A concrete vault encasing a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere buried a half-century ago may have been built to withstand a nuclear attack but it couldn’t beat back the natural onslaught of moisture.
At a Friday ceremony complete with a couple of drum rolls, crews removed a multilayered protective wrapping caked with red mud, revealing a vintage vehicle that was covered in rust and wouldn’t crank.
There were a few bright spots, literally: shiny chrome was still visible around the doors and front fender, and workers were able to put air in the tires.
But the unveiling in front of thousands of people at the Tulsa Convention Center confirmed fears that the past 50 years had not been the kindest to Miss Belvedere.
“I’ll tell you what, she’s a mess. Look at her,” said legendary hot rod builder Boyd Coddington, who was unable to start the thing up as planned.
Event organizer Sharon King Davis, a fourth generation Tulsan whose grandfather helped bury the Plymouth, joked that the car needed a little Oil of Olay to help it out.
Cheap gas and Schlitz beer
In the trunk, workers meticulously pulled out some of the objects buried with the two-door hardtop to celebrate Oklahoma’s 50 years of statehood — a 5-gallon can of leaded gasoline, which went for 24 cents a gallon in those days, and rusted cans of Schlitz beer.
The contents of a “typical” woman’s handbag, including 14 bobby pins, lipstick and a bottle of tranquilizers, were supposed to be in the glove box, but all that was found looked like a lump of rotted leather.
Workers also searched for a spool of microfilm that recorded the entries of a contest to determine who would win the car: the person who guessed the closest of what Tulsa’s population would be in 2007 — 382,457 — would win.
That person, or his or her heirs, will get the car within a week, along with a $100 savings account, worth about $1,200 today with interest.
Old Glory looks brand new
The elements could not penetrate a time capsule buried with the car. Its top was sawed off and organizers unfolded an American flag — still bright red, white and blue — sending a rousing cheer through the crowd.
Other historical documents, aerial maps of the city and postcards, also were in good condition.
Thousands of people had watched as the car was placed on a flatbed truck about noon CDT and driven to the Tulsa Convention Center for the evening event. Some had arrived downtown before 6 a.m. and endured torrential rain just to get a glimpse of the car.
By the time of the ceremony, people were standing on rooftops and looking out office buildings as news helicopters buzzed overhead.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Miss Belvedere,” King Davis said before the crane delicately placed the car onto the flatbed.
Digging up high intrigue
Only the car’s trademark fins were exposed as it came out of the ground, and it was unclear if they were caked with rust or mud.
The suspense was what Pittsburgh car enthusiast Dave Stragand came for.
“It’s our King Tut’s tomb,” Stragand said. “It’s like a fairy tale.”
Like Stragand, folks who gathered at the site — many days earlier — didn’t seem too concerned with how the car would look.
“We don’t care what condition it’s in,” said Denver retiree Bob Petri, a car nut who said he was “born with a wrench” in his hand. “It’s just the whole idea somebody thought of it in 1957 and here we are living it.”