HomeCar CultureCommentaryPolice may have found Wild Cherry van at center of theft allegations

Police may have found Wild Cherry van at center of theft allegations


A 1975 Chevrolet van in a police impound facility may be the controversial Wild Cherry van, though it appears to have been painted and the interior partially stripped.

The Los Angeles Police Department took possession of the van last week, more than a month after 39-year-old restorer Chris Carter was arrested in the case of the van’s disappearance from private property, an official told the Belleville News-Democrat.

“The dashboard, the engine, the transmission and the plates are missing,” Cheryl Peralta told the publication. Another lot employee, who did not want to be named, said the van was painted black. Only the roof was red.

Peralta said the van had VIN No. CGY144U143803, which was registered to a Vicki Carter in Collinsville, Illinois. She is Carter’s grandmother.
The controversy around the van began more than two years ago, when Carter first spotted the vehicle on social media.

“After I saw the picture, I just couldn’t get it out of my mind,” Carter told the News-Democrat in February. “To see that van abandoned with a tree on it, and to know its former glory, how nice that it looked, how it was in a movie … I knew I had to do something.”

He located the van in Lancaster, California after months of research and drove 1,900 miles just to ask around. The way he tells it, locals said the vehicle had been abandoned and one even opened a gate so Carter could load the van on a trailer.

Carter restored the van to its movie glory — it appeared in the 1979 film Van Nuys Blvd. — and began touring around the country. In June, a stolen vehicle report was filed.

“We didn’t know it was missing,” said Laura Godin, who co-owns the property where the van was left. She said her husband, Steven, bought the van in 1980 and the couple had dreams of restoring it.

“(Carter) has no idea the sentimental value that I hold in my heart for that van,” Godin, 54, told the News-Democrat in September. “… It’s been mine since I was 16. He has no idea what it means to me.”

Godin acknowledged the van had not been registered since the 1990s when filing the report.

Carter was arrested in Illinois after the allegations were made. He was reportedly extradited to California to face felony charges. Should he be found guilty, he could be sentenced to more than four years in prison.

The controversy around the van and its possession has dominated online conversations among classic van fans. Multiple Facebook groups have popped up so either support or criticize Carter, while at least two GoFundMe pages have been created to help pay legal bills. As of publication, both failed to reach their goals.

Carter Nacke
Carter Nacke
Carter Nacke is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He began his career at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix, the largest news radio station in Arizona, where he specialized in breaking news and politics. A burgeoning interest in classic cars took him to the Journal in 2018. He's still on the hunt for his dad's old 1969 Camaro.


  1. Amazing story!! I tend to side with Carter, it does sound like the van had been abandoned and only reported stolen when it was likely seen on tour. But I’m no expert in vehicle abandonment laws! Thanks for the follow up on this story!

    • Unfortunately, an unsuspecting car affection-ado comes along years later and buys the car or what remains and spends thousands restoring it…The purchase was based on what was presumed to be valid documents and registrations . Along comes the cops and seizes the vehicle and the new owner is the real loser. He now is informed that the car was stolen years earlier. Totally unfair situation. Who has the most to lose and who has the biggest investment? Especially when the insurance company has paid the original owner and the company is no longer in business. Sad…where is the justice?

  2. Yeah, I like the part where they say "we bought it in 1980 and had dreams of restoring it" So they abandon it in a field and let a tree grow thru it? It was only 5 years old , and almost 40 years go by and still no "restoration". So, then it gets COMPLEATLY restored back to original by a new owner and up pops the previous owner saying he want’s his stolen (and now completely restored) van back? nah, something fishy here.

    • Yes, something fishy. Original owners wanted to restore it, left in a field to rot for decades, only when it was restored and worth something did they make a claim. Restorer should have made a quick search of property owner & taxes, contacted property owner before removing the van from a field belonging to someone. Restorer used bad judgement removing the van from a field, original owners wanting a money grab.
      If I was a juror, I would find in favor of the original owner only because once the van was restored and became public knowledge, the van disappeared (why hid it?). If the restorer had been upfront on the location of the restored van I would have found in favor of the restorer, paid the original owner unrestored price of a derelict van rotting in a field.
      No one is going to win after legal expenses paid. Perhaps the van is lost again because who can legally own the van with a clear title.

  3. Let this be a lesson to all collectors and enthusiasts: if you own it, make sure it’s registered at all times. If the vehicle is left in public view without registration and is not in use, it can and will be taken from you! Either by an unsuspecting thief who assumes he’s buying an abandoned vehicle, or it will be taken by the city/county/state. Personal example: Many years ago (late 80’s), my dad had gotten a running, driving, restorable, 1973 Mercury Cougar from a junkyard that he dealt with through his job at the time. He bought the car as a father-son restoration project for a cheap price, but to save money he decided not to register the car and put plates on it. Not having a garage, the car sat beside our house in the driveway on our private property. After about a year or so, a nosy neighbor decided he would complain to the County and see what would happen. Long story short, someone from the County drove by on a day when we had the front clip of the car removed for restoration. They saw no plates or valid registration stickers and assumed the car was abandoned and forced us to have it removed. This meant we had to sell it. Every project vehicle I’ve owned since then has always been registered and insured the whole time I owned it, regardless of drivability. If it’s registered, no one can say anything because it’s legally yours. Depending on where you live and what type of vehicle it is, it may cost a significant amount but it’s worth it!


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