When Catherine Johnson, 93, and Levada Carney, 88, claimed their 1957 Plymouth Belvedere late last year, there was no question that the sisters were in much better shape than the 50-year-old car.
The two women “inherited” the car as the result of a contest entered by their late brother Raymond Humbertson back in the summer of 1957. Humbertson never lived in Tulsa, and how he came to enter the contest is just one of the mysteries surrounding the car. But his guess at the city’s 2007 population came the closest of those retrieved from the time capsule that was buried with the car beneath the Tulsa County Courthouse lawn.
After spending nearly 50 years quietly rusting away, the ’57 Plymouth, affectionately known as “Miss Belvedere,” is now in the process of being stabilized so that her transformation can finally begin.
To date, only the front passenger-side fender and a handful of parts have been test cleaned to ensure that the car will be able to survive the stabilization process.
After two days of days of continuous re-circulation of the Safestrustremover product was able to clear the targeted area on the car's front fender, removing the heavy rust.
“Things are looking encouraging,” said Dwight Foster, owner the Ultra One Corporation that has been entrusted with the painstaking process of stabilizing and cleaning up “Miss Belvedere” using their Safest Rust Remover line of products. “We have no intention of restoring the car. Our goal is to stabilize it and replace only what we have to so that people can see the car for what it is.”
Despite hopes that the Plymouth Belvedere would be ready in time to make the journey back to Tulsa later this month, one year from the day the car was unearthed, Foster says that simply won’t be possible.
“When we cleaned the instrument cluster we learned that the car only has four miles on the odometer. However, despite the low miles, sitting under water all those years took a toll on the car,” Foster said. “The frame is rotted clear through in numerous places, the motor was caked in clay that set up almost like concrete, and from the doors back in some places the body is so thin that you can easily push your fingers through it.”
The interior of 'Miss Belvedere' as it appeared upon removal from the time capsule.
The odometer and a portion of the dash following rust removal cleansing process.
Despite the deterioration, the car’s new owners and those involved in the stabilization process still believe that the car will one day run. But nearly everyone involved will readily admit that it is doubtful that “Miss Belvedere” will ever be able to cruise the highways under her own power.
Drive-side valve cover after soaking in the Safestrustremover.
In order to make that happen, a donor car was purchased recently from North Carolina.
However, in order to preserve the integrity of “Miss Belvedere,” the car’s owners intend to only use what is absolutely necessary in order to make it possible to roll and steer the car.
“We will tear the original motor down and hope to get it running. We’ll use the frame off of the donor car to help stabilize the body and we will replace the rear valance panel from beneath the tail lights and a few other panels as needed.”
Left side engine bank without valve cover.
The trunk lid will also have to be rebuilt using the “skin” from the original car and the bracing from the donor car to repair the damage that was done when it was pried open to allow access to the items that had been placed in the trunk when it was buried.
Viewed for the first time publicly since the car was buried, the car's VIN tag has been found.
As the layers of rust are slowly cleared away, the 1957 Plymouth Belvedere that has truly become one of the most famous “finned” Mopars in the world will continue to reveal answers to many of the “mysteries” that have surrounded the car.
However, a single package that was handed to Foster the day that “Miss Belvedere” left Tulsa may shed some light on this incredible car and the saga it has created.
The package contains a single item that has been passed from father to son and has only been seen publicly once before…the very night the car was buried.
Be sure to check out the next issue of the Old Cars Weekly enewsletter to learn what this mysterious package contains.
The right rear frame rail clearly shows the extensive damage to the frame of the car.