realized how few of those cars there are around and how easy it would have been to find the parts if they were for sale anywhere between here and Winnipeg,” he says. “They weren’t going to get far, but it’s nice that they hadn’t already taken the car apart and lost a bunch of different pieces.”

If that family connection had fizzled, Reamsbottom notes there was another promising lead that could have yielded the vehicle. A fellow car community member, who also happened to be a repo man, was in touch with vendors who claimed to have parts for the exact model of Reamsbottom’s ride.

“He was trying to hook up with them to take pictures of the car to send to me to see if it’s my stolen car,” he recalls. “But my family got to the car to see it before he did, which was probably better for the thieves.”

Post-recovery

In possession of his property once again, Reamsbottom then had the GTX towed to a friend’s place in Abbotsford and contacted the police to inform them it had been recovered. 

“A very, very young RCMP officer showed up at my friend’s place,” Reamsbottom says, noting that he presented the vehicle along with its matching identification number.

“He asked about how I got it back and I just said, ‘Word of mouth,’” Reamsbottom chuckles. “He didn’t pry any further, so I didn’t have to explain any further. Everybody was happy. All’s well that ends well.”

Reamsbottom also passed along the name and contact info of the thief, but did not hear anything back. 

After reviewing the file, Cpl. Holly Largy of Langley RCMP confirms that the vehicle was recovered. However, she notes that police were not given much to work with regarding the suspect.

“Unfortunately, the thief was not identified and no charges were laid,” Largy writes in an email.

You may have the pleasure of seeing the GTX in person sooner rather than later. Reamsbottom sent the car to a private restorer in Mission in February 2020 and at press time, the paint and body work was nearing completion.

“There was more hidden rust and damage than was originally thought, so it’s taking longer than we planned,” he says. “But I’d rather have it done right than done quickly.”

The extended timeframe also afforded Reamsbottom the time to put together a monster of an engine while also overhauling the transmission, suspension, interior, dashboard, and the front and rear ends himself.

“This car was taken down to the bare shell. Every last nut and bolt was taken off of it,” he says. “Everything that does not involve paint and body, it’s been my job to restore.

“I’ve been enjoying it a lot. It’s been a great way to stay busy during the pandemic.”

Community building

Reamsbottom and another Sea to Sky musical mainstay, Paul Fournier, have both worked to grow the local vintage vehicle scene in the past year, primarily through the Sea to Sky Classic Vehicles Facebook group that they admin.

Fournier started organizing small get-togethers last summer, and has held a couple recently this year as well.

Though not intimately familiar with Reamsbottom’s tale, Fournier explains that the classic car community has what is essentially a built-in neighbourhood watch system.

Fournier recalls one occasion where he was tipped off that a car just like his—a red 1966 Corvette roadster—was on a flatbed truck heading out of town. Thankfully, it wasn’t his.

“How many of those are you going to see in Whistler?” Fournier asks. “Even though I have an alarm system with a GPS tracker, I couldn’t wait to get back and see if my car was still there.

“They’re so identifiable, and these cars are so rare and they’re out so little, that when somebody does see something, it’s really identifiable and it’s hard to hide,” he says. “Somebody’s got to take these cars and work on them and eventually, you’re going to find out where they are.”

With many users being part of both their local classic car groups as well as part of brand-specific groups online, the overlap makes it likely to track down a pilfered car sooner or later, Fournier reasons.

“I’m a Corvette guy and a Chevy guy. I’m in all these different groups on Facebook. Vehicles get stolen all the time, but … each vehicle is generally well-known by people in their circles,” Fournier says. “Most circles extend to other, bigger circles. If something gets stolen, it’s super hard to hide it.

“It’s not even reporting it stolen; it’s just that people like to keep track of these things.”

Having one another’s back is a central tenet to the classic car community, Reamsbottom explains, and not just when a car goes missing. It extends across the challenges of ownership, from maintenance to sourcing parts.

“The car community, it’s the common thread that these people, men and women, will go out of their way to do anything they can to help you find a part you need, or show you how to fix something,” Reamsbottom says, adding that he’s made in-person friendships in the United States through the community.

Locally, Fournier is glad to see the Whistler community grow and diversify.

“A place like Whistler is quite eclectic. There’s many different vehicles. It’s not like some small towns where there’s a bunch of Chevy guys and they like their ‘70s Chevys,” Fournier says. “In Whistler, it’s everything from Japanese to German to American muscle. It’s all over the map.”

Fournier has also spotted some appealing cars that aren’t part of the community that he’s later discovered belong to locals, and, given that not everyone is on Facebook, he’s left notes on windshields to try to bring them into the fold.

Insurance concerns have kept Fournier from planning a formal car show at this point, but he says the idea is still percolating for some point in the future.

Should it happen someday, if there’s a category for Best Backstory, Reamsbottom’s GTX would be a worthy contender.