The Best Junkyard Finds of 2017

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Starting with a 1981 Fox-body Ford Granada and ending with a 1989 Chrysler New Yorker Landau Mark Cross Edition, the eighth year of the Down On the Junkyard series featured 52 discarded cars that I found sufficiently interesting to be worth photographing. They ranged in age from seven to 51 years old, were built in locations ranging from Abingdon to Aichi, and ended their respective roads in conditions varying from basket case to pretty clean.

Here are my favorite ten, the ones that got me the most worked up when I first spotted them gleaming from within the junkyard chaff, presented in model-year sequence.

1966 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan

I drove more miles in a 1965 Chevy Impala sedan than I have with any other vehicle, which makes any 1960s full-sized Chevrolet a noteworthy Junkyard Find in my book. On top of that, this ’66 was assembled on the same week I was born. Yes, I bought the clock, just because.

1967 Chevrolet P20 Adventure Line Motorhome

All manner of recreational vehicles were built out of bouncy, tin-canning Detroit step-vans during the 1960s, mostly by Midwestern manufacturers, and this Chevy P20 combines full-on hooptiness with a wistful view of a period when most RVs were not attempting to be rolling luxury hotels.

1972 Jeep J-4000 Pickup Truck

It saddens me that most pre-1990s American light-duty trucks have five-digit odometers, because this extremely battered ex-snowplow Jeep I photographed in a Denver yard might have more miles on the clock than any vehicle I have ever photographed. This truck worked hard for 45 years.

1975 Mercedes-Benz 240D

Here’s a car that might have more miles than the Jeep J-4000: an oil-burning, slow-as-molasses diesel W115 Benz, found in the San Francisco Bay Area. These cars should last forever, but sometimes their owners let them get towed away for unpaid parking tickets, or trade them in on youthful 1990s Mercedes-Benzes, or just discard them out of ennui.

1976 Audi 100 LS Sedan

Just about all of these cars were eradicated from the face of the earth by about 1990, thanks to a combination of Teutonic complexity and low resale value; I hadn’t seen one in a wrecking yard for at least 25 years when I spotted this one in Colorado Springs.

1981 Datsun 280ZX 2+2

Some say the Datsun F-10 is the ugliest Japanese car ever made, but I disagree. I say it’s the 280ZX 2+2, and that’s why I photographed this one in Northern California.

601,173-mile 1987 Mercedes-Benz 190E

A gasoline-powered, single-cam, five-speed W201 with the highest plausible odometer reading I have ever seen in a wrecking yard (the highest implausible reading was this ’81 Volkswagen Rabbit Cabrio, indicating 930,013 miles on a janky-looking odometer). Still looked pretty nice when The Crusher ate it.

1989 Ford Tempo All Wheel Drive

Here’s how sick I am about oddball rare-but-not-valuable Detroit cars: I shouted “YES!” and did a little dance when I spotted this car. Have you ever seen a Tempo AWD in person?

1991 Toyota Camry DX with V6 engine and manual transmission

Manual-transmission second-generation Camrys are really rare (at least in North America), but I’ll see maybe one every few years. This is the only example of a second-gen Camry with a five-speed and a V6 engine I have found in all my years of junkyard explorations. Disappointingly, you couldn’t get the All-Trac Camry with this engine/transmission setup.

1993 Plymouth Voyager with manual transmission

It was possible to buy a new Chrysler minivan with a five-on-the-floor manual transmission through the 1995 model year. Few did. After years of checking mid-1990s minivans for three pedals, I found this one in Colorado.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

More by Murilee Martin

Join the conversation
13 of 20 comments
  • Spreadsheet monkey Spreadsheet monkey on Jan 02, 2018

    Jack Baruth's articles and the Junkyard Finds series are the two best things about TTAC. As a Brit observing the American car world from afar, these little pieces of junkyard history are fascinating. It's interesting to compare attitudes on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, our cars (a lot of Ford and GM, with some German and Japanese cars as well) go to the junkyard at an average age of 13 years old, thanks to our tough annual inspection and damp, salty roads. On TTAC, if a car from the early 2000s is featured in the junkyard without major accident damage, people will criticize it for dying too early.

    • See 4 previous
    • Northeaster Northeaster on Jan 02, 2018

      If it were an animate object, my 2004.5 B5 Passat would object strongly to this thread. Not a lick of body rust, original exhaust system (including cat), and only a modest amount of surface rust at the bottom of the bottom end of the engine after 14 years of ungaraged heaven in Boston.

  • Mypoint02 Mypoint02 on Jan 02, 2018

    >Have you ever seen a Tempo AWD in person? I’ve actually driven one. My high school girlfriend had one. I think it was a ‘92. I remember her saying it would break a u-joint if the AWD was engaged, so unfortunately I never got to experience the Tempo under 4 wheel power. I knew it was an odd duck even back then. Never saw one before or after that...

    • See 5 previous
    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jan 11, 2018

      @JohnTaurus That's a good point - I had not considered there was a development of those terms around this era.

  • Mgh57 I should just buy an old car where everything is analog.
  • Fred I've only had it for about 7 months and I like it. Mostly because I have a hard time seeing my phone screen. So even tho my Honda's screen is 6" it's a lot easier to see than my phone.
  • Cha65697928 I'm 48. Both our cars have it, I'm never going back. Being able to activate calls, messages, music, nav, opening/closing garage doors all via voice command is awesome. Now if Audi would just allow Google maps to mirror in the middle of the driver's display instead of only allowing the native nav...
  • 3-On-The-Tree Totally Agree War is total hell!
  • SCE to AUX JFK used to pronounce Laos as "lay-oss", so I want to call this car "tay-oss". But I'm told by a true VW lover that it's pronounced "ta-owse", rhyming with "house". Maybe VW should rethink a few of their product names.