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Amelia Earhart’s Long-Lost Car Will Soon Be on Display in DC

The aviator's 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton convertible is part of this year's "Cars at the Capital" exhibit

One of the last photos of Amelia Earhart shows her with her Cord Phaeton and her Lockheed Electra. Photograph courtesy the Hagerty Drivers Foundation.

Amelia Earhart’s Cord 812 Phaeton convertible was an unusual vehicle, and like the aviator herself, it had once vanished. But starting on Thursday it will be on display on the National Mall between the National Museum of American History and the USDA building as part of the Hagerty Drivers Foundation’s annual “Cars at the Capital” exhibition. You’ll be able to see it until September 5, when another rare car will replace it: A 1952 Porsche America Roadster that’s one of only 16 produced.

Both the Cord and the Porsche were recently added to the National Historic Vehicle Register, a program the foundation administers with the Department of the Interior.

The Cord today. Photograph by Casey Maxon/the Hagerty Drivers Foundation.

Earhart’s convertible has a glamorous history: An early example of unibody construction, it featured gee-whiz touches like front wheel drive, hidden headlights, and what would later be known as “suicide doors.”  Earhart’s husband, George Putnam, sold the car two years after she vanished during her 1937 attempt to circumnavigate the globe. As Brendan McAleer writes for Car and Driver, the car was gradually stripped of many of its original parts. A Texan collector named Roy Foster reunited the car with its mighty V8 engine before passing it on to wealthy car collector Jack Boyd Smith Jr., who bankrolled a painstaking restoration by Travis LaVine of LaVine Restorations. (Foster, Smith, and LaVine will all attend a kickoff event in DC on Thursday evening.)

The America Roadster. Photograph by Clint Davis/000 Magazine.

The Porsche, technically named the 540, was based on the company’s 356 and designed with US racers in mind. Porsche reportedly jettisoned the aluminum-bodied roadster due to slow sales, but its design led directly to the 356A Speedster that helped cement Porsche’s reputation Stateside. It will be on view from September 6-11.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.