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Police search for Papa John’s icon

Police are searching for the 1970s muscle car that has figured large in the history and publicity efforts of the Papa John’s pizza chain.

The 1971 Camaro Z28 was stolen Saturday in Detroit, where it had been trucked from Kentucky to participate in a vintage-car pageant called the Dream Cruise. 

The car has played a big role in the Papa John’s story. Chain founder John Schnatter sold the car in the early 1980s to ease the financial plight of his father, who had filed for bankruptcy. A portion of the proceeds were used by the younger Schnatter to turn a closet inside his father’s Indiana bar into a pizza stand. The popularity of the pizza led to the opening of a freestanding pizzeria called Papa John’s.

Decades later, the younger Schnatter offered a $25,000 bounty to whoever could find the car. It was located and purchased in 2009 by Schnatter, by then a multimillionaire from the success of Papa John’s, for $250,000.

The car has been a star of Papa John’s marketing, including a promotion where sweepstakes contestants could win a copy of the vehicle.

The Camaro was seldom taken from its safe refuge in Kentucky, the home state of Papa John’s. It was trailered to the Detroit area for the weekend event.

Thieves made off with the trailer, the Camaro and the truck that hauled it, according to Detroit-area media reports. The trailer and hauler were recovered by authorities later in the weekend.

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