Treasure hunting is often associated with sunken ships, buried chests and X’s on maps, but that’s not necessarily the case if you’ve got gasoline running through your veins. You’ve heard the tales, true and false, about automotive archeologists finding the industry equivalent of Tut’s tomb, right? Well, it could still happen to you. The following five automotive icons have no final record of meeting the wrecker, which means they may be out there, just waiting to be found and cherished once again.
1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket
From 1949 to 1961 the General Motors Motorama was the must-attend auto event of the year. Held annually in conjunction with the New York International Auto Show, these massive productions were a mix of show, entertainment and business for GM’s design and engineering departments. Here, GM’s various brands would show off their latest and greatest ideas in the forms of movies, models, prototypes and concept cars. One of those concepts designed to lift potential car buyers off their feet was the 1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket.
This space age rig lived up to its name. It was powered by an Oldsmobile Rocket V8 that pumped out 275 horsepower, almost enough to blast you to the moon! As with most other concepts, the Golden Rocket was slated for destruction in the years after its debut due to general liability concerns. However, unlike many of its counterparts that were crushed in 1959, photographs of the car wearing blue paint in the 1960s are known to exist. Furthermore, rumors have floated around that the Rocket is resting in New Jersey. While several historians believe it to be lost to the ages, no death certificate exists for this once glamorous ride.
James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder
One of the best known tales of any car is that of James Dean’s 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder known as Little Bastard. The gist of it is that the young actor bought the car soon after wrapping production on Giant and was ready to hit the track. Instead of trailering the car to the Salinas Road Races, he decided to drive it, in order to break in the new motor. While various accounts of speeding and negligence have been speculated, the fact is that Dean was killed after he collided with a 1950 Ford en route to the event. In the months that followed the car was pieced out, but the bulk of it was purchased by famed car customizer George Barris.
It wasn’t long before stories started to surface that the car and its parts were cursed and causing injuries to other racers who used its components and even caused the death of a truck driver later tasked with transporting the wreckage. The car supposedly even caught on fire while isolated in a garage. Barris wasn’t scared. He partially rebuilt the parted out wreck to look like it did just following the crash and then put it on tour as a safety exhibit titled “James Dean’s Last Sports Car.”
After one such event in Florida in 1960, the Porsche was to be loaded in a train and shipped back to Los Angeles. When it arrived Barris is said to have signed the manifest and checked that the seal was intact on the train door. But upon opening the boxcar, the Porsche was nowhere to be found and it has not been seen since. If you know where it is, now may be a good time to bring it up. Volo Auto Museum has offered up to a million dollars for information leading to its location and the ability to purchase.
1910 Buick Bug
Years before the name Chevrolet appeared on any car, Louis and his brothers were well known auto racers. Louis’ skills earned him a coveted spot on the Buick racing team, which was headquartered in Flint, Michigan. With his teammate Bob Burman, Chevrolet helped design and test a new racer from Buick for the 1910 racing season. Dubbed “The Bug,” two examples were built, one for Burman and one for Chevrolet.
After the Buick team won half of all auto races in America in 1909, GM founder Billy Durant presented the racers with $10,000 bonuses. This fueled Burman and Chevrolet excitement for the track, which may have driven their desire to build an even better racer. The two were well known for racing each other up and down Saginaw Street in Flint, with one notable incident occurring when Chevrolet rolled his car and landed upright. Supposedly, shocked witnesses said he just gunned the car and disappeared down a side street. It is unknown if he was racing the Bug or not, but it isn’t farfetched. That wreck could have caused enough damage to send it to the junkyard, as the racer believed to have been driven by Burman survives to this date. Chevrolet’s bug, whether as a result of the wreck or not, seems to have been squashed.
1948 Tucker #1042
The rise and fall of Preston Tucker and his efforts to build the next great automobile is among the most well documented failed business ventures. While he was never able to compete with the likes of the Big Three, he did manage to get 50 Tucker 48s (51 including the prototype Tin Goose) off the assembly line before being forced into bankruptcy due to negative press and an SEC fraud trial, of which he was later acquitted. This led to many of his assets, including most of the cars, being auctioned off from his Chicago production facility.
There were at least eight Tucker bodies and chassis that were not completed in the factory. Many of those parts and chassis were used in the restoration of the original 51 Tuckers, and two “new” Tuckers were built years after the auction using original parts. A third was made into a convertible, though it is up for debate if it was a factory design or not. In reality, there is quite a bit of mystery surrounding the Tuckers, so what makes chassis 1042 special? It’s the only factory built Tucker with unknown whereabouts today.
This Tucker was last reported to be seen in Memphis, Tennessee in about 1960 when a police officer discovered it in terrible conditions on the banks of the Mississippi River. He towed it home, only to be involved in a motorcycle accident not long after. When he returned to his home after leaving the hospital he discovered the car was gone. It’s assumed the vehicle was sent to the scrap yard, but the truth is, nobody can say for certain. The only missing factory built Tucker 48 could still be out there.
Type 57 SC Atlantic Coupe
In 1934 Bugatti began production of the Type 57, a chassis designed and engineered by Jean Bugatti, son of company founder Ettore. This chassis was versatile in that it could be used as the base of anything from luxury vehicles to race cars. While some 800 Type 57 cars would be built by 1940, Jean was hardly satisfied when they were still new. Building off the existing chassis, he created the Aerolith concept, which would yield four coach built Type 57 SCs, which later became known as Atlantic Coupes.
Of the four built, three are accounted for. The one that is missing, the second to leave the factory, was built for Jean himself. He referred to it as “La Voiture Noire” (the black car), and used it regularly for publicity and routine driving. It is unknown if Jean sold the car to a friend before his untimely death in 1939 or if the Atlantic was put into storage in a safer region of France as the Germans invaded. What is known is that this is one of the greatest automotive mysteries to date. Even though the condition of the car could be quite dire, it is believed it could bring more than $100 million at auction — if it is ever found, that is.
The likelihood of finding any of these cars is astronomically small, as they’ve been loved since the moment they were built and sought since they disappeared. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there, as none of these vehicles have a proven demise. Now go grab your shovel!