Originally Published: September 3, 2017 6:01 a.m.
PARIS (AP) — It’s the car coming back from a watery grave.
A blue Peugeot 104 stolen in the heart of France’s Champagne country in 1979 is being reunited with its owner — 38 years later — after French police pulled it, in surprisingly good shape but crawling with crayfish, from a murky swamp.
In a Facebook posting, police said the pond owner alerted officers in Chalons-en-Champagne, 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Paris, on Monday about the discovery. The car became visible because drought dropped the water level.
After police divers checked there wasn’t a corpse inside, the long-lost vehicle was towed onto dry land.
“lt 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 in a phone interview. “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 afoot to reunite car and owner in the next few days.
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 neighbors, 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.”
Menard said he doesn’t 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.
Chris den Hond in Chalons-en-Champagne contributed to this report.