Photos courtesy Dwight Foster.
The Smithsonian Museum wouldn’t take it: “It’d be like bringing the bubonic plague in there.” Other museums agreed to display it, but only temporarily. Even the city of Tulsa refused re-entry to Miss Belvedere, the infamous time-capsule 1957 Plymouth unearthed a decade ago. But after perhaps the world’s most thorough de-rusting effort, Miss Belvedere has nevertheless found a new home and will go on permanent display next summer.
Of course, there’s not much car left to Miss Belvedere these days. Wrapped in a protective plastic liner and buried as a brand-new car in a concrete vault, it was supposed to embody the optimism of the jet age and emerge 50 years later fresh and gleaming, a testament to American industrial and economic might as well as a prize to whoever could accurately guess the 2007 population of Tulsa. Instead, the vault leaked and the protective liner failed, resulting in a self-contained environmental disaster and the world’s rustiest new car.
“It’s basically like papier mâché,” said Dwight Foster of Ultra One in New Jersey. Foster stepped in to offer his de-rusting services to the ultimate winners of the car (Robert Carney, whose aunt Catherine Humbertson technically received possession due to her late brother Raymond’s guess) and has held on to it since the 2007 unveiling ceremony. “We didn’t see the extent of how bad it was until it came here. Anything we thought about doing we couldn’t because it was too fragile. We knew that whatever we touched would be a disaster.”
That ruled out previously floated plans like the one that called for replacing the frame to make the car driveable again. However, it didn’t rule out a long, gradual de-rusting process, which Foster accomplished with a 1/6-hp sump pump, a kiddie pool, and a length of hose positioned over a section of the body spraying it with his company’s de-rusting agent. “We went all the way around the car like that,” he said. “I think it looks 100 percent better in appearance.”
He said he spent about $10,000 in transport and materials – not including his time – and that, with the process now complete (“I can say I have the distinction of de-rusting the world’s most famous rusted car,” he said), it’s time for the car to move on from his facilities.
Rather than pay for storage or go through the auction process, Foster said that Carney decided to donate Miss Belvedere, ultimately to Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, Illinois, where the owner, Wayne Lensing, has promised to permanently display Miss Belvedere in an exhibit focused on not just the car, but also the Tulsa time capsule and its unearthing. Foster said he’s trying to get the city of Tulsa to donate artifacts and photos to the museum to help tell the story.
Lensing told Tulsa World that he expects to have the display completed and ready for the museum’s 2018 season, which begins Memorial Day weekend.