Miss Belvedere: the story of a prize car that spent 50 years buried in front of a city courthouse

Domagoj Valjak
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In June of 1957, the City of Tulsa organized the “Tulsarama” Golden Jubilee Week, a week-long celebration of the State of Oklahoma’s 50th anniversary of statehood. During the celebration, the attendees were encouraged to participate in a rather unusual lottery: the grand prize was to be given to the participant, or their relative, who came nearest to guessing the population of Tulsa in 2007.

812 people eagerly entered the lottery, knowing that they would have to wait for 50 years to find out whether they won the appealing prize: a brand new 1957 Plymouth Belvedere Sports Coupe. The car, affectionately nicknamed “Miss Belvedere,” immediately caught everyone’s attention with its revolutionary design, its flashy desert gold and sand dune white two-tone paint job, and its powerful V8 engine.

The famous car before it was buried in Tulsa Oklahoma time capsule.

On June 15, Miss Belvedere was buried in an underground vault that had been constructed beneath the yard of the Tulsa City Courthouse. In some ways, the vault resembled the classic Cold War-era nuclear fallout shelters: its thick insulated concrete walls were designed to preserve the car in its initial state and protect it from the elements. The crowd cheered as the grand prize was being lowered into the tomb in which it was to remain for the following 50 years.

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The trunk and the glove-box of the car contained a number of items that had been left for the lucky future owner of the coupe. These included the keys to the car, a list of population estimates made by the lottery participants, an aerial map of the area, a tube of lipstick, a pack of chewing gum, a lighter and a pack of cigarettes, two combs, and, curiously, a bottle of tranquilizers. Also, a hermetically sealed steel container buried behind the car contained 10 gallons of leaded gas and some motor oil, which were probably included in case gasoline-powered vehicles became obsolete by 2007.

Miss Belvedere being lowered into the vault.

In June 2007, exactly 50 years later, the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Oklahoma’s statehood was marked by the long-awaited excavation of Miss Belvedere. Many had believed that the car would remain in perfect condition and that its new owner would simply be able to drive it to their garage directly from the yard of the City Courthouse. However, when a group of volunteers lifted the thick concrete lid off the vault, they stumbled upon a rather depressing surprise.

1957 Plymouth Belvedere. Photo by Morven CC By SA 3.0

At some point during Miss Belvedere’s half-century-long underground slumber, one of the concrete walls had cracked and water had filled the entire vault. The car resembled a corroded sunken ship: hundreds of gallons of stale muddy water had completely destroyed the chassis, the wheels, the motor, and the interior, as well as virtually all of the additional items that had been put into the car and the steel container behind it. Still, the city authorities managed to locate the unscathed list of the lottery participants’ guesses and determine the winner.

The winner, a man named Raymond Humbertson, had guessed that Tulsa would have the population of 384,743 in 2007, and his guess was the closest to the actual number of 382,457. However it was discovered that Mr. Humbertson and his wife had no children and had died in the early 1980s; the car and all of the items in it were then given to his closest living relatives.

Miss Belvedere. Photo by Marc Carlson Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

Although the car was partially restored in 2009, not a single automotive museum in the U.S. was interested in displaying it until 2017 due to its sadly disfigured state. In 2017, some additional repairs were conducted and Miss Belvedere, irreversibly rusty but still quite alluring, finally managed to find a permanent home at the Historic Auto Attractions Museum of Illinois.

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Interestingly, Miss Belvedere wasn’t the only Plymouth buried in Tulsa. Another one, a Prowler model, was buried in another underground vault in the city in 1998, a little less than 10 years before the excavation of Miss Belvedere. It is supposed to be unearthed in 2048 as a part of another Plymouth lottery. Let’s hope that the city ordered a stronger vault for this one!