Peter Thornton found out it pays to look a gift car in the mouth.
Thornton was the lucky beneficiary of a clerical error by the D.C. Lottery Board, which 10 days ago agreed to declare him the winner of an extra upscale car after he appeared -- incorrectly -- to have won the top prize in the lottery's bonus sweepstakes.
But when Thornton went to pick up his prize last week, he had this to say to the bountiful lottery officials about the 1985 Chevrolet Celebrity they were giving him: it wasn't good enough.
And, in a triumph of luck-pushing, Thornton has convinced the board to special-order him a better one. Lottery officials say they convinced the car dealer to foot the extra cost.
Thornton said lottery officials promised him a car identical to the one given to the real winner of the sweepstakes, Gaster Hunter. Hunter's car was a black 1985 Chevrolet Celebrity Classic, while the one the lottery board was trying to push on him was a mere Chevrolet Celebrity.
It was the blue color Thornton had requested, but it was not a Classic. No spoked wheels, no vinyl top -- no go.
Hunter's car, valued at $12,000, is black with a gray velvet interior and black vinyl top, cruise control, an AM-FM radio, tinted glass and automatic transmission.
"I told them I had my heart set on the Classic," said Thornton, a senior contract specialist with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who plans to retire this year. "I was not trying to make waves . . . . This was what I was promised."
The lottery board -- in for a dime, in for a dollar -- submitted. Now Thornton, who lives in Takoma Park, is waiting for the dealer to receive the car of his choice.
"In the interest of public relations, we decided to give him exactly what he saw," said James Fawcett, assistant executive director of lottery operations.
Another lottery official put it more bluntly: "We said, 'Just get this guy out of here, he's driving us crazy.' "
Gaster Hunter of the District, who received his car last Monday, called it "just beautiful," despite its having a scratch from being on display and having been driven 90 miles since its purchase in mid-March.
"I have no complaints," he said. "I never won anything before. I'm just overwhelmed."
A lottery board spokeswoman said officials went to the dealer where they got Hunter's car, Seidel Chevrolet of Laurel, for the blue Chevrolet Celebrity they offered Thornton, which he said had a list price of $11,122.
When the board decided to honor Thornton's request for the top-of-the-line model, officials called the dealer and prevailed upon him to order a Classic and absorb any price difference because the agency gives it a lot of business, she said.
Thornton, meanwhile, said he's willing to wait the extra four to eight weeks to get the car he wants and pronounced himself "perfectly satisfied with everything that's happened so far."
He said he's not sure if they are going to give him his color preference this time.
But Thornton said he won't complain about it if they give him a black one like Hunter's: "I'm not going to tempt the fates any more."