Mean Machine

My first car is being exhumed. Okay, not my actual first car. That thing is sitting in a junkyard somewhere in central Florida providing a shelter for armadillos and snakes. But the same model (1957 Plymouth Belvedere) was apparently used as a time capsule in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 15, 1957. It seems they thought the thing was so futuristic that it would fit in well in our technologically advanced space age.

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As a former Belvedere driver, I can attest that it does not. I was, if not “the laughing stock” of my friends, then at least a source of constant amusement with my (mostly) lime green, long hunk of steel. But I didn’t care. I thought it was great. It might not have been the fastest thing on the road, but it could move when it had to. And it had a certain elegance of design that later models lacked, with its fins and and grimacing headlights, and it’s push-button transmission. Maybe my pals got better mileage than me, but the Belvedere had an undeniable character; a character that was sorely lacking in their Japanese lawn-mower engines wrapped in fiberglass. The Belvedere was pure Detroit steel, long and heavy, and unconcerned with modern parking spot measurements.

It would have been way cooler if it had been only one color. Unfortunately, the Belvederes were among the most rust-prone cars ever built, and there were quite a few manufacturing problems. It’s kind of a miracle that I laid hands on one as pristine as I did, because they tend to rust and disintegrate over time. It must have been fate that lead me to lay eyes on that green machine in the balmy summer of 1996, and it was fate that lead me to try unsuccessfully to restore it. In the course of sanding down the old paint job, I discovered such rust that I gave the project up mid-scour. I had uncovered three distinct shades of paint, two separate qualities of rust, and a constantly flaking outer layer. The end result was a vintage car with at least six different shades. It was a psychedelic calico of blue, green, and red.

It ran like a dream for three years, until it didn’t. The driver’s side door stopped opening. I had to constantly keep the accelerator down even when braking at a full stop, or risk stalling out completely. Once, during a rain storm, my windshield wiper flew off in mid-wipe. I had to stop, get it from the other lane and manually run it across the driver’s side through an open window. By the end, I had lost all ability to back up. The “R” button on the dash mocked me with its impotence. Parking became problematic. The best option was to pull through a parking space so I ended up facing out of the next one, but that wasn’t always an option. Sometimes I had to either a)Park on a hill so that gravity would let me escape or b) get out and push the car backwards until I could pull forward again.

Yes there were problems. And with each one I had to bear the scornful laughter of my peers, yet I regret nothing. The Belvedere is still the best car I ever had, and when they pull one from the ground in Oklahoma next week, everyone in Tulsa will understand why. If there’s anything left.

8 Comments on "Mean Machine"

  • I too miss your Belvedere. This brings back a lot of good memories. If only we could get the Belvedere, the Blue Bitch, White Lightning, and Dusty’s truck (did it ever have a name?) back together for one last trip to Sonny’s, or to some patch of nothing out in Rockledge for one more 12 pack of Natty Light. Make no mistake, no self respecting member of BOOB ever scoffed at the Belvedere. We only laughed when you drove the tow truck to school.

  • No my truck didn’t have a name, but is was a fine japanese lawnmower engine wrapped in fiberglass that is still running strong in Brevard County to this day. I second Bob O’s notion about the tow truck, the Belvedere was a classic automobile, but seeing that tow truck rolling through the parking lot was sight to see. Good times.

  • BΘΘBstock. Mirimar. 2008.

  • Here is my favorite part of the above article:

    “Also buried with it were 10 gallons of gasoline — in case internal combustion engines became obsolete by 2007 — a case of beer, and the contents of a typical woman’s handbag placed in the glove compartment: 14 bobby pins, a bottle of tranquilizers, a lipstick, a pack of gum, tissues, a pack of cigarettes, matches and $2.43.”

    Was a bottle of tranquilizers a common item for a 1957 Dooney and Bourke? I think that it is no coincidence that …$2.43, a case of beer, tranquilizers, cigarettes and gasoline were also common items found in your Belvedere.

  • I well remember when they burried the Plymouth inmy Home Town, Tulsa. My father bought one almost as soon as one was on the Show Room floor. My wife and I were stationed at the Norman Navy Base, and my Dad could come up with alot of excuses to run that Will Rogers tole road in that 57 Plymouth. My Dad’s car would really “wind out’ ,but he never knew my Step Brother and I raced it against my 53 Buick Riveria. Now that car would reallly run! He said he pulled up because he didn’t wish to hurt Dad’s Car….Yes Yes…!

  • Here are some high resolution pictures of the car and the items that were stored inside it. Looks like a “fixer upper”

    Pics:
    http://www.jlaforums.com/viewtopic.php?p=8700431#8700431

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