Car detective
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Keith Ingersoll plays the role of car detective, pro bono

By Kate Silver

Keith Ingersoll knows firsthand how a car can feel like a family member. In its absence, there is grief and a longing to reconnect. Keith was 6 years old on the day in 1979 when two men came to his house and took a part of his father away.

For years, his dad, Gerald, had been an amateur drag racer whose muscle car was his pride and joy. But then he had a family. Money was tight, and soon his drag racing days were behind him. That’s what drew the two men to the house.

With the sale of that car, Gerald was letting go his 20-something, freewheeling self. Even at the young age of 6, Keith sensed the gravity of the situation: “To this day, I still get choked up talking about it. It’s difficult to overestimate how indelible a mark the car made on me and him. I remember him looking kind of ashen. He knew that he had to sell it, but he didn’t want to do it.”

Today, at age 70, Gerald still hasn’t forgotten the freedom and power he felt cruising in that car. Neither has Keith. To anyone who’s every loved—truly loved—a car, it comes as no surprise how powerfully a vehicle intertwines with emotions. It evokes a place, a time, a culture, an era.

Keith knew he couldn’t be the only one who felt the emptiness left behind by a beloved car. So 12 years ago, he created a website called The Lost Car Registry, where users can post information about their own lost cars.

The site is packed with automobiles, including a number of classic Chevrolets, that have gone missing: a 1966 Bel Air, 1976 Impala, 1959 Corvette, 1967 Chevelle, 1969 Camaro, 1956 Bel Air, 1976 Silverado—and the list goes on. At times, it reads a bit like the back of an old milk carton:

Lost: 1968 Matador Red Chevrolet Camaro 2 Door with Standard Sport Coupe. Last seen: 1981 in Wheaton, Ill. Sold to: Don’t remember.

Lost: 1965 White Chevrolet Corvette 2 Door with Coupe: 327 w 4 speed, side pipes, black interior. Last seen: 1976 in North Plainfield, NJ. Sold to: Mike?
Lost: 1985 black Chevrolet Camaro z28 Hatchback loaded with t tops and red interior. Last seen: 1989 in Malden, MA.

In the years since the site began, it has registered more than 4,000 users seeking their old cars or sharing VIN numbers of cars they currently own. Keith himself has personally taken on a number of cases, playing the role of car detective, pro bono. He’s found cars—including a 1967 Impala—thousands of miles from home, and reunited them with their owners. It’s become his true passion, so much so that he’s currently in negotiations, along with Paul de Souza, an executive director, to shoot a TV pilot about his work.

As Keith takes on new cases, his father’s beloved car is always on his mind. “My dad has had a great life, and he’ll be the first to admit it. But there was a certain wild carefreeness to the life that he had when he was in his 20s,” he says. “To see that car one last time, he would be 27 again—certainly not physically, but emotionally. I think it would come back to him in a heartbeat.”

With every lost car he finds, Keith hopes his dad’s muscle machine will be right around the bend.

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Kate Silver blogs at Kate Silver’s Very Important Blog and Parents.com, and writes regularly for Spirit Magazine, the Chicago Tribune and Midwest Living.