Buried Cars: Who Says You Can't Take Your Ride With You?

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Feb 24, 2017

It’s amazing the attention the buried Jeep on Cape Cod has gotten—coast-to-coast coverage. Digging it out reminds me of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s safe. But did you think that buried cars are a rarity? By no means! In fact, people can—and do—get buried with their beloved vehicles.

Believe it or not, this wreck of a '74 Ferrari Dino lives again. It's now fully restored.

But before we get to the death cars, let’s visit the 1974 Ferrari Dino 246 GTS that got buried in 1974—and dug up in 1978. The story goes that its original Los Angeles owner drove it something like 500 miles, and then claimed the beautiful green car was stolen from outside the Brown Derby restaurant. He got his insurance payoff.

Four years later, the LA County Sheriff’s Department got a tip from two kids about a buried car in the West Athens neighborhood. It seems the theft was actually an insurance scam, and the owner had hired a couple of shady characters to part out the Ferrari and torch the remains.

The Ferrari now: Brad Howard's pride and joy. The license plate is "DUG UP."

The sheriffs dug the Ferrari up, and found it on the stolen-car list. The story has a happy ending, because a guy named Brad Howard bought it soon after the discovery, had it restored, and has been driving it ever since—with the California license plate “DUG UP.” The car was surprisingly easy to get running again, in particular because LA had a drought between 1974 and 1978—the ground was mostly dry.

There must have been something in the water during the 1970s, because the flamboyant Texas-born heiress and Beverly Hills socialite Sandra Ilene West was buried in 1977 with her blue 1964 Ferrari 250 GT (sitting in the front seat, wearing a white nightgown). The Daily Mail’s assertion that the car “would cost $2 million if bought today” is a bit over the top—this one’s only $625,000.

Sandra Ilene West loved Ferraris--and going out with a bang.

West left behind two other Ferraris, a Stutz Blackhawk, a solid-gold fishing reel and a world-class stamp collection. The burial car (some say it was actually her just-as-valuable 330 America) was flown to San Antonio for the interment, and the grave was cemented over to prevent looting (or, one presumes, Ferrari liberators). But just the thought of that front seat…

George Swanson's grave marker features the Corvette.

Moving forward in time, when ex-Army sergeant and beer distributor George Swanson’s ashes were buried in 1994, his 27,000-mile 1984 Corvette (which didn’t remain white for long) went with him. The Pennsylvania site is in Hempfield County. Swanson had to buy 12 burial plots to have enough room for the ‘Vette. The car was drained of fluids “to protect the environment.” According to Swanson’s lawyer, “George wanted to go out in style.”

And, let’s not forget 90-year-old Lonnie Holloway, who in 2009 was buried in the front seat of his 1973 Pontiac Catalina. Admittedly, not as exotic as the Corvette and Ferraris, but Holloway loved his car. A large crowd watched the green coupe being lowered to its final resting place.  

Down goes the Catalina, never to be seen again.

At the gravesite in Saluda, South Carolina, the pastor said, “This day will be burned in our memories for years and years to come because ‘us’ ain’t never seen nothing like this before.” As with West’s Ferrari, a concrete slab was installed to forestall unwanted visitors, but it may not have been necessary for an old Pontiac Catalina.

A bizarre non-burial involves Brazilian tycoon Chiquinho “Count” Scarpa, who announce on Facebook that he intended to bury his $500,000 Bentley so he’d have a comfortable resting place in the next life. Scarpa had evidently seen a documentary about the Pharoahs being buried with their earthly goods, and was impressed.

Going down with the Count? In the end, he chickened out and the $500,000 Bentley remained unburied. Besides, that hole is too small.

But when the day of the burial arrived, in 2013, Scarpa held a press conference and announced he wouldn’t be burying his car—and that, in fact, people shouldn’t be buried either.

A brand-new 1957 Plymouth Belvedere coupe buried as part of a time capsule at the city courthouse in Tulsa, Oklahoma was dug up exactly 50 years later, looking not so good after water flooded its underground tomb. Hot rodder Boyd Coddington was scheduled to get the old girl started again, but he said this about the filthy fastback in 2007, “I’ll tell you what, she’s a mess. Look at her.”

Down goes the brand-new '57 Belvedere. It would never look this good again.

The car’s trunk was full of historical artifacts, including 10 gallons of fuel in case gasoline was no longer being used in 2007. They needn’t have worried. Valiant attempts were made to restore the Belvedere, but it was too far gone. Tulsa, by the way, has learned its lesson. In 1998, it put a Plymouth Prowler in another time capsule that will be opened in 2048, but this time the storage is above-ground.

The '54 Corvette looks pretty good, considering its long hibernation.

And here’s another above-ground burial. In 1959, supermarket mogul Richard Sampson walled up a pristine 2,500-mile polo white 1954 Corvette in a store he was building in Brunswick, Maine, specifying that it be put up on blocks in a specially built tomb, which was to have two lights left burning. Sampson, who died in 1969, left instructions that the tomb not be opened until 2000.

The Corvette in Cynthia's living room.

Defying that order, Cynthia, Sampson’s daughter, had the car (still in pretty good shape, thanks to mothballs and dry storage) disinterred in 1986 and installed it…in her Florida living room. There it sat for another decade, until it was sold to ProTeam Corvette. Still not started, it was put up for auction in 2013 as the “oldest lowest-mileage unrestored Corvette” in the world. It was bid up to $100,000, but failed to sell.

With the look of a real BMW M3 convertible.

England’s Steve Marsh, decided he wanted his headstone to be a BMW M3 convertible—not the actual car, but a $50,000 replica of one specially made in Asia. I’m not sure he saved any money that way.

People are nuts, and they often love their cars, so this whole thing about burying them—six feet under or above-ground—will undoubtedly continue. Here's a look on video at the buried Dino:

And here's a report on that 90-year-old buried in his Pontiac:


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