Junkyard Gems: 15 Greatest American Wrecks
A Treasure Trove of Gems
Resident junkyard adventurer Murilee Martin has discovered some pretty stunning abandoned automobiles scattered around America. And through his "Junkyard Gems" series, he always makes sure to bring back great photos and some fascinating history when he spies something good. He finds loads of these vehicles, too, so we wanted to highlight a few of our favorite finds from the last few years. In this slideshow, you'll find some of the most oddball, niche vehicles you've seen, along with a smattering of more famous American classics.
1950 Chrysler Windsor Club Coupe
In 1950, shoppers in Chrysler showrooms had a choice between the low-end Royal, the midgrade Windsor, and the top-of-the-line New Yorker. This 1950 Windsor coupe managed to outlast nearly all of its contemporaries, finally coming to a halt in a wrecking yard just outside of Chicago. Read more.
1951 Plymouth Cranbrook Sedan
1940s and 1950s cars do show up in the big self-service wrecking yards; for example, I was able to find a discarded 1941 Plymouth sedan to provide a complete set of body trim pieces for my 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe project recently, and I have found everything from a '49 Kaiser to a '57 Mercedes-Benz 180 during my junkyard travels of the last decade. Here's a fairly complete and non-rusty '51 Plymouth in a Denver-area yard. Read more.
1964 Dodge Dart station wagon
The Chrysler A Platform, built from the 1960 through 1976 model years for the North American market (and for a few years beyond that in Australia and Latin America), was one of Chrysler's greatest hits, if not the greatest hit. We know these cars best as the 1963-1976 Dodge Dart and the 1960-1976 Plymouth Valiant, and they established a reputation for reliability matched only by the likes of the Mercedes-Benz W123 diesel. I still see many of these cars during my junkyard wanderings, but A-Body wagons have become very rare. Here's a tattered '64 Dart wagon that I spotted in a self-service wrecking yard in San Jose, California. Read more.
1962 Plymouth Valiant"The Plymouth Valiant was built for the US market for the 1960 through 1976 model years (and until 1980 in Australia), and it proved to be a gigantic success for Chrysler during those years. The first generation of Valiant was built for 1960-62, on the sturdy and versatile Chrysler A Platform, and today's Junkyard Gem is a well-picked-over example in California." Read more.
1964 Chevrolet Corvair convertible
Walk the rows of a big, high-inventory-turnover self-service wrecking yard and you'll find plenty of vehicles with controversial histories. Chevy Cobalts, with their malfunctioning ignition switches. Audi 5000s, of "Unintended Acceleration" fame. Exploding Pintos. Any of the 23 million Ford products of the "Park-To-Reverse" fiasco. And, of course, you'll still find the occasional example of the most controversial car in American automotive history: the Chevrolet Corvair. Here's a '64 convertible that I spotted last week in a Denver yard. Read more.
1965 Ford Mustang
American-made vehicles much sought after by restorers usually don't show up in these yards, in my experience, which means that you won't have much luck finding, for example, 1964-1973 GM A-Body or Chrysler B-Body coupes. 1960s Mustangs and Camaros have been even more scarce during the last decade, which makes this non-rusty 1965 Ford Mustang hardtop in a Denver yard even more unusual than a junked Ford Tempo AWD. Read more.
1966 Ford F-100 Flareside
Production of the fourth generation of Ford F-Series trucks ran from the 1962 through 1966 model years, and you'll still see these sturdy trucks working for a living after a half-century. Today's find appeared in a Denver self-service wrecking yard, with a solid-looking body and camper shell still attached. Read more.
1970 AMC Rebel"Back when the most mainstream commuter vehicle in the United States was the affordable midsize sedan, every American automaker fought with bloody claws and teeth for tiny gains in market share for these cars. You had your Torinos, your Cutlasses, and your Satellites, with all their corporate siblings and cousins in the mix, and George Romney made sure that his troops in Wisconsin had an American Motors entry in this battle: the Rebel. You won't see many Rebels this century, but I was able to find this '70 in a San Francisco Bay Area yard a few weeks ago." Read more.
1970 Mercury Cougar
The plot of the Mercury Cougar story took a lot of strange twists and turns during its 35 or so years, from ponycar to immense luxobarge to family sedan to station wagon to Integra competitor. Examples of the first Cougar generation are nearly extinct in American wrecking yards, so I was excited to spot this one in Denver. Read more.
1977 Ford Mustang II Ghia"The first-generation Ford Mustang started out as a pretty small Falcon sibling, then put on bulk every year until the cartoonish 3000-pound-plus 1973 models. For the 1974 Mustang, Ford switched to the compact Pinto platform... which turned out to be excellent timing, what with the nightmare energy crisis of late 1973. The bad news was that the Mustang II was, well, a Pinto underneath." Read more.
1983 AMC Eagle"In Denver, you own a dog and a Subaru: it's the law. Go back a few decades, however, and Subarus were considered quirky little edge-case cars, rust-prone and far out of the mainstream. Back in the Malaise Era, if you wanted a vehicle that could get you through the Colorado snow and mountain grades and you wanted something a bit less truck-like than, say, an IHC Scout or Toyota Land Cruiser, you got an American Motors Eagle. Here's one that I spotted last week at a Denver-area self-service wrecking yard." Read more.
1988 Merkur Scorpio"During the 1980s, American car buyers started buying European luxury machinery at an unprecedented rate, which alarmed a lot of the suits in Detroit. General Motors spent a great deal of money trying to sell Pininfarina-bodied Cadillacs (whose bodies were flown from Italy to Michigan in specially equipped 747s), while Ford opted to bring over a couple of its German-built, European-market models and sell them under a marque created just for the occasion: Merkur." Read more.
1992 Geo Storm" GM's Geo brand existed from the 1989 through 1997 model years. While mostly remembered today for the Suzuki Cultus-based Metro (which continued to be sold with Chevrolet badging until 2001), there were also Geo Prizms (California-built Toyota Corollas), Geo Spectrums ( Isuzu I-Mark), Geo Trackers (Suzuki Sidekick), and Geo Storms (Isuzu Impulse). Storms are very rare now, but I found this one in Colorado last week." Read more.
2001 Pontiac Aztek
Ah, the Pontiac Aztek. Everyone laughs at the Aztek ... except, apparently, for Coloradans who like to go camping, bike riding, hiking, and all that outdoorsy stuff that folks do in the Centennial State. You'll see Azteks being driven, unironically and without shame, all over the place in the Denver region, and now plenty of them are showing up in the local wrecking yards. Here's a first-year-of-production example in its final campground. Read more.
2006 Pontiac Solstice
The debut of the Pontiac Solstice, back in 2005 for the 2006 model year, stirred up much excitement in the automotive world. Sales were brisk at first, and then they weren't so great… and then Pontiac itself went under The General's cost-cutting axe. One thing I heave learned during my junkyard travels is that even sought-after sports cars eventually reach a point at which they start showing up in the big self-service junkyards. For example, the BMW Z3 began appearing in such yards about five years ago, along with the Audi TT. While the Honda S2000 still appears to be exempt from this process, today's Junkyard Gem shows that the time has now come for the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky. Read more.