By on April 8, 2016

1983 Nissan Sentra in California Junkyard, RH rear view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The first-generation Nissan Sentra first appeared on American roads in 1982, early in the very costly Datsun-to-Nissan rebranding process. The lightweight, fuel-efficient Sentra was a big sales hit, because drivers in the early 1980s (with vivid memories of the gas lines of a few years earlier) were willing to put up with double-digit horsepower and lots of NVH in a car that promised decent reliability and cheap point-A-to-point-B costs. Now, of course, nearly all of the early Sentras are gone, so this well-worn example in a San Francisco Bay Area yard gives us an interesting history lesson. (Read More…)

By on April 6, 2016

1969 Volkswagen Beetle in California junkyard, LH Front View - © 2016 Murilee Martin

The production run of the Type 1 Volkswagen Beetle, which was built using essentially the same design from 1938 through 2003, will never be surpassed; the runner-up Morris Oxford II/Hindustan Ambassador was made from 1954 through 2014, and we feel fairly sure that the Chinese Communist Party will put a stop to Chinese production of the first-gen Kia Pride/Ford Festiva long before it beats the Beetle in the year 2053.

I see quite a few Beetles during my junkyard travels, but rarely photograph them. This one, found in a San Francisco Bay Area self-serve yard, had enough of a story to tell that I felt compelled to document it. (Read More…)

By on March 16, 2016

1982 Toyota Starlet in Colorado junkyard, RH front view - © 2016 Murilee Martin / The Truth About Cars

The Toyota Starlet was sold in the United States for the 1981 through 1984 model years, though not in large numbers. It was rock-and-stick simple, had rear-wheel drive and an unkillable pushrod engine, and it got a (claimed) 54 highway mpg. But it was tiny and cramped even by Miserable Econobox standards and had to compete with the Corolla Tercel on the very same showroom floors. Since the Tercel was cheaper, roomier, more powerful (everything is relative!), and generally more modern, American Starlets were rare to start with. They have become even more rare today, as generations of wild-eyed engine-swappers tripled Starlet horsepower and stuffed the handful of remaining examples (that didn’t succumb to rust) into concrete abutments and dragstrip K-barriers.

Here’s a Colorado ’82 that is as close to being completely used up as any vehicle I have ever seen in a wrecking yard. (Read More…)

By on March 7, 2016

1990 Daihatsu Charade in California junkyard, LH rear view - ©2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

The Daihatsu Charade was available in the United States for the 1988 through 1992 model years, then was forgotten more quickly than the speed at which Darmstadtium-267 decays. Still, among the Daewoo Nubiras and Kia Rondos and Sterling 827s and other forgotten machinery at your typical California self-service junkyards, you’ll see a Charade now and then. (Read More…)

By on March 4, 2016

1978 Honda Civic front 3/4 in California junkyard, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

The first-generation Honda Civic sold like crazy in California, and could be found everywhere in the Golden State from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s. These Civics are now virtually extinct, both on the street and in the junkyard, because they were used up and summarily discarded.

(Read More…)

By on February 24, 2016

1992 Pontiac LeMans sedan RH front quarter in California junkyard, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

General Motors brought Opel Kadetts into the United States via several routes over the years. They came from Germany and were badged as Opels at first, Isuzu built “Buick Opels” a bit later, then Isuzu dealers sold them as I-Marks (the Chevette was also a Kadett sibling, but at least it was American-built). By the late 1980s, the Kadett’s American cousin was the Daewoo LeMans, a crappily-built Korean front-wheel-drive miserybox based on the Kadett E. Few were sold, and nearly all of those were three-door hatchback versions.

Here’s an exceptionally rare LeMans sedan, from the next-to-last year of American-market sales, that I spotted last week in a Denver self-service wrecking yard. (Read More…)

By on February 17, 2016

1989 Plymouth Horizon America Rear 3/4 in California junkyard, Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

The Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon (collectively known as the Omnirizon) was based on a Simca design originally intended for European use and was Chrysler’s first American built, front-wheel drive, economy car. The Omnirizon was cheap, got the job done, and sold very well, staying in the American marketplace from 1978 through to 1990 with few major changes.

We’ve seen an early Horizon and now I’ve spotted this late one in a California self-service yard. (Read More…)

By on February 8, 2016

00 - 1984 Ford Escort wagon in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

The first North American Ford Escort went on sale for the 1981 model year; it was related to its Mark III Escort European counterpart but was more of a cousin than a sibling. It wasn’t a great car, but was such an improvement over its miserable Pinto predecessor that it flew off the showroom floors in great quantities. These cars were cheap and disposable, so nearly all of them disappeared during the 1990s.

I see quite a few of the Mazda 323/Kia Sephia-related second-gen Escorts in junkyards these days, but a genuine, early Escort wagon is nearly as rare as a numbers-matching Geo Prizm GSi today. Here’s a solid-looking ’84 wagon that I shot in Denver earlier this winter. (Read More…)

By on February 5, 2016

17 - 1986 Hyundai Excel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

I can’t think of any vehicle manufacturer whose products improved as much and as quickly as Hyundai’s did between the ghastly first-gen Excel and the very nice Hyundais of, say, the current century.

The only new US-market car that was cheaper than the first Excel was the Yugo GV (which was, arguably, the better car), and in all my years of junkyard crawling I have never seen any vehicle that got discarded in larger quantities before reaching ten years of age (in fact, lots of Excels appeared at U-Wrench-It before their fifth birthdays).

This means that 1985-89 Excels are exceedingly rare in junkyards today, so I always photograph them when I find them. So far in this series, we have seen this ’86, this ’87, this ’88, and now today’s depressingly un-loaded ’87, which is as far advanced from today’s nice Hyundais as is a cargo-cult wicker plane from a Boeing 787. (Read More…)

By on October 26, 2015

04 - 2001 Suzuki Swift in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

I live in Colorado, where recreational cannabis has been legal since the beginning of 2014. The (allegedly) medical-only stuff had been available all over Denver, complete with sign-spinners on street corners, for years before that, and so nothing much changed when the Reefer Man was allowed to sell his wares to just about any adult. Sure, hundreds of doomed recreational dispensaries have joined the hundreds of doomed brewpubs and doomed tattoo shops fighting for the not-so-abundant dollars of the thin slice of the Denver population interested in shatter hash, yeast-sludge-filled draft beer, and/or blotchy tattoos of the Chinese characters for “poop”… and I’ve started seeing bags of weed in junkyard cars here.

Prior to legalization, no self-respecting tow-truck driver or junkyard employee would have allowed free pot to slip by, but nowadays a few grams of mystery doobage is about as appealing to those guys as a half-empty 40-dog of King Cobra found in the trunk.

Here’s a Suzuki Swift that I found in a Denver yard with such a bag that I spotted tied to the gas spring on the hatch. (Read More…)

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