By on March 6, 2011

Scrap-steel prices have been climbing like crazy in recent months, with the scrap price for junk cars reaching about $250/ton here in Colorado. That means that a lot of potential project cars that have spent decades in back yards and driveways, waiting to get back on the road, are now worth an easy 400 bucks at The Crusher. Armies of steel-crazed scavengers with car trailers and flatbed trucks have been scouring the countryside for unwanted— or, more accurately, insufficiently wanted— vehicles to turn into quick cash. I hit a local metal-recycling yard yesterday to see the frenzy for myself.

Back when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I often commuted across the Bay on a ferry that docked across the Oakland Estuary from the Schnitzer Steel yard at the Port of Oakland. I knew the mountains of rusty steel were once cars that Schnitzer had on the yard at its chain of self-service wrecking yards (Schnitzer Steel owns the Pick-N-Pull chain), but it was impossible to recognize anything in those China-bound mountains of ex-car steel.

Things are more up close and personal when you visit The Crusher in person; here’s a fairly solid and complete Corvair that’s probably a cube of metal in a container in a train car, bound for the nearest container-ship port (Oakland, most likely), by the time you read this. Kind of a shame, but nobody was willing to buy it and fix it.

I was there with a friend who was disposing of the carcass of a wrecked Suburban he’d bought as a drivetrain donor for a project truck. Nobody’s going to shed any tears over the loss of a wrecked late-model Suburban, right? I know I won’t!

However, even my cold, cold heart felt a pang when I saw this rough-but-repairable Mercedes-Benz W126 coupe on the end of a chain, headed to certain death. How? Why? $250/ton, that’s why!

I couldn’t tell which SEC this was, but it’s a big German coupe with a V8, and— by the time you read this— it has been chewed up like so many Saturn SL2s and broken washing machines.

Another Malaise Era Ford bites the dust.

How about a Dodge Diplomat? Remember when all the cops drove these?

This BMW 7 Series has depreciated about as far as it’s possible to go.

Poor 4-door Bonneville. Nobody loves big 1960s sedans… until they put them on the scale and realize that they’re worth $500 in quick cash.

Late Fox Mustang GT with V8 and 5-speed? Crushed.

Woodgrain Late Malaise station wagon? Crushed.

The whole process happens fairly quickly. First you wait in a line of doomed cars on trailers and old pickups with beds full of brake drums and steel pipe.

The seller flashes the vehicle’s title, and a big forklift picks it up.

A guy with a pickaxe punches a couple of holes in the car’s gas tank and drains the gas into a series of 5-gallon buckets.

The flammable-liquid action never stops at this place!

Some of the gas seemed pretty fresh, and some of it had that bad-old-gas smell and dark color.

Apparently it was once possible to get drained gas from Crusher victims for free. These days, no dice.

This goes on all day, every day, all over the country. I was at this Crusher for about an hour and saw at least a half-dozen interesting cars get eaten. How many meet their demise every day? As long as China hungers for scrap steel, it will continue at this pace.

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40 Comments on “End Of The Line: Welcome To The Crusher!...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan


    by Robert Louis Stevenson
    Under the wide and starry sky,
    Dig the grave and let me lie;
    Glad did I live and gladly die,
    And I laid me down with a will.

    This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
    Here he lies where he longed to be;
    Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill.

  • avatar

    Seeing that 67 Bonneville reminds me of my Son’s college beater car.   A 67 Catalina.
    Link:[email protected]/5193687783/ 

    It had 39,000 original miles when we bought it for $2000.  Being a four door it was an unloved car, the best to buy for a low price!    It was good wrenching experience for my son to keep all the maintenance up.    At around 93,000 miles the timing belt went and the rust was taking hold from Michigan winters.    So it was sold for $500 on ebay per the picture you see.
    I guess today I could have got that in scrap metal!    

    • 0 avatar

      This is what keeps me scurrying to shoot all the old cars before they all go this way. The other day, I was shooting a running Pontiac Parisienne, and the owner was trying rather desperately to sell it to me for $400. I guess she’s not up to snuff on the scrap value…she could just drive it to the crusher:

  • avatar

    I hate seeing good project cars get crushed. Maybe its “just a four door” but it still has plenty of good parts that could be used in other models.  As to the idiot with the axe spilling fuel all over the ground, I hope that video gets used as evidence for the complete disregard for contaminating the ground.  I can’t believe that is legal.  What a disgrace.

    • 0 avatar

      It is thinking like yours that led us to this point where commodities are more valuable in a ship leaving our docks than they are to people here with business plans and aspirations to create products, jobs, and wealth.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      If they were “good” project cars, someone would have snatched them up before they got to the end of the line. It is still easier and cheaper to find a good example of Vehicle X, than to restore one of these hulks to service. Everything in the junkyard- at some point someone looked at it, shook their head, and waved it off to its doom.

      • 0 avatar

        I sadly do the ‘Wave’ almost every day.

        One of the problems, is that the owners try to get way to much money for the cars that will take many thousands to restore, they read something somewhere(some car value guide) and think their car is worth a bunch of that. After they post it on CL for a long time getting no takers, they give up and just want it gone. Many good parts are lost that way and even some restorable cars.

        I have been watching this parade of cars to the crusher for some 60+ years now, starting with the cars of the late twenties and thirties, then to the early post war cars, then onto the fifties, and sixties, and so it goes today. Used to play a game of figuring what that crushed car was, now it is nearly impossible with the generic appliances we have today.

        The portable crusher has accelerated the rapid demise of this great old iron, and with it we lose a little bit of ourselves, our culture.

        The Pontiac could have been made into a Speedster or its front end sold for a good price.. The Corvair, restored. But the economy and the dearth of guys who are handy and motivated, and have the wherewithal to restore a car, will send more of these cars to a future as appliances, barbecues, and more cars. Soon, most will be Chinese and Indian cars, and some of those will find their way back here, and the cycle will continue.

        Some years ago now, my wife ran my very rare 48′ Olds 98 ‘Futuramic’ Fastback coupe into the back of my crew cab whose severe duty bumper did a job to that exquisite, shiny front end. I looked in vain for years for a front end. One day on the way to work I saw a ’98’ sedan with a great front end on a flat bed truck. I managed to get the driver to stop, and queried him as to where it was going… the crusher. I tried to buy it, but he couldn’t raise his boss on the phone and into the maws of the crusher it went.

        Less the 2,000 48′ Olds 98 Fastbacks were made. They made nearly 5,500 98 convertibles that year.

    • 0 avatar

      It is thinking like yours that led us to this point where commodities are more valuable in a ship leaving our docks than they are to people here with business plans and aspirations to create products, jobs, and wealth.
      Where did that come from?  What’s with the hostility?  What is wrong with wanting some availability of original parts and being saddened by the loss of irreplaceable pieces of history?  First and foremost this is a car site.  When politics is related to the topic at hand fine.  The people who “think” like you are the ones that engineered the economic collapse in the first place.  So chill out, tune in Bill O’reilly, smoke a cigar, enjoy your nightly Jameson as you imagine stepping on the working underclass.  Maybe drive by the unemployment office and shout “get a job” for good measure.  Then go back to making logical posts.  While I don’t share you point of view, your post are usually relevant.  Not this time.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m guessing that he, being of the Fox News demographic, is mad about the gas comment as opposed to the rest of the post.  Heaven forbid someone should have to dispose of their waste in a responsible fashion instead of dumping it all over the first surface they see.

  • avatar

    nations fought wars for metal of all types, now we willingly surrender our metal to a foreign land in which it turn sells back to us products. I guess that’s progress, at least for the seller which makes lots of money.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    Man, a 6.2 out of an Escalade or a Vortec 8100 from a truck would look really good in that Bonneville (since Pontiac V8s are getting impossible to find). And I see (I think) a rust-free S10 pickup there too! (Bangs head on wall.)

  • avatar

    Having an auto body shop in my family with plenty of our own project cars sitting around in different stages of restoration, the general public just doesn’t understand or want to pay for all the time and work to do restorations the right way. That is why so many old cars end up crushed. Truthfully it’s even difficult when a guy drags in an old car and wants a quote other then, “How big of a deposit can you leave and we’ll see what it will pay for?”

    The guys that do want to take on a project in their own garage don’t often have the tools, time, skills and/or an understanding wife. They sometimes take short cuts and it later shows. Like a guy with a ’71 Duster that uses bondo to fill in dents rather then to take them out and doesn’t understand why the shop won’t guarantee the paint job over top of it. Or another guy that has a ’65 Cornet repainted and puts back on the scratched up chrome trim he took off. Or my neighbor with a ’67 Mustang rusting in his garage that each summer tells me he’s going to start working on it. Sure you will! Is that before or after you mow your yard?

    • 0 avatar

      My neighbor has an old 50 something chrysler in his driveway,  been there 7 or 8 years. It’s not getting restored any time soon, that’s for sure. I ran into a guy that actually restores mid 50’s mopars and he offered him good money for it. Truly a miracle.
      Neighbor turned him down flat. That was 2 years ago and it’s still in the same state it was then. It will be there for 20 years more.  No money or proper location for doing what needs to be done,  if he actually does start taking it apart the garage will end up full of parts and a gutted hulk will remain outside.
      I used to love working on old cars, now I deal in motorbikes. Cheaper to fix, easy to get parts for, simple to disassemble and rebuild. If the project goes wrong they can be completely parted out in a matter of weeks.
      Compared to a car, body and paint on a bike is simple. The tank, side covers and fenders are carried or mailed to a painter while the engine and mechanicals are easy enough to pretty up myself.
      You are more likely to see a 30 year old motorcycle on the road than a car as a daily driver.

  • avatar

    Heartbreaking to see that Corvair being led through the rusty gates.  You’d think some Corvair enthusiast would have bought it up for parts, at least.  But a bad economy combined with soaring metals prices leads to scenes like these.  Most times, just sending a car that’s been sitting up a while to the crusher is much easier than trying to sell it
    The only silver lining I can get out of seeing some of these cars getting crushed is that surviving examples will become that much rarer.  Which means the values will go up quite a bit on even the roughest of examples.  Which leaves people even more reluctant to have them crushed, in hopes of getting some enthusiast to buy it for a restoration.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Honestly, at the shows around here people can’t give away Corvairs. They don’t seem to be in short supply in running condition with prices ranging from mid-4-digits to low-5-digits.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Agreed. Apart from the patch towards the front, that Corvair’s rocker section looks clean and rot-free – and that’s the single most difficult part of the body to restore once it’s gone. There’s another guy at the yard to the north where I’m working on my project who’s working on a much further gone Corvair shell and the rockers have been the most time consuming aspect of the project. Truly a sad sight, especially for anyone who knows where to look for the important save it/crush it damage spots.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    It seems strange that that Corvair wouldn’t at least have been stripped down to a bare chassis.  It looks to have a bunch of valuable and intact parts on it.

  • avatar

    Murilee, this story reminds me of another price peak for scrap steel that happened some time ago, and a wrecking yard near here send a whole row of 1955-1960 finned Chryslers, Imperials, and DeSotos to the crusher.

  • avatar

    I’m reasonably sure this is what happened to my roommate’s late-80’s Custom Cruiser. Too bad it happened in the middle of the night without his knowledge or blessing.
    God only knows why else you’d steal the thing.

  • avatar

    I’m amazed someone has calculated that the steel in these cars is worth more than the parts at a salvage yard.  You can usually get quite a bit more than $300-$400 per car out of selling “recycled” parts, the only issue is it’s not a “quick buck” like selling for scrap. Usually it makes to sense to wait until the car has been picked over more.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Yeah, but how long does that take? Months, years, while that $400 can be had in a week or so and the space in the yard turned over dozens of times.

  • avatar

    We must remember that we are not the first. Although before my time, I have read that a lot of pre-WWII cars were the victims of scrap drives during the war years.  A lot of great stuff was lost then.  We have been fortunate that these oldies have stayed around this long.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    That’s not always the case.
    When it comes to vehicles that are few in number and rarely on the road, the crusher usually offers the best long-term bang for the buck.
    A lot of vehicles in Murilee’s assortment fit that definition to a T. Even the late 80’s Benzes can arguably provide a better return as a steel cube if the vehicle is too rough.
    One of my favorites was a Peugeot 405 that I just got sick of driving… and repairing… and driving… and repairing… as a second car.  I got it for next to nothing and managed to use parts from three different Pugs at a nearby junkyard.
    I sold mine to the owner of the junkyar after about a year of this exercise. Great car… just an incurable pain in the axe when it came to reliability.
    Anyhow, after I sold it nobody bought another Peugeot part at that place. Not a solitary soul. The fact that mine was the only one with over 100k was indicative of the ‘end of the line’ for this model
    A lot of the heavier Detroit metal and rust-happy foreign cars have mostly joined the same fate. Then you have the old Korean cars which were likely the worst of the brood. It took over a decade for Hyundai to build something worthwhile. Even longer for Kia if you look at their nameplate models (Festiva was good for what it was). Daewoo never got their act together. Then there’s Sterling, Alfa Romeo, older Mitsubishis….
    It’s no big loss in the end. Just a monetary testament to the worthiness of these particular models.

  • avatar

    Back in the early/mid 1990s I used to frequent a regional “junkyard” for old Mercedes-Benz parts for my old W111 Heckflosse.  They had acres of them slowly rusting in the fields.  Then one day I went up there and all the cars more than about 5 years old were gone.  I asked and they told me about the development of the mobile crusher, basically a team of guys with a crusher mounted on a flatbed trailer accompanied by a small fleet of trucks and fork-lift loaders. These guys went around to the old junkyards that were too far off the beaten path and too poor/small to invest in their own crushing equipment.  The mobile crusher was the end of the small local junkyard.

  • avatar

    “This is what keeps me scurrying to shoot all the old cars”
    You are obviously a caring kind person.
    Compared to the prolonged agony of being squeezed to death your action is one of caring mercy.  Bless thee, sir!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar

    This is not pretty.  It hurts those of us who love automobiles…whether collectible or just plain-jane examples of the eras they were made.
    But it is the way of the world as it is.  Right now there is a booming market for scrap; while at the same time people are desperate for cash; people are scaling back on expensive hobbies.  And owning an obsolete automobile…is a hobby.
    It’s hard times for us; good times for others in other lands.  WE were once the lords of all we saw; touring Europe in Bermuda shorts while the native wildlife existed on UN handouts.  And as they had to endure the indignities of rich Americans fouling their homes…even to moral turpitude.
    I’m not suggesting this is moral payback.  But once again, things are out of balance; and once again, the societies who are suffering need look only in their mirrors.  Just as WWII was engineered by some Europeans and enabled by many others, so too are these times the result of bad choices that could have been avoided.
    And right now, that once-loved “project car” may represent next week’s groceries.  It is what it is…

  • avatar

    I’m just surprised that the crushers in places where cars don’t rust haven’t figured out a way to advertise the special interest cars they have about to be shredded. The cost would be minimal and potentially they could make more than the scrap value.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    Murliee, when did you did take the photo of that crane in Oakland? (If it is from Oakland.)

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    I understand this is a car site and there are a lot of sentimental reasons to lament the crushing of certain cars, but once you step past the emotional reasons, there’s not really any scandal going on here, as some seem to suggest.
    Scrap steel is a valuable commodity right now. The market has spoken. If these cars were already more valuable for other reasons, such as spare parts, wouldn’t someone have figured it out by now?
    And finally, one bright spot, the metal being shredded here will eventually show up in future (hopefully great) cars.

  • avatar

    shoot, Murilee, this is downright depressing. The Corvair, not the Diplomat.

  • avatar
    87CE 95PV Type Я

    I am guilty of this since in August 2009 I sold my 87 Caprice Estate to the Demolition Derby for almost $400 after buying it off of Ebay for $510 and spending a few hundred on repairs.
    My friends named her Patty Hearst because she could brainwash me into spending too much money and I eventually could not fund her Golddigging ways.  Not only that, but unlike my current vehicle Patty had ticking timebombs, burned oil, and even if properly running would only get 18 or so MPG.
    I figured B-Body Estates were more common outside of NY, but now I am starting to have regret.

  • avatar

    That Corvair is a particular shame. Looked like a really solid car with minor damage.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    I don’t know anything about iron prices, but precious metals are out of sight.  I never thought I’d live to see 36 dollar silver:  Scroll down to see silver, palladium, platinum, and rhodium.  At least a weak dollar policy is good for somebody.

  • avatar

    Sadly, a time comes when one must abandon all emotional ties. From whence they came they shall return.
    I’m a big fan of the three strike rule when it comes to scrapping a car. Latest example would be a certain “bi plane” spoiler equipped car from 1987. Looks like I’m getting burned on the third try at selling it.. Next stop is the local Fire Dept.. Then the scrap yard.
    At $0.15/lb I get a bit better than $400, they won’t pimp me on it, and when I’m done there won’t be one single useful part left on it..

  • avatar

    Sad as it is to see (some of) these cars going to the crusher, this is an excellent example of Net Present Value (NPV) calculations “in action.”

    In my college days, I was on first name basis with the guys at a local yard (the doberman liked me, too) where I scarfed up then-plentitudinous Vega parts. I remember stopping in toward the end of my Vega days for something or another, and being told that all the Vegas (and most of the Monzas) were being crushed and that I should grab what I wanted *that day*…

    My son and I are slowly restoring a ’62 and ’63 Beetle together, and most of the VW boneyards I’ve known over the years have dried up, too.

    They don’t last forever…

  • avatar


    I just got linked to this old article .

    Sad to see the Corvair and others , I wonder if the Ford Pickup truck near the Corvair is one of those nifty unibody ones ? .

    I used to run a Junk Yard in the 1970’s and most of my life has been spent sourcing parts from them an lamenting the greedy jerk who usually run them , jerks who’d rather crush @ .30 cents / pound then sell to you for $4 / pound as used parts….

    I never had excess inventory , I got the cars in and broke them , sold off the parts as soon as anyone came in with ca$h .

    I made decent $ on the scrap too and that when it was (IIRC) 25 cents or so the pound .

    The truth remains : no one wants to pony up much $ for an old car and the parts sellers would rather gouge than meet you half way most of the time .


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