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From dream car to nightmare

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



When Thomas Franzen of West Dundee dropped off his 1978 special-edition Pontiac Trans Am to be repainted, he had no idea it would be the last time he’d see his beloved classic in one piece.

In July, Franzen arranged for “a friend of a friend” to carefully dismantle and repaint his golden Firebird. The car was in excellent condition, with less than 6,000 miles on the odometer. Although the car purred like new, the paint had been scratched over the years and needed a new coat.

To ensure the classic was taken care of and put back together seamlessly, Franzen ordered the painter to contact him at every step during the refinishing process.

“I took pictures so that every little pinstripe was repainted in the right place,” Franzen said.

His first car

Franzen, 48, got his Pontiac Firebird Trans Am when he was 16 years old.

“It was my first car,” he said. “I used to take it out with my high school sweetheart.”

Although he had a Chevy he used for most of his driving, the Pontiac was Franzen’s pride — a showroom car when he bought it. The Trans Am also was Franzen’s joy — his best friends, Glen and Scott, also had Trans Ams, and the young men spent hours together “tinkering with their toys,” Franzen said.

“One of them had a 1979 Trans Am and the other had a 1975 Trans Am and as we were growing up, we played with our cars together,” Franzen said.

When the boys hit their 20s however, tragedy struck. Both Glen and Scott died in incidents that involved their beloved Pontiacs, Franzen said.

Glen was first, followed by Scott.

“I had parked my car since that day,” Franzen said of the day Scott died. “I just couldn’t look at my car,” he said. He still gets emotional talking about that time.

Estimated worth: $40,000

About six months ago, sparked in part by the struggling economy, Franzen decided to investigate having the paint restored and selling the Pontiac. With a new paint job, Franzen determined the car would be worth around $40,000. Franzen owns Hills and Dales All Seasons Services, a local snow plow and landscaping company. Although he did not “need” the money, “in these tough economic times, it might have helped,” he said.

Franzen worked out a deal with “friend of a friend” Ron Olson of Elgin to repaint the car.

Olson disassembled and prepared the Firebird at his home and once it was ready for the paint booth, the Pontiac was moved to Head-On Collision in South Elgin, where Olson would paint it.

Locked away

Months passed, and the car was not repainted. Franzen said Olson told him it would take time to get access to the paint booth. And initially, Franzen didn’t mind the wait.

“Winter was coming and the car would have been in a garage anyway,” Franzen said.

During that wait, the owners of Head-On Collision, also identified as G & G Ventures Inc. in court documents, went through a foreclosure in Kane County, court records said.

The owners of the property, Glen and Gloria Christensen of Lake in the Hills, owed CoAmerica Bank of Texas more than $1 million, according to court reports.

Unfortunately, during the foreclosure process, Franzen’s Trans Am was locked inside the auto shop and at some point between July and December, parts of the classic vehicle went missing.

By the time Franzen was able to gain access to his car on Dec. 2, he discovered the hood, trunk, fenders, front and tail light assemblies and the smoke-colored T-tops were gone, according to a report he filed with South Elgin police.

“This was a business deal that went bad, unfortunately,” said Sgt. Michael Doty of the South Elgin Police Department.

‘Never the same’

During the foreclosure, Head-On Collision periodically was locked down, and several parties had access to the property at different times. CoAmerica Bank employed a receiving company, Rally Capital Services LLC of Chicago, to secure and inventory the property at 1520 Gilpen Road. And Bob King Auctions of Algonquin also was brought in.

South Elgin detectives have opened a file on the missing car parts and have speculated they were auctioned off as part of the foreclosure, Doty said. On a document sent to Rally Capital Services from King Auctions, there is a line that states miscellaneous body parts were sold at an auction on Sept. 30.

King vehemently disputes that charge, however, and offered several snapshots of the car parts he said were auctioned off — none of them belonging to the Pontiac. King also accompanied Franzen on Saturday to do one more search of the Gilpen Road property to make sure the car parts weren’t still in the building.

In addition, King has said that the Christensens’ former employees had access to the building, and “anyone could have easily popped open the front door.”

For now, all Franzen knows is that his Pontiac Trans Am is gone.

“All I have left is a shell,” he has repeated over and over since Dec. 2. “It will never be the same.”

South Elgin police were trying to work with the bank and Franzen last week to find a “happy easy medium,” Doty said. “But we’re still trying to speak with the bank ... we have detectives now trying to find the former owners,” Head-On Collision, Doty said.

At this point, the missing car parts are a civil issue more than a criminal one, according to police.

“We are going to reach out to see if we can help the victim with the bank. If we can’t, it will have to go to civil court,” Doty said.

Anyone who might have seen the parts or knows where they might be can contact staff writer Katie Anderson at 630-978-8149.



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