Mike Allen of Joliet has been working on his 1984 Monte Carlo SS for three years. Restoring an old muscle car is hard work for anyone, but even more so for Allen who is a paraplegic.
So when Allen came home from a family dinner to find his garage broken into and his car gone, he was devastated.
“I was pretty livid about it,” Allen said. “It’s not that the car was worth much, but it was mine and I had [put] a lot of work into it.”
What Allen didn’t know was that the “theft” was actually a scheme by a group of friends to get the Monte Carlo restored, up and running, and fitted for Allen to drive.
The scheme was concocted by Minooka resident Joe Zolper, owner of Prison City Choppers. Zolper and Allen are both members of Prison City Mafia, a custom club for cars, bikes, boats ... you name it.
The club of about 30 members got together and planned the heist. They got a lot of people involved, Zolper said, from the Joliet Police Department to Allen’s insurance agent.
They informed his neighbors and got his wife Lisa to leave the garage door unlocked that night.
“Pretty much everyone [was in on it] but me,” Allen later said.
While Allen was out to dinner, club members towed away his car. They made a huge mess of the garage and broke a window to make the theft look real. They even took his collection of radio-controlled cars.
When he returned home and saw his car gone, Allen called the police.
They came out and took a report, which went nowhere. He contacted his insurance agent, who also took a report.
His wife was sympathetic.
“She did very well,” Allen said of his wife’s involvement. “She said [later] it was the most horrible week ever because she had to lie to me all week.”
Back at Prison City Choppers, Zolper, his employees and club members were busy working on the Monte Carlo. They worked day and night for four days straight to get it done.
The car got a new suspension, new rotors and brakes, a nitro system, new tires and an exhaust system. It needed doors and trim pieces. It needed body work, a paint job and proper hand controls so Allen could drive it.
“We had a hell of a time finding some of the stuff. People were running all over getting parts,” Zolper said. “There were 30 to 40 guys at any given time.”
The community got involved as well. Parts came from Bill Jacobs Chevrolet, Arnie’s Paint Supply made
a cash donation, Fischer
Auto donated parts, and they got a great deal from Tire Tracks.
“It blew me away, the people that wanted to get involved and help,” Zolper said. “It was really great how the community came together.”
But the best was yet to come – the unveiling of the project.
Every year, Allen attends the Morris Lions Club car show. And yes, members of the Lions Club were in on it, too.
During the 27th annual event in October, Zolper said he would have the disc jockey announce the car theft to find out if anyone had seen the Monte
Carlo. Zolper set up a screen to show a picture of the car.
But when a video began to play, with background music from “Gone in 60 Seconds,” Allen slowly began to realize what had gone on. His friends had videotaped the entire heist, including footage of themselves playing in Allen’s yard with his radio-controlled cars.
“It was pretty cool,” Allen said. “Words can’t explain the feeling. “
The crowd loved it, too, Zolper said.
“I pulled the car up through the crowd, the place went nuts. It was unreal,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the Lions Club, we wouldn’t have been able to do such a cool reveal.”
Prison City Mafia plans to do some other project next year, Zolper said.
Allen holds no grudges that his car was “stolen.”
“I can’t thank them enough,” he said. “It’s exactly what I was planning for the car. It looks good, it’s everything I was trying to get to.
“I’m going to drive the hell out of it and show it. Wherever the cars are is where it’s going to be.”