What Happened To The 1957 Plymouth Belvedere Buried in Tulsa? Updated 2/24/2012

Reading a story on Jalopnik this morning about how a 1985 Pontiac Fiero was removed from a Houston reservoir after 22 years underwater caused my mind to wander to the last rusty submerged car that I remember seeing in the news.  Of course, that car is the 1957 Plymouth Belvedere that the city fathers of Tulsa, Oklahoma buried in front of their city hall in 1957, to be unearthed in 2007 and awarded to the person who most closely guessed Tulsa’s 2007 population.

You’ve probably seen what happened to the car – despite precautions being taken back in 1957, the underground vault leaked (unbeknownst to anyone) and filled with water.  After a few decades of submersion, the Belvedere wasn’t looking too good when it again came to see the light of day.

The car was awarded to Raymond Humbertson, who died in 1979.  His sisters, Levada Carney, now 88 if she’s still alive, and Catherine Johnson, 97 if she’s still alive, own the car instead.  The car’s exhumation happened four and a half years ago – and what in the world would two very old ladies want to do with a very old, undriveable car?

Online research today led me to a two year old article from the New York Times about how a man named Dwight Foster, owner of a company called Ultra One Corporation, happened to have the car in his care at his garage in New Jersey.  This one was pretty far gone – so forget about them stopping along the way at a shop for Austin TX auto repair.

It turns out that Foster’s company sells a rust removal chemical called “Safe Rust Remover.”  Considering that rust is basically all that remains of the Belvedere after all these years, it may be a perfect match.  Yet the presence of rust also means that some (or all) of the underlying metal has been consumed.  Remove the rust, and you’re removing metal.  Foster says as much in a quote in the Times article.

“A lot of the original paint is still there. What we’re doing, it’s like an artifact from the Titanic, you strip a layer at a time and not be too aggressive.  You can’t rush this. It’s fragile. It’s like tissue paper.”

Ultra One’s “restoration” of the 1957 Belvedere is being done purely for publicity for the Safe Rust Remover product, a fact that Mr. Foster freely admits.  The company’s website also does not promise miracles:

There is no other product in the world that can remove rust delicately, without destroying any of the fragile parts such as seals, gaskets, and original paint and decals. The goal is to restore Miss Belvedere to the most orignal state possible and no other product can achieve this.

The Belvedere is in sorry shape, and will never drive again, certainly not in its original form without serious replacement parts.  The Times says:

There are holes in the valve covers and oil pan, and red clay got into the engine and dried like concrete. The frame is rusted and in some sections he can put his hand through the holes. He is not sure the doors can be opened without risking what’s left of the car’s structural integrity.

Though it’s older than the New York Times piece referened above, there was a blog post on Hemmings Collector Car Radio that looked into the car and has a few more recent photos of its rust removal.  Some spots look all right to the point that you can see original paint, and the interior looks much better.  The car is still a basket case.  And given the photo of the kiddie pool beneath the car collecting used rust remover, exactly how many gallons of that stuff are they using?  That blog post also has photos of Catherine and Levita, the car’s elderly owners.

The most recent information on this car dates to early 2010, and the latest progress update was that Mr. Foster was going to replace the Belvedere’s completely disintegrated frame with one from a rust-free Southern donor car.  Hopefully that transplant worked and the car didn’t snap in half.

Update 2/24/2012:  I got a call back from Dwight Foster.  He said that he still has “Miss Belvedere” in his possession.  While the car was offered to Tulsa for a special exhibit, they have no interest in it due to (in his words) the necessity of police overtime and other expenses they weren’t willing to incur a second time.  One of the car’s elderly owners has passed away (he didn’t say which one, but presumably it’s Catherine, who would be 97 if she were alive today.  Mr. Foster stressed that the car is in terrible shape – basically, as it sat in a cauldron of water for the better part of five decades, the water became acidic from the various chemicals within the car, and more or less “ate itself.”  So the sheetmetal is extremely thin.  The car will probably never get much better than it is today.

Mr. Foster noted that he has a donor car, but is only using it for parts to get “Miss Belvedere” rolling on her own again.  He abandoned the idea of replacing the car’s frame with one from the donor car because he didn’t believe it would be able to withstand something so dramatic (even without seeing the car in person, I tend to agree).  For this reason, he hasn’t even tried to open the doors.  He did note, however, that the car has just 4 miles on its odometer.

The car’s owners and Mr. Foster are hoping to have the car placed in the Smithsonian or in a museum in Tennessee, but nothing is set at this time.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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13 Comments

  1. “This is my grandfather’s hammer. My father replaced the handle, and I have replaced the head, but this is my grandfather’s hammer”.

    In other words, there is no way that car is ever going to run again with it’s original parts. The best case would be a car composed of 90% donor parts with a few salvageable pieces off this car that was buried.

  2. Poor thing and the bastards that did it to her won’t even put her in a museum!!! That or bury her back in her vault with a proper funeral ceremony and a big sorry.

  3. Hi there everybody!

    As a old car nut it´s heartbreaking to see what´s happened to such a beautiful girl. At least Christine could repair herself……. but this lady, unfortunately not! *many tears*

    Though the story is interesting, I followed it before and during the diggin and now also some years after, it´s sad to see that nothing was made to save this milestone, even if they talked about Boyd restorations. It is clearly one of the most beautiful cars that have ever been made.
    Now I only hope that someone with i BIG heart reads this story above and takes Miss Belvedere back to a proper home with a lot of caring and love so she can end up in a new dress just like Miss Christine did in her comeback… :O)

  4. As sad as much of this whole story is about MR.!! Belvedere, ( 2-doors are Boys !!,, 4-doors are Girls!! ) Now that some Automotive Historians have been properly taught about Car sex. But Dwight Foster did an exquisite job bringing back some beckoned, & needed appearance of an orgasmic motorcar which now actually has some of its original car appearance, & luster back. And he looks like he could even be an actual driver the way it sits 2day. Furthermore,,,,, What Dwight’s professionalism has done to the exterior of Mr. Belvedere. Another could also do to the Interior. I know how rough it is. And you cannot save what is now non-existent. But you can still improve what Does still exist. The same goes for the Plymouths original intention. To make him run again CAN BE Done. I could do it. To make him Drive again Can Be Done. I could do it.To make him Shift, and even stop again under his own power Can also be Done..Just as re-circulating 12-volt current through his veins again, along with making his charging system, cooling system and all else affiliated back to what it was in 1957 Can All Be Done. Don’t think in cannot be. Cause it most certainly CAN BE.Whatever you just could not possibly, or feasibly re-build. You Must replace. If it’s donor parts.Then so be it. Just make them authentic clone car parts.This will keep MR.Belvedere’s Originality, wisdom and respect. And this they someday should really do. He does Not have to be restored. But he should be put back into moving under his own power again instead of just being a Trailer King. This would put massive respect back into all who know of this Car’s History. What it would do for Chrysler Corporation would be stimulating. But what it would do for the present and current future would be best of all. Plenty of current, and licensed Antique Automobiles are un-restored drivers of which many times get faaaar more attention and respect then the restored ones. Nevertheless,,,,, Mr. Belvedere’s future should Absolutely someday be funded to put him Back on the road under his own power. That would be an absolute monarch of full-fledged achievement. And although many robotic people may disagree. The ones who do justifiably see this to be needed or accomplished. Are the ones who really matter anyway. Long Live THIS 57, Plymouth hardtop !!!!!

  5. it really is a shame what they did and i agree that the 1957 and 58 plymouths were in my own opinion the most beautiful car ever made and i really think they should get her back on her feet why let another classic die it was stupid to do that to this car anyway at the very least make sure that you sealed the vault the right way who cares if a couple of beer cans or some records made it the car was the real time capsel and should have been treated better.

  6. I would love to see them get it rolling and sell it for charity at Barrett-Jackson. It’s a big model car at this point.

  7. Best thing to do with the Velevedere is encapsulate it in resin epoxy. Like a spider in a clear plastic block. It is an artifact, not really a car anymore. Let Ultra One clean it up the best they can, then dip it.

  8. This is exactly why God created AMBER. If it worked for 100-million-year-old mosquitoes in “Jurassic Park” it can certainly work for a 56-year-old rust bucket. Or perhaps a plexiglass and amber composite would work better. Justice will be served if Miss Belvedere can be frozen in time exactly as she is today and put on display as a monument to American ingenuity and short-sightedness! We built and sold millions of gas guzzlers in the decade of the 1950s AND laid the groundwork for spewing millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere ensuring that our life-style and economic system would lock Climate Change into place. We knew we only had one planet to live on and depend upon for our life-support system. And yet we chose economics and profit over common sense. The atmosphere reached 400 PPM for the first time this year of 2013. The clock is ticking and the Arctic and glaciers all around the world are melting as we continue to burn as much coal, oil, gas and tar sands crude as possible. And if you do not believe any of this go ahead and ignore me. But take a few minutes to read “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” by Bill McKibben published last year in Rolling Stone. It might just wake you up.

  9. After reading and hearing about this Plymouth all my life, I just wish somehow it could be seen by the public. Does “Safe Rust Remover” allow people to view the car? At least this one didn’t rust from road salt getting trapped above the headlights.

  10. I was there when she was unearthed and she looked great considering. whats the viper and the harley gonna look like

  11. Should have just left her alone and gave her to tulsa historical society. along with her contents

  12. To C. Manola, I must respectfully disagree to your referring to Miss Belvedere as Mr. I think all the fans of Christine would also disagree with the notion that 2 door cars are boys when the 2 door coupe is by far the sleekest and sexiest body style of these cars which would fit far better with a female designation. Also, hot women are often referred to as sports cars and there aren’t too many 4 door sports cars are there?

  13. How ’bout the “Bettendorf Grocery Store 911″?
    IS a 4 door Porche still a sports car?

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