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Tulsa Belvedere Time Capsule... Bad Idea, Even Back Then!

ponderpointponderpoint Posts: 277
edited March 2014 in General
Well they unearthed that 1957 Belvedere in Tulsa the other day. It was part of the time capsule they put in the ground back in 1957.... What a disaster! The car looked like a big mound of mud with fins!

Seems like back then somebody that had to exhume bodies for criminal/scientific fact-finding could have warned them it was a bad idea.... a really bad idea!

I think it's possible to time capsule a car, but it's always going to involve a dedicated climate controlled garage.

I don't know if it still exists (probably not) but I knew of a car dealership in a small town in Upstate New York that time-capsuled a brand-new Cadillac but they knew it would have to be in a garage. It was in a town called Whitesboro and it probably doesn't exist anymore... Trip Motorcars or "Tripps", I'm not sure. It was quite the spectacle back in the sixties and the car was already very old.

Probably the ideal place for "time-capsuling" a car would be in the desert with absolutely no moisture whatsoever.... Just keep it out of the sun.


  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    Well, I guess it could've been worse! There's an old "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episode about a stuffed racehorse that was used as a time capsule. It was aired in 1957, and no doubt influenced by the '57 Plymouth burial. Anyway, the guy who was preparing the racehorse for the time capsule got fed up with his brother-in-law, killed him, and stuffed the body inside the horse! :surprise:

    It would've been kinda creepy if they found a few skeletons in the trunk of that Belvedere.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    They really should have consulted a person who knew how cars deteriorate and under what conditions.

    "Sealing" a car from the air is about the worst thing you can do to it. A car needs DRY but circulating air around it, and of course protection from rodents and from the corrosive action of its own fluids.

    There are lots of subtle precautions...for instance, if you leave the differential full and there is moisture in the air---well, the bottom of the ring gear is saved by the oil but the top is exposed to moisture through the vent hole. So you get a half-good, half-rusted ring gear and a differential that will howl like the wind.

    Best place for a car would be a wooden garage, de-humidified, with the car gently lifted off the tires, fluids drained, engine "pickled" with oil on the tops of the pistons, and a fan circulating air underneath, and all orifices plugged up like tail pipe and air filter, etc., to protect from rodents and insects. Do NOT cover the car!! A little dust never hurt it.

    Those "bubble tents" are great...the car is encased in a dry, circulating air bubble and the plastic film never touches anything.

    Of course, don't try and preserve a 1958 Plymouth, since that would have rusted by the time you got it from the dealer's showroom to the time capsule :P

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  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294 preserve that Plymouth for 50 years probably would've cost more than it was worth. I could've seen a Tulsa city council meeting going over the budget and seeing the unnecessary cost of preserving a 14 year-old car that was worth a couple hundred bucks in 1971.

    The car probably would've been better off left in the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer's garage for 50 years until the day the car would be trailered to the ceremony to be claimed by the winner or his heir.

    By the way, did anybody claim the car?
  • british_roverbritish_rover Posts: 8,458
    Slightly off topic...

    What you are saying kind of reminds me of the third Back to the Future movie where they had the Delorean stored in the mineshaft for 50 years.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    I've inspected cars that were abandoned in people's garages in California for up to 40 years, without any attempt at preservation and they looked way better than that Plymouth. Sure, we had ruined tires, flat brakes, totally gummed up fuel systems, dried out leather and lots of spiders, but really the paint and chrome were still decent, the body was perfect of course, interior good. A couple of thousand bucks away from a clean #3 driver.

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  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    ...that Plymouth was submerged with groundwater at one point. Either that or the top of the vault leaked and often filled with rainwater from the surface. I wonder if a series of drains system on the bottom of the vault would've helped?

    Somebody mentioned experts who exhume bodies for forensic examination. I don't know, but when a casket is removed from the concrete vault, is the vault often filled with groundwater which deteriorates the casket? If that's the case, the dummies in Tulsa would've realized what a poor idea it was to bury a car in a similar structure.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    did mention that the vault had filled up with water and had to be pumped out. If the purse with the contents in the glovebox had deteriorated to mush, it's a good chance that the water swelled up pretty high.

    Actually, I'm surprised that the Plymouth's glovebox liner didn't fall out. Back then, they just used cardboard, which is okay I guess, as long as it doesn't get wet. More upscale cars, like my '57 DeSoto, used a cardboard lined with some fuzzy material that was soft to the touch, but it was still just cardboard.

    If Tulsa's climate is anything like Oklahoma City's, they probably could've just parked the thing under a carport and it would've survived pretty well. I was out in Oklahoma City in 1995, and visited a few junkyards while I was out there, and rust seemed a pretty rare sight. Usually, you'd just see the type of scale that forms when the paint and primer fades down to the bare metal, and you get a little bit of scale on the exposed metal, kinda like what you'd get on a shovel or ho left out in the rain.
  • ponderpointponderpoint Posts: 277
    "unnecessary cost of preserving a 14 year-old car that was worth a couple hundred bucks in 1971."

    Yeah, why a 57 Belvedere? Seems kind of obscure. Was that the end-all beat-all car at the time? Anybody here in the discussion that was in a semi-conscious state back in 1957? Was that a popular car? I realize at the time, nobody knows that a particular car will someday become wildly popular with collectors (57 Chevy), but a Belvedere?...
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    Yeah, why a 57 Belvedere? Seems kind of obscure. Was that the end-all beat-all car at the time? Anybody here in the discussion that was in a semi-conscious state back in 1957? Was that a popular car? I realize at the time, nobody knows that a particular car will someday become wildly popular with collectors (57 Chevy), but a Belvedere?...

    Actually, in 1957, the Plymouth, and all Chrysler products in general, were considered to be the most modern, futuristic cars out there. General Motors and Ford still sold more cars, overall, than the Chrysler corporation, mainly because they had a larger dealer network and larger manufacturing capacity.

    Still, in 1957, Plymouth sold about 750,000 cars. Ford and Chevy each sold about 1.5 million, or about double. However, usually, Ford or Chevy outsold Plymouth by more like 3:1, so getting that ratio down to 2:1 was really saying something.

    The '57 Chevy was actually considered to be pretty clunky and outdated at the time. It was on a platform that was entering its third year of production. With the exception of Pontiac and the declining independent brands, everything else was all-new that year. The entire Ford/Mopar lineup, as well as Buick, Olds, and Cadillac.

    The '57 Mopar lineup also played a major influence on Detroit styling. While the Buick/Olds/Cadillacs were all-new that year, compared to the Mopar products they looked outdated the second they hit the showroom. That sent GM scrambling back to the drawing board to come up with what would end up being the 1959 lineup.

    Now, while the 1959 GM cars left plenty to be desired, style-wise, once you cleaned up the excess, shaved off the tailfins, and straightened out the dogleg A-pillar, you pretty much had the standard template for your typical 1960's car.

    And from what I've heard, GM's original plans for just facelifting the 1958 design and using that as the 1959 lineup, was pretty hideous, in and of itself. One idea I heard thrown around was a "central" theme for the 1959 Chevy, along the lines of the Edsel's "horsecollar/toilet seat/unmentionable-in-a-family-friendly-environment" grille, or the Tucker's third headlight. So maybe it's a good thing those planned 1959's never matieralized!

    The main thing that shot the 1957 Plymouth in the foot was rust resistance. I'd imagine that, from a modern standpoint, rust resistance on just about ANY 1957 car is going to be considered laughable, but Plymouth's was pretty bad at the time. The '57 Mopars were rushed into production, about a year too early, and because they were so popular initially, they had to slap them together all the much more quickly to get them out the door. That was none too good for quality control. Plus, to make matters worse, the 1949-54, and 1955-56 Mopars, were pretty solid, sturdy cars in comparison, and a tough act to follow when it came to quality.
  • burdawgburdawg Posts: 1,524

    There's lots of pictures of the whole event at this site, but's it's been up and down sporadically since Monday morning. What a mess. It would have been better off in a junkyard. The pictures underneath remind me of the rusticles growing on the Titanic. I wonder who the lucky winner is, since even though it's a rusty mess there's been a lot of inquiries about buying it.
    Years ago I remember reading about an early Corvette that was bought new and sealed in some type of above ground garage. I think it was in Hemmings Motor News, and the article had pictures. Anyway, there was a small window and a light inside the garage that you could turn on from time to time to check the condition. Good idea, but then the bulb burnt out. I don't remember when it was going to be opened up and never heard any more about it.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    my '57 DeSoto had some rust on it when I bought it in 1990. Mainly around the headlight bezels and rear quarter panels, which were bondo'ed up. They did a pretty good job on the quarters, although you can see it at the right angle. And the passenger-side bezel isn't too bad, but the driver's side is showing rust again. And there's a hole in the trunk floor.

    I've always kept the car garaged as long as I've had it, and it's rarely seen water, except when I wash it (which is not as often as I should :blush: ) Luckily, the rust doesn't seem to have progressed any further in the 17 years I've had the car.

    So I guess, as long as you can keep it out of wet weather, even if you have some rust on a car, it shouldn't be too hard to preserve it?
  • fintailfintail Posts: 41,885
    When I bought my fintail well over 12 years ago, it had a small (maybe half the size of a dime) bubble on the driver's front fender, way down by the chrome strip. In the time I have had it, it hasn't grown a millimeter.

    It did have more bubbling on the driver's side behind the back wheel, where water can stagnate. I bondo'd it up about 10 years ago, and it looks pretty crappy now up close, but from 10 feet is pretty hard to spot.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    Chrysler products did have a reputation for "engineering" back then, that's true. However, the build quality was atrocious compared to GM, and Ford's wasn't much better. Even as kids we could tell that as we tinkered with cars. We knew GM cars were screwed together a lot better. Chrylser's ran the best I think overall, and Ford scored last on all counts. Funky motors, grim styling from 1958-62, and all rattles and rust.

    It is no small coincidence that so many '57 Chevys have survived and that '57 Fords and Plymouths are rare.

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  • ron1958ron1958 Posts: 9
    I have been following this with a morbid curiousity. It seems that burying the car was actually an afterthought, they were originally just going to bury the time capsule, which by the way, had contents survive perfectly. Someone came up with the crazy idea to bury a car, and Chrysler bought in for the publicity. I don't think anyone really thought about how stupid that was, even if water didn't intrude in the vault, it still would have been very damp and probably bug ridden.

    As everyone else has said, simply parking the darn thing in a barn and closing the door for 50 years would have yielded a car in at least restorable shape. I have a 24 year old Mustang sitting in my garage that I do nothing but wax once a year and she looks like brand new. No climate control or anything special. I'm sure if I do nothing else for the next 25 years it will look almost as good as it does today...

  • ponderpointponderpoint Posts: 277
    I kind of suspected it was just a huge publicity stunt back in 1957.

    Chrysler probably thought it would be good for sales.... They never really looked at the end result, or cared for that matter..... typical.
  • blufz1blufz1 Posts: 2,045
    Come on,man! The '57 Chevy was stunning at the time. A few were built with fuel injection!
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    Come on,man! The '57 Chevy was stunning at the time. A few were built with fuel injection!

    No, seriously, a 1957 Chevy was really NOT that highly regarded when it was new. They made a bogus claim about being the first car to hit 1 hp per cubic inch, with fuel injection. However, the 1956 Chrysler 300B actually EXCEEDED that, with 355 hp out of a 354 CID Hemi. And in 1957, the DeSoto Adventurer actually became the first domestic to offer 1 hp per cubic inch as standard, 345 hp out of a 345 CID Hemi. The '56 Chrysler engine was actually optional, with 340 hp standard, and the Chevy 283 fuelie was an option as well.

    1957 was also the first year in a long, long time, that Ford actually ousted Chevy from the top spot. And the Plymouth was popular enough that it regained third place, a spot it hadn't seen in years. And had a record year...a record that, in fact, wouldn't be broken again until the 1970's, and then only twice.

    The 1957 Chevy didn't really start rising to fame until it became a used car. The 1958 Chevy followed the Ford and Plymouth idiom of becoming larger and more luxurious, which was the trend at the time, but there were a lot of buyers who still wanted a fairly trim car. Hence the hoopla over the 1964 Chevelle, which was viewed by many as a reincarnation of the "right sized" 1955-57 Chevy.

    Basically, the '57 Ford and Plymouth were associated with what your parents drove, and for 1958, the Chevy joined those ranks. THAT'S when the '57 Chevy became popular...once it was the type of car that was no longer being produced.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    I can't recall what people were thinking in 1957 about the Chevy but I can recall that I would have KILLED for a '57 Chevy convertible. Kids simply didn't lust after Chrysler products. Those were "adults" cars. The '57 Ford was also very popular. In the New York/Long Island cruise/drag culture, it was Chevys and Fords in the 50s, with some custom early 50s Fords and Mercurys.

    I do recall that nobody liked the '58 Chevy. I seem to recall that Chevy was *the* car for a young kid to own 55-57, then not so much for a while, until the '61 Bubbletop, and of course the 409 was iconic to a kid. My friend Louie had a red 409 convertible 4-speed which he promptly flipped while drunk.

    So the '57 Chevy might not have been all that "new" but then in the 50s no American car was particularly advanced technically. They were nothing more than 1935 Buicks with new short stroke V8s and very vital imaginative styling. In any event, there was nothing any more exciting around. A '57 Chevy was as good as it got. Foreign exotics were very rare and no other American car in '57 was particularly startling in its individuality. So I'd say, yeah, '57 Chevy still at the top of the heap in '57 for the hot-rod set. It was a very popular car.

    Of course Cadillac was very prestigious in 1957. We thought it an old person's car but still a symbol of total success in life. Times have changed!

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  • ponderpointponderpoint Posts: 277
    "Sure, we had ruined tires,"

    I think tires, just like gasoline and oil, are something that is meant to be consumed in the operation of the car. If you're going to attempt to time capsule a car, the tires are automatically garbage. Might as well take them off and put them on another vehicle and use them up. RV owners already know about this, they're vehicles spend so much time in storage, they have those covers to keep the UV rays from aging the tires prematurely. I thought it was just a "dressing" to make the vehicle more attractive in the campground but I was corrected by an enthusiast.

    I think the Belvedere actually had one or two of the tires still inflated somewhat, but if they tried to roll it slightly, they would have quickly deflated.

    Somebody noted previously that you should jack the car up slightly to alleviate pressure on the tires.... I think this is actually more for the suspension and bearings, not the tires. Probably helps, but If I finally drove the time-capsuled car after fifty years, trying to utilize the original tires, I would definitely have a support vehicle right behind me with fresh tires ready!
  • ponderpointponderpoint Posts: 277
    I love this forum! Nobody is "snarky". Sure, a good natured ribbing here-and-there and solid debate, but everybody is pretty civil.

    I actually thought I wasn't on the internet for a bit.....
  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    Not sure, but didn't they have the Plymouth on a steel platforn not only to keep the tires off the vault floor but also to raise and lower it into the vault? I'm sure with all the water in the vault, the platform rusted away.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    Kids simply didn't lust after Chrysler products. Those were "adults" cars. The '57 Ford was also very popular. In the New York/Long Island cruise/drag culture, it was Chevys and Fords in the 50s, with some custom early 50s Fords and Mercurys.

    True, but who buys new cars? Adults or kids? BTW, Chrysler products DID start turning the corner and catering to a more youthful market starting with the 1955 models, and the wildly advanced looking 1957 models drew even more in. In fact, I recall that DeSoto ended up being a victim of its own success in 1957, because the swoopy new styling drew in tons of people who never would have otherwise considered one. But then the quality control was enough to ensure they'd never buy another DeSoto. On top of that, the DeSoto faithful, who traded an older model in on a new '57, got burned as well, because they had been used to the high quality reputation of the older models, and suddenly felt screwed.

    1957 was also the year that Dodge really emerged as Chrysler's performance division, and was considered a much more youthful car.

    Back in college, when I worked as a waiter, one of my managers mentioned a 1957 DeSoto Fireflite that he once had. It was a pink and white 4-door hardtop. This was back around 1965, and he paid maybe $500 for it. He said people ragged on it all the time, partly because it was pink, but also partly because it was a DeSoto. People tend to not like orphans, no matter how pretty or capable they might actually be. Well, he said he used to be able to embarrass the heck out of many more desirable cars. I guess it's one thing to get blown off by a popular muscle car that looks the part, but when you get wasted by a big, bulky 4-door orphan from a bygone era, you tend to feel a bit of shrinkage between your legs.

    Anyway, he ended up selling that thing, and bought a '57 Chevy convertible with a 283. Also for $500. I forget which engine, but probably just a 2-bbl. Maybe a 4. Definitely not a dual quad or fuelie. He said that it was a dog compared to that DeSoto and that he really missed the power, but the car just had that much more of a "cool" factor.

    I still remember the day soon after I bought my '57 DeSoto, and I brought it up to show this manager. I hadn't worked at that restaurant in about 5 months, but kept in contact with some of the people there. And oddly, just like DeSoto, this manager ended up getting the axe! He couldn't come out and see the car because he was getting pulled into a meeting by his superiors, and they were about to fire him.
  • grbeckgrbeck Posts: 2,361
    Mr. Shiftright: Chrylser's ran the best I think overall, and Ford scored last on all counts. Funky motors, grim styling from 1958-62, and all rattles and rust.

    Are you saying that Fords also had the worst build quality? Because from what I've read, Chryslers were dead last on that count - even worse than AMC at the time. And Ford styling was cleaned up after 1960, especially with the 1961 Continental.

    At the Macungie Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) show, andre, lemko and I talked to a man who had a 1957 Dodge Coronet sedan.

    The owner said that he had talked to a Chrysler dealer who toured a Chrysler plant in 1957 or 1958. The dealer noticed a worker using a sprayer to apply undercoating to a car. But nothing was coming out of the sprayer! The worker was making 12 sweeps, but not applying any undercoating.

    He asked the worker why, and the worker said, "I have to make 12 sweeps for each car (according to the UAW contract). But management doesn't always keep me supplied with undercoating. I make the 12 sweeps, but if there is no undercoating in the machine, it's not my problem."

    He then went back to making the 12 sweeps! So much for quality control...

    As for exciting Chevrolets - I recall reading that the 1959 Chevrolet was actually popular with the younger set at the time, not so much because of its wild styling, but because Chevy offered the best and most complete lineup of performance engines and transmissions for that time period.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    Nah, that's just my clumsy sentence structure. I meant that Ford was dead last in engines and transmissions. I agree, Chrysler was easily the worst for build quality but I think best for drivetrains. A Chrysler V8, Torqueflite trans and typical Chrysler differential were very tough units.

    Yeah, Chevrolet really won its popularity with its bewildering array of engine and transmission options. I had a '59 Chevy convertible. It was a very good car. Chrysler products were not very sexy for some reason. They were like tanks, not very delicate...kind of brutal in design really. Is it any accident that "Christine" was a Mopar? :shades:

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  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    ...that among the 1957 Mopar lineup that the Chryslers and DeSotos had much better workmanship and that the problems were mostly confined to the Plymouths and Dodges. I also heard the Imperial was very well-made.

    An earlier poster mentioned that the 1957 cars were actually slated for 1958, but they were rushed into production. I think it would've been a darned if they do/darned if they don't situation as 1958 turned out to be a recession year. Sure, the cars may have been much better assembled, but they wouldn't have so as well. Were any significant design changes incorporated into the 1958 models?

    Still feel sad about the Tulsa Belvedere. It's kind of like remembering a pretty girl you knew in high school and haven't seen in a long, long time. You finally see her twenty years later 100 lbs overweight, alcoholic, missing teeth, living in poverty, haggard-looking, and married to an abusive oaf.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    I can't relate to feeling sympathy since I don't think anything of value was lost. It was just a base model sedan after all.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    It was just a base model sedan after all.

    I thought it was a Belvedere hardtop coupe that was buried? The Belvedere was the top model for Plymouth that year, equating to a Chevy Bel Air or a Ford Fairlane 500.
  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    Actually, it was a top-of-the-line two-door hardtop. The 1957 Plymouth lineup went Plaza -> Savoy -> Belvedere in ascending order. The Fury was a limited edition two-door hardtop that only came in cream and gold. With what kind of engine was the Tulsa Belvedere equipped?

    I remember seeing pictures of a car similar to the Tulsa Belvedere in excellent condition. At first, I thought it was the same car and thought, "Wow, that vault really did preserve the car!" That is until I read that the Tulsa Belvedere had yet to be unearthed.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    well then certainly unimpressive for top o' the line...'course, it's a Plymouth not a Chrysler and that was always a pretty cheap car to begin with. If you compare a '55 plymouth with a '55 Chevy, there's no comparison. Even the Dodge Royal Lancer was spiffier I think and of course the Chrysler 300 was the cat's pajamas or whatever they used to say back then....the bee's knees? BEE-YOU-TEE-FUL?

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    With what kind of engine was the Tulsa Belvedere equipped?

    I'm pretty sure it was a V-8, but don't know if it had a 277 or the larger 301 V-8. Both were versions of the old poly-head "A" engine that spawned the 318 wideblock that first saw duty in the 1957 Fury.

    There's a bunch of pics of the car here:

    It turns out that a lot of the gunk on the car is mud and rust that stuck to the cosmoline, a metal preservative that was sprayed all over the car. They cleaned off a portion of the bumper and found shiny chrome underneath. So once the mud and gunk and cosmoline is cleaned off of the car, it may not be *as* bad as it looks. Probably would still be a labor of love to restore, though!
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