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Is your Classic Car worth stealing?
Learn which classic cars the thieves are after!

Published 7/1/2000

Special interest cars can carry a significant value. If they are museum quality treasures, that worth can soar dramatically in terms of actual and intrinsic value, not to mention ownership esteem.
Which is exactly why thieves want them..

These specialty cars offer a vision of beauty and grace. Each year there are fewer and fewer available, and the emotion, effort and investment on the part of the owner to acquire, restore and maintain one, can be substantial. Likewise, the loss of that investment can be a devastating personal event.

Part of this ownership responsibility should include the need to not only be aware of, but properly manage the risks that are associated with these beautiful cars. It is the only way we can be assured that this unique heritage is properly protected, appreciated, and continues into the future. Secondly, while the law enforcement authorities may take an interest in your loss problem, with their other priorities, their response may not be totally satisfying. Your best option is to keep these problems from occurring in the first place. The objective of this article is to provide information that may assist the special interest car owner in the area of improved self-protection.

The 'Amateur' thief

The traditional car thief is motivated by the prospect of a ride home, a joyride, or perhaps to use the car during the commission of a crime. When the casual thief needs a car and the motivation and opportunity is there, he will steal any car, classic, specialty, or modern. To him, your very valuable car will be no different from a used Honda Accord. He could care less about the investment. He has no discipline or values, and he may be a substance abuser, a car jacker, an armed robber, and very potentially, a killer. To him a car is a car. He will totally destroy the car he steals, likely in resentment. It will probably be found wrecked, or burned. This person also represents danger. To assure the safety of you and your family, as well as the integrity of your specialty car, you simply do not draw his attention by presenting him with the opportunity he is seeking. The casual car thief can usually be deterred by basic security measures. Deterrence simply means doing certain visible things, which will send the thief looking elsewhere. This can successfully reposition the liability away from the vehicle own, to another. The thief is going to steal a car. Your objective is to convince him to steal someone else's car, and not yours. You can do this by making your theft prospect more difficult and take more time, than he is confronted with at another other car. Thieves, like electricity or water, will normally seek-out the path of least resistance.

The 'Professional' thief

The professional thief is motivated by financial gain. His cars are usually stolen on order, and may be sold whole, or parted-out. Why, and when this thief steals, is defined by the economics of the market that he serves, and the degree of opportunity that you provide him with. The professional car thief can also be deterred, but only on a system basis where he is confronted by multiple security countermeasures which assure his discovery, identification, and arrest. Only this will send him looking elsewhere. Where the casual thief is reckless, the professional will carefully measure and compare his chances for success, verses failure.

Vehicles Stolen for Parts
Classic, antique, and foreign cars can be stolen for parts, and although this is a possible motive, it is not probable. For parts to have a value there must be a market. However, the parts of these cars are unique, very identifiable, and there are too few of anyone kind to support a market for stolen parts, unless the thief also happens to own one of the same kind. However, the American specialty cars most certainly can be stolen with parts, and parting-out, as the objective.

Vehicles Stolen for Resale
Stolen cars are often a matter of supply, demand, and economics. Classics are no longer being produced. Some are irreplaceable antiques. The hot rods and muscle cars represent the best of America, and they are prime targets. They all can appreciate in value. Many people want, or would like to own one. As a result, they can be very much in demand. Those that are luxury sports cars are reported by the Highway Loss Data Institute to be two and one-half times as likely to be stolen, when compared to all other categories of vehicles in the United States.
Like stolen artwork, the average thief on the street could not sell most of these cars in the traditional sense. They may have a high value, but that value is relative, and unique, just as it is with a stolen work of art.

A stolen 'mint condition' 1955 XK 140 Jaguar Roadster would be very visible. The owner would pressure the police, and alert the classic car community. A reward would be offered. Publicity would be sought. There would be no market for the parts, and there are only a few specialized shops that trade, and work on such cars. The thief would be spotted immediately if he attempted to drive, or sell that beautiful car. Like the artwork, it has a value, but only under the right circumstances.
The true market for many of these specialty cars, like art works, is found in foreign countries. American port cities represent a high-risk environment. However, any car can be transported in a day or two, to a deep-water port from any location in the United States via an enclosed car transporter. In a very quick fashion, this stolen-on-order 1955 Jaguar would likely be rolled out of the owner's unprotected garage, loaded into a transporter, and be on its way in a matter of minutes. Upon arrival, in New Orleans for instance, it would then be placed into a shipping container which carries the appropriate export papers, loaded as machine parts, and shipped to a foreign port. With the proper connections, stolen cars can end-up in South or Central America, the Caribbean, Middle East, Asia, or behind the former Iron Curtain in Europe. There, they are delivered to their new owner, who eagerly pays a premium for the car, and it simply disappears. Larger machine items, such as earth moving, and construction equipment, have followed this same path for many years.

Attractive Targets
First, as a target, the specialty car is visible, and easy to steal. The many security components that are taken for granted on modern cars did not exist years ago when today's specialty cars were then state-of-the-art. Important accountability features such as the vehicle identification number are easy to alter on older cars. Many of these cars simply had the VIN stamped into the frame, or attached to a thin metal strip that can easily be violated. The various vehicle numbers, when typewriters, and carbon paper were considered high tech, may have been changed. The paper trail, which supports the specialty car, may be in error to begin with.

Protective Program
Your self-protective objective is to first, lower the degree of opportunity that is available for the thief to steal the car, and secondly, to increase the odds that if he does steal your car: he will subsequently, and quickly, be discovered, identified, arrested, and successfully prosecuted.

In Storage
The specialty car will normally find itself in storage the majority of the time. It will be driven sparingly, and when driven, the nature of the trip is likely to be a short outing, too perhaps an event of some type. The car will infrequently spend the night away from its primary place of storage.
Regarding the location where the car is normally stored, develop a "circle of protection" around the garage, and car itself. A good beginning is found in common sense, in addition to a variety of security measures. However, security measures are only effective if they are used on a routine and coordinated basis.
Avoid storing the car in a secluded location. Develop a mutual watch agreement with your neighbors. Consider keeping a dog. Limit the growth of vegetation, or the presence of other things that may block open lines of vision across the property. And install lighting on the general property.
The storage garage should be resistive in terms of the general construction, the roof, walls, floor, doors, skylights or other openings, lighting positioned high up and fit with photoelectric switches or timers, windows, locks, key control, fencing, warning signs, and in areas which warrant the expense, possibly an alarm and/or camera surveillance system, or random guard patrol.
While the car is stored in the garage, the master electrical switch should be set to "Off," the car's doors routinely locked, the keys removed from the area, transmission left in gear, and the handbrake engaged.
Be careful of automatic garage door openers. When the car is in a long-term storage mode, it is prudent to both disable the automatic garage door opener, and to physically lock the overhead door with one or more traditional key locking devices. If the door can be opened, the car can easily be rolled out and loaded onto a trailer in only a few minutes. Strive to render it impossible to roll the car out of the garage.
Any trailer that is left stored in the same area should be properly secured to eliminate the possibility of the thief using it to tow your own car away.
Pay close attention to the lower panels of the overhead doors as they can be easily kicked-in. Back them on the inside with steel strips. Likewise, dead bolts, hinges, and door mechanisms and locks should be installed with extra long screws that extend into the framework of the building.
Other mechanical vehicle anti-theft devices can be installed to include steering wheel, column, or ignition locks.

Away From the Garage
During travel with your specialty car, avoid repetitious patterns or habits. Do not be predictable in where you routinely stop for meals, or lodging. Be careful where you park the car while in travel, or at your place of employment. While you may be protecting the car while it is home in your garage, the moment you take it out of that protected shell it will become exposed to a much higher level of risk. Plan ahead, and share your scheduled with someone.
Be observant for anyone who might be following or keeping you, or the car, under surveillance. If you suspect that you are being followed, write down a license number, turn your headlights on, blow your horn, and quickly proceed to a safe haven such as a police or fire station, or a location such as a convenience store where numbers of people are present.
Car jacking can be deadly serious, and they do occur. Your specialty car will draw attention. Pay attention and react quickly if there is cause for concern. Promptly report any such suspicious situation to the police.
When driving, always keep the doors locked, and depending upon the environment: the windows up, or nearly up, or be capable of rolling them up quickly if necessary.
Never pick up a hitchhiker for any reason.
Traffic tie-ups represent an increased opportunity for both traffic accidents, and for someone to jump into your car with you. Be very cautious as while tie-ups are usually legitimate, they can also represent an additional hazard. If in doubt, reverse your direction and take a different route to avoid the problem location.
If the car is to be taken overnight, assure that it is left in a well populated, illuminated, visible, and if possible, a secured location or facility.
Should you tow your car to a show or meet, always assure that the trailer is locked to the hitch, that the hitch in turn is locked to the pulling vehicle, and then, that the vehicle itself is properly secured. Anything less could cost you your car, trailer, and towing vehicle.
If the car is to be moved via truck transport, lent to an exhibition, or left for service or repairs, assure that the company, and personnel that are involved are reputable, and properly insured to guarantee the value of your specialty car from theft, fire, and damage.

Other Precautions
Develop a documented portfolio on the car which contains photographs, or a video tape record, an appraisal document, and all of the records, receipts, title, etc. that relate to the vehicle.
Depending upon the owner's relationship with the commercial garage where the car may periodically be worked on: if the relationship is proven, then perhaps a contract which stipulates the services to be performed, is not necessary. However, if the relationship is not proven, it is prudent to develop a document between the owner and mechanic which lists out work that is to be done, parts that will be involved, an estimate of costs for all parts and labor, anticipate time frames, etc. Quite simply, such documentation can keep problems from occurring, and if they do, they can be resolved better if there is a preexisting written record.
Do not keep this file where the car is stored. Keep it elsewhere, and protect it in fire-resistant container, or bank safe deposit box.
An open advertisement of affluence can invite a variety of problems. It is prudent to avoid or limit such practices and to veil the car itself: out of sight, out of mind. Begin by limiting the view of the car from outside the garage itself. Then exercise prudence and good judgement in where and when you take the car out in public. While local shows, parades, and photo spread in the town newspapers can be fun, they can also attract the wrong kind of attention.
Depending upon the nature of your protective needs, information on the car, and its movements should be limited. It would not be a good idea to respond in depth to a telephoned survey inquiry, from a stranger, which has the car, you, or your family, as the subject.
Works of art are meant to be shown and shared, so are specialty cars. However, with publicity and exposure comes increased risk. Be selective in how you use your car by perhaps driving it in an anonymous way, and showing it only to select groups of associates who can be trusted to hold the same values regarding specialty cars.

Security Technology
Modern technology can be used to enhance many of these security efforts. It can be used to secure, or to trace cars and parts following a theft, which makes them less valuable to the thief. However, to be an effective deterrent, these high-tech security measures must be visible, and known to the prospective thief. Following a theft, these security measures must then have a proven record of efficiency in an investigative, and recovery mode.
Windows and other parts of the car can be etched with identifying information.
Alarm systems can be installed on the storage garage, or the car itself. When activated, they may sound an audible siren, blow the car's horn, flash the headlights, turn on building lights, or summon the police. These systems can be made sensitive to blunt force or vibration, movement, the sound of breaking glass, any abnormal variance in electrical system voltage, or a shift in the vehicle's position. To control false alarm problems, systems that automatically shut- off, reset, and only alarm again if provoked, are recommended. These systems may also have remote control capability.
To gain deterrent value, any such system should be made very apparent to the potential thief. Awareness or warning signs offer this.
Older cars are subject to the traditional and low- tech theft method of hot-wiring. For this reason, the entire electrical system, or select components such as the ignition system, fuel pump, or starter motor, should be intentionally disabled when the car is left for any period of time. Electrical components can be deactivated, and reactivated with keys, switches, or remote electronic devices. These options can often be integrated into the alarm system.
With modern cost-attractive technology, a beacon or transmitter can be installed in the car. If the car is subsequently stolen, the transmitter is triggered by remote control. The transmitter then becomes a homing device that the police can track to the car's location. Other systems may use satellite-positioning systems to locate the vehicle on a wider scale.
A mobile communications device of some type in the car with you is an excellent idea for a variety of reasons.

For the dedicated restoration person, the drivers who just want to 'go-fast' or the investor: the specialty car is a very worthy treasure to have. They represent quality time in the life of the owner, and to best assure that objective in today's risk prone world, loss control should become an increased priority in the scheme of ownership.

We would like to thank John Kennish for offering his expertise for the above article. John is a Security
Consultant and if you should be in need of his services, you can be reach him at:

John W. Kennish
62 East Pond Meadow Road,
Westbrook, Connecticut 06498
Tel: (860) 399-8545
Website: www.kennish.com

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