Bill Hemenez of San Leandro, Calif., spent over $40,000 to restore a classic 1964 Chevy Malibu that he'd purchased from a collector more than 12 years ago. He drove the car to countless shows across the state and was continually investing money into keeping it meticulous.
So Hemenez was a little puzzled when police called him last year asking after a stolen Malibu in his driveway — the very same one he'd put so much money and time into.
It turns out that Hemenez's little red Chevy was none other than the car Vincent Vega drove during his troubled date with Mia Wallace in "Pulp Fiction" – a car that went missing outside of director Quentin Tarantino's home nearly two decades ago.
This occurred in April last year, but at the time, the man who lost his prized car through no fault of his own was unnamed. However Hemenez has now come forward, telling his story to Yahoo Autos: He recalls being totally shocked, wondering how this could have happened to him. Hemenez also had no idea who Tarantino was and had never seen the movie "Pulp Fiction."
"After learning of the car's history, I had one of my guys go get the video so we could watch it," Hemenez says. "I then remembered seeing a commercial with John Travolta dancing on the stage. I couldn't believe it."
Investigators said that the '64 Chevy was originally stolen back in 1994, shortly after the film's debut. The thieves then switched the car's VIN with another '64 Malibu, and sold it to an unsuspecting buyer. When Hemenez eventually became the owner of the car, he says it was in disrepair, requiring repainting in the same cherry red, a replacement top, new suspension, gutting of the interior, new disc brakes and a set of shiny wheels and an intake manifold from a '64 Corvette. "I wanted to ensure as many parts as possible remained authentic to 1964," he recalled. "The car was drop-dead gorgeous – a daily driver."
Police stumbled upon the vehicle while investigating a separate crime involving a trashed shell of a '64 Malibu. After running its VIN, it was registered to Hemenez, which is when the police called and asked him when he'd last seen his car. Shortly thereafter, Hemenez learned that the VIN on his Malibu had been switched, and that he had been driving the stolen movie car for over a decade.
What happened next still saddens Hemenez: "They took the car and gave it back to Tarantino," he says. "And that's fine, because it's not my car. At first I was just happy it wasn't going to the crusher, which isn't uncommon for stolen vehicles." You might expect Hemenez was due compensation after the incident, but Hagerty insurance refused, stating that it doesn't insure stolen cars – despite its criminal past being unknown during that time. "I then asked them to pay me my twelve years of premium back," he says, "given I paid it in good faith, not knowing the scenario. But I was cut dry."
Tarantino has never contacted Hemenez either, which given how well he treated the machine – notwithstanding the fact that he left a trunk-full of parts he hadn't had time to fit, hoping Tarantino's people might continue with the Malibu's loving restoration – is something he feels is unjust.
And Hemenez is out more than just the $40,000 in restoration costs; he originally bought the Malibu by trading in his beloved 1946 Chevy hot rod, meaning he lost two cars in total: "I just wish Tarantino or his people would step up to the plate and say, 'Hey, thanks for looking after my car,'" Hemenez says. "He can keep the car, it wasn't mine after all, but take care of the little guy who took such good care of your property. I was ultimately left screwed by it all."
"I am happy he got his car back though," he continued. "At least I get to say that I got to drive the car John Travolta drove – how many people get to say that?"
Vincent Vega spoke of the Malibu in what became a famous scene in the movie, describing the kind of person who vandalizes another man's automobile. In that clip, he says that after the red Chevy spent three years in storage, someone "keyed it" within five days of its resurface. Tarantino was reunited with his car almost two decades later, and thanks to Hemenez, it didn't have a scratch.