Answer: Wow. Over a decade since you bought the car, a salvage title, a divorce, a residence change, and lost documents. I feel like I’m taking a test on how to title a car under the worst possible set of circumstances. Are you sure the car isn’t stolen too?
The only option that I’m aware of is to use a title service such as International Title Service (www.its-titles.com). Essentially, what you do is transfer ownership to them by selling them the car with a simple Bill of Sale. They then obtain a title from a state that permits a car to be titled with nothing more than a Bill of Sale. Once obtained, this title is signed over to you just as it would be in any ordinary transaction, thereby transferring ownership back to you. You bring the title into the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and ultimately you end up with a title in your name. You will be asked by the title service to sign a statement swearing that the car is not stolen, so you had best be sure it is not.
The list of states that permit you to title a car with only a Bill of Sale are getting shorter, so the waiting time is getting longer, up to 90 days.
In this particular case there are other factors to take into consideration. You indicate that the car had a salvage title in California. If you proceed to obtain a new title from NY, this could be viewed as "washing the title." In other words, getting a clean title for a car that had a salvage title, which is of course, illegal. When you title the car in New York, you will have to fill out an MV-82 form. Section 6 addresses this issue, and you have the opportunity to say that the vehicle did have a salvage title.
Another consideration is the total cost of obtaining a title in New York. The title service charges a fee for their service, typically about $250.00. They must also pay sales tax in the state in which they title the vehicle, a cost that is passed on to you. When you title the car in New York, you will pay sales tax again. If done properly, you will most likely end up with a salvage title for a 1975 vehicle. You need to decide whether it is worth the effort and expense.