A North Tonawanda car collector who bought a vintage Chevrolet Corvette for nearly $50,000 and then spent another $75,000 restoring it, only to find the vehicle identification plate had been altered, has reached a legal settlement with the seller.
Ronald A. Ellis, of Newfane, who sold the 1966 car to Robert C. Ernst of North Tonawanda, was granted an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal by North Tonawanda City Judge William R. Lewis.
The decision means the nine felonies originally lodged against Ellis will be dropped if he stays out of trouble for six months.
More important for Ernst, whose investment in the car was about $125,000, a civil settlement was reached. Ernst said he didn’t want to disclose the amount Ellis is paying him.
“Basically, I feel I was made whole on the car,” he said.
Ernst said he paid Ellis $49,700 for the Corvette and spent $75,000 restoring it. But when he entered the vehicle in a vintage car show in London, Ont., in June 2011, the judges disqualified him because the VIN tag was not the original.
An investigation by the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office disclosed the car had been stolen shortly after it was sold by a Georgia Chevy dealer in 1966.
When it was recovered, police in Georgia found the VIN tag had been removed.
The car changed hands several times before Ernst, a Corvette collector who has restored and resold six other vintage Vettes, saw it at a collision shop in Riverside in 2008.
After he was disqualified at the car show, he accused Ellis, who had no prior criminal record, of making a counterfeit VIN tag.
Ellis’ attorney, Herbert L. Greenman, denied that accusation when he was interviewed by The Buffalo News in July. He said any alterations of the VIN tag occurred long before Ellis bought the car.
The investigation showed the auto had seven previous owners in Niagara County alone.
Greenman did not return calls seeking comment on the resolution in the case.
“I know it cost [Ellis] a lot of money for the car and for his lawyer,” Ernst said. “[The settlement] saved him from going to jail and losing his job. I’m satisfied with how it came out. It saved me from chasing him for the money and having to sue him.”
Although the replacement VIN plate ruined the car’s value for high-end collectors, Ernst, a petrochemical designer, said he has restored the car to sharp shape.
He thinks he can sell it for a good price to someone who isn’t quite as fussy about things not easily seen, such as VIN tags.
“Probably easily $75,000,” Ernst said when asked what he might be able to sell it for.
“I don’t think it would bring the $125,000 [I invested].”