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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Stolen car retrieved from swamp - 38 years later

A Peugeot 104, which was recovered this week 38 years after it was stolen, is stored in a garage in Chalons-en-Champagne, eastern France (Chris den Hond/AP)
A Peugeot 104, which was recovered this week 38 years after it was stolen, is stored in a garage in Chalons-en-Champagne, eastern France (Chris den Hond/AP)
A Peugeot 104 recovered this week in France's Champagne country, 38 years after it was stolen (Gendarmerie Nationale via AP)

A car stolen in the heart of France's Champagne country in 1979 is to be reunited with its owner after police pulled it from a murky swamp - in surprisingly good condition but crawling with crayfish.

The pond owner alerted officers in Chalons-en-Champagne, 160 kilometres (100 miles) east of Paris, about the discovery, police said on Facebook.

The blue Peugeot 104 became visible because drought had caused the water level to drop.

After police divers checked there was not a body inside, the long-lost vehicle was towed on to dry land.

"It still looks like a 104. It's still blue and there is still chrome on the bumpers. It's surprising," Franck Menard, a mechanic who hauled it back to the local garage where he works, said.

"It's relatively well preserved given that it spent so long in the water."

"The seats are still in good condition, beige," he added.

Police said the compact four-door hatchback - as much a feature of its time as flared trousers and disco - was four years old and on its third owner when it was declared stolen in the Champagne town of Reims in 1979.

Too old to figure in computer databases, investigators dusted off paper archives to find the proprietor, who lives in the Reims area.

In their Facebook posting, headlined Cold Case, police said plans are under way to reunite car and owner in the next few days.

Mr Menard said that because it was declared stolen, the car technically now belongs to the owner's insurer.

Still, he is expecting the owner to drop by his garage "to come and see the car for nostalgia's sake".

The owner was stunned when officers tracked her down via family and neighbours, said Lt Col Pierre-Damien Igau, of the gendarmerie in Chalons-en-Champagne.

"She was surprised that we contacted her because even for her this was very ancient history," he said.

"She appeared quite moved by the fact that we had found her car so long after the fact and especially that we had made the effort to contact her."

Mr Menard said he does not expect the little Peugeot will ever run again, because the rusty engine block was muddied up.

But he said they scooped up the crayfish that had been living inside and freed them into a canal.

"At least they get a second life," he said.

AP

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