The Case of the Stolen Citation

by Phil Knight  |  Tuesday Dec. 1st, 2015

I’ve gone through many cars, and just last year my wife and I bought our first new one. But one car stands out.

My generous parents presented me with this most excellent ride in 1992. The Chevy Citation was a not-so-classic of its day, but if you got a good one, it was nearly indestructible, as I was to prove. You did have to wonder if, with a name like Citation for your car, you weren’t inviting the police to issue you a…well…you know, one of those “moving violations.”

The Citation was a four door, front wheel drive machine with a hatchback. Mine was gold, and it drove like a dream. I piloted that Citation seven times across the U.S.A., including through some horrendous North Dakota ground blizzards. I slept in the back, diagonally, in some strange locations. In the Indiana Dunes, a raccoon climbed in the open hatchback and pawed through my stuff. In Montana, I drove it through eighteen inches of new snow on a back road after we got dumped on during a ski trip.

The Citation proved its toughness during the early days of the roadless forest defense campaigns in central Idaho. In 1992 I spent about five weeks living in the woods there with a bunch of crazed hippies and radicals.

One day Juri announced he needed to get to Missoula and could he borrow my car. Well, he seemed a solid bloke so I said OK and handed over the keys. Last time I ever did that!

An hour later I was in Eric’s Land Cruiser with a mob, headed out on patrol. We met some friends coming the other way in a car on the dirt road, and stopped to talk. Out of the blue, WHAM! The Land Cruiser was rocked by a blow from behind. My hot coffee splashed on my face and clothes, scalding me. Cursing and sputtering, I quickly turned to see…my car!

Juri had just slammed into the Land Cruiser with my Citation, only a mile from camp. I leaped out, furious. Juri barely seemed concerned, and assured me he would replace the bumper, which had a big crack in the middle. He never did replace it, and the car wore that snarl the rest of its days. The Land Cruiser was untouched. I still let Juri take the car to Missoula.

That was just the beginning of an ill-fated journey. Juri gave the car to Jake and Mike to bring it back to Base Camp, near Dixie, Idaho, three days later. I was expecting the return of my car, and was mortified to see Jake and Mike climb out of the back of Dan’s car, where they had been crammed in with all manner of crap.

“Jake, where the hell is my car?”
“It’s back a ways. We hit a rock.”
“WHAAATTT???”

Turns out, it was lucky the car was still in existence, and even luckier Mike and Jake were alive. They had been driving the endless winding curves of Route 14, along the South Fork of the Clearwater, late at night. They came around a corner, with Mike driving, and there was a huge boulder on the road which had rolled off the mountain above. According to Jake, it was either hit the rock or go in the river. With a horrible rattling crunch, the Citation rolled over the boulder. They quickly came to a stop, unhurt, and got out and surveyed the damage. As they watched, gas spilled out of the now-punctured tank, all over the road. That was the only real damage – everything else was cosmetic.

So there sat Jake and Mike, stuck. They curled up on the side of the road, until Dan spotted them early in the morning as he made his way along Route 14, and had mercy on them.

How to get my car back? It was a hell of a long way to the nearest repair shop, in Kamiah. Well, Eric volunteered to go fetch it. He was a good mechanic, and a madman. He’d been busted six times that first summer at Cove/Mallard, once for crawling under a Sheriff’s car with a wrench and threatening to drain the oil unless they left Base Camp immediately. Eric bummed a ride to Kamiah and bought a five gallon gas can and a hose. He filled the tank, got another ride to my car, hooked the gas can up to the motor, and drove the thing to a repair shop in Kamiah. I picked it up a few days later, with a new gas tank…and a cracked front bumper.

Of course, the Citation survived worse than this. In 1994, it was stolen, right out of my driveway, in little old Bozeman, Montana. One day I came home from work, at noon, on my bicycle, to have lunch. I noticed my car was not in the drive. Hmmm. I immediately suspected one of my friends had borrowed it, as my keys were missing, and my girlfriend Alaina said she did not know where it had gone.

After calling the only two people who might have borrowed it, I was forced to conclude the car was stolen right out of my driveway. Who would want the old beat up thing was a mystery. But I called the cops, went to the police station, filled out a report, and moped, not sure if I would ever see my car again.

I did not have to wait long until the police called me. They had found my car! I drove over to the Campus Square movie theater, at their instruction, and there it was, in a deep ditch behind the theater. It was nose down in the ditch, at an angle, so that the rear end was sticking up in the air. Not only that…there were five or six bullet holes in it! One rear side window was shot out. The cops pointed out that the keys were in it as well, so I must have left them in it by mistake.

The cops towed it out of the ditch, and that tough old car started! I was angry to see my rubber alligator had been stolen off the dash. Off went the Citation behind the tow truck, to the police storage yard where I hoped they would search it for finger prints or do something useful to try and find out who had done this.

To my surprise, I got another called from the Bozeman City Police that evening. They wanted me to come down to the station “for a talk.” Hopefully, they had some evidence. Imagine my surprise when the cop, who Alaina ended up calling Barney Fife, proceeded to accuse me of drunk driving, putting my car in the ditch, and reporting it stolen to cover up my accident! I was blown away. And there was more to this twisted story.

Apparently the police had received a tip early in the morning that the car was in the ditch, so they were well aware it was there long before I reported it stolen. They were so suspicious of me because my story did not match what they already knew – that it had been missing from my driveway since sometime during the night. I had gone to work by bicycle in the morning, never noticing that the car was missing. I had come home at lunch and noticed it then, so I figured it had been stolen sometime between 8:00 AM and noon, and had written that on my official report.

“Mr. Knight,” threatened Barney in Blue, scowling in his most threatening bad-cop attitude, “Filing a false report is a felony.”

Alaina and I were supposed to leave for a month-long holiday in Canada and the Bob Marshall Wilderness the next day, but I could not leave with this mess hanging over my head. I was frantic. Alaina and Don, our house mate, both came down to the station and testified that I had been home the night before, not out drinking and driving.

I finally convinced Barney that I had indeed been a victim of a crime, instead of a perpetrator.
    
“So, officer, do you think you can find out who stole my car now?”
    
“I’m sorry Mr. Knight, but the car was in the ditch all night, and anybody’s prints could be on it.”
    
“What about all those bullet holes? Couldn’t you do ballistics tests?”
    
“No point in it. Anyone could have shot it up.”

So I got my poor car back, with five bullet holes and one rear window shattered rear window. Amazingly, the window was the only real damage, and I later got a replacement at a junkyard and had it installed very cheaply. I puttied up the other holes. Several years later the fuel pump shorted out due to damage to the wires from bullets, which had nicked the wiring. I nearly burned the car up by pouring fuel in the carburetor…shortly after that I sold it.  

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