Betsy Montgomery, drove the same car on her 55th birthday that she drove as a 15-year-old living in south Jackson, Mississippi — a 1966 red Mustang that her dad bought from the original owner in 1973.
How she got the opportunity to do so is a head-scratching story with a fairy tale ending.
“If I wasn’t friends with her and saw it for myself, I’m not sure I’d believe it,” says Mitch Thomas, 53, a Franklin County resident who has known Montgomery for more than 30 years.
On Oct. 19, 2012, a man from California left a message on Montgomery’s home phone near Brookhaven. The man said he wanted to talk to her about “some stolen property.”
Montgomery returned his call the next day. He identified himself as Lou Koven with something called the NICB.
“Have you had anything stolen?” he asked.
“No, nothing,” she said. “Well … except a car about 20 years ago.”
“What kind of car?” he asked.
“A 1966 red Mustang,” she answered.
“Well, I have it sitting right here in California. It was about to be put on a boat to Australia where somebody bought it,” he said.
Montgomery, 56, has worked as an emergency room nurse at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson for most of her 40 years there. She isn’t shocked easily. But for several minutes after learning her Mustang was alive and well, Montgomery sat speechless.
“What you have to understand about this car is that it was like another child in our family,” says Linda Wade, Montgomery’s younger sister. “When it was stolen, it was like someone had died.”
Montgomery called her mom, her sister, a few friends. All were thrilled. But nearly all said the same thing: It has to be a hoax.
“I told them that after talking to Mr. Koven that I also spoke with somebody from the California Highway Patrol,” Montgomery says. “I don’t think the Highway Patrol is going to be part of a hoax.”
The car was stolen in September 1992 from her parents’ driveway, four blocks from where she lived in south Jackson. Police told her it “might” show up at some point.
Two decades later, the car was traced to Montgomery through the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit established by insurance companies. It was able to link it to Montgomery through the car’s vehicle identification number.
On Nov. 5, 2012, the car arrived on a truck at a mechanic’s shop near Wesson. Montgomery immediately thought of her late father, Colon, when she spotted it among several other cars on the trailer.
“When I was 15, I had seen it in a yard just a couple of blocks over from where we lived,” she said. “He was looking for a car, and I knew I’d be getting my license and driving whatever car he bought. I begged him to go look at it. I went with him. They were asking $750. I think he got it for $600.”
According to National Automobile Dealers Association, the recognized authority on vehicle values, a car like Montgomery’s would’ve had an original suggested retail price of $2,522. The association reports the car could now be worth as much as $32,000.
“As they backed it off the ramp, I just started thinking about all the times me and my friends went riding in it,” she says. “My daddy teaching me to drive a stick shift in it. He worked at Colonial bakery and would drive us in the Mustang to get fresh, warm bread. Just moments like that came back to me in an instant.”
It was in great shape. A few nicks and scrapes.
“But whoever owned it, and no matter how many times it changed hands, they took care of it,” she says. “I just wish it had one of those black boxes like an airplane so it could tell me where all it’s been.”
She waited nearly three months after its arrival home – until her birthday on New Year’s Eve 2012 – to drive it.
“I wanted it to be special, and it was.”
She used it sparingly in 2013.
Montgomery was scheduled this week to get it out of what she refers to as “the beauty shop.” That would be Porter’s Body Shop in Brookhaven, where it has been the past couple of months getting all the blemishes removed.
“Man, this thing is shining like a new nickel,” shop owner Ronnie Porter says. “Never heard anything like this story. It’s a miracle.”
“Daddy put a Colonial bread tag on the front of the car,” Linda Wade says. “I’m trying to find one for Betsy. When she gets that, it’ll look just like it did back in the day.”
Says Montgomery: “I still just look at it sometimes and can’t believe it found its way back to me. I hadn’t given up totally. Everywhere I went, I looked for one just like it. And every once in a while, I’d spot one.
“But now all I’ll have to do is look out in my driveway to see the real thing. It’s been a pretty nice surprise.”