How the power of the internet reunited a stolen Mini with its owner

| 10 Jun 2013

Meet Joel Vermiglio. You may not have heard of him, but you might well have seen his car somewhere in the past week.

Joel is worthy of bringing to your attention for several reasons.

First up is some good news for all those people perpetually wondering where the next generation of enthusiasts is going to come from.

This 25-year old, who works for Emissions Analytics, is a classic car nut. Having inherited the fever from his dad and elder brother, when he was just 18 Joel bought a derelict 1961 Austin Cooper off a friend's driveway, saving it from going for scrap.

The "rotten shell" set him back £40 and he has spent the past seven years completely restoring it to its current immaculate state.

Joel has done pretty much all this work himself, at home. The paintwork was farmed out, but with his family's guidance he has done everything else, including teaching himself to weld.

Admittedly, there are (quite) a few details and modifications that will make the purists wince – not least the Vauxhall engine.

But, quite apart from the fact that an early chassis that would otherwise be scrap has been saved, isn't it reassuring to know that not only are young people still interested in classics (albeit with their own twist on them), but that the other big fear – that basic traditional skills will disappear – is similarly unfounded?

Why Joel is really interesting to me, however, is what brought him to my attention in the first place.

Last weekend, a buzz started to go around several car-related forums and websites about a stolen Mini.

It had been pinched from Cheam, Surrey in the dead of night and – once he realised that it wasn't just a matter of the handbrake failing on a steep drive – it must have been pushed, dragged or lifted.

This news first appeared on Joel's Facebook page, then the 16V Mini Club Forums and I became aware of it when a link was posted on the Jensen Owners' Club Forum.

Naturally, I splashed it all over C&SC's social media (Facebook, Twitter and Google +) and was delighted that so many other people instantly shared it and passed the message on.

Given that C&SC was just one of many conduits for this news and directly reached tens of thousands of enthusiasts, it's fair to guess that Joel's plea for help probably reached hundreds of thousands of people in just a few hours.

The upshot was that someone who had already spotted the car but had assumed that it was just parked up, then became aware via the internet that it was stolen, immediately reported it to the police and Joel was swiftly reunited with his car.

The elapsed time between Joel's original distress call and the car being found was a little over 14 hours.

And that is solely thanks to the passion and solidarity of the classic car community rallying round to help a like-minded soul.

Joel says: "The response was phenomenal, I was getting messages from complete strangers telling me they were spreading the word all over the place. It turned into a blizzard, but I am convinced that's why I got it back so quickly.

"Apart from the bonnet latches and the door locks, everything was intact and just how I left it, even the tools and the food I left in it for a planned trip to Brighton."

While it is heartwarming to see the strength of our hobby react to such a call to arms, there is also a more fundamental lesson to be learned: the power of the internet.

With classic car thefts on the up, we have already pledged to make our readers and followers aware of any stolen classic, and there are many more who will also help to spread the word.

The internet allows us all to do this instantly and without geographical barriers, which, according to police, greatly improves the chance of an owner getting their car back.

So if the unthinkable happens to your old car, please follow Joel's example. As the old phrase goes, use it (the internet), or lose it (the car).