When the Pontiac Aztek concept SUV was unveiled in 1999, it was a bit odd-looking but no more so than the Isuzu VehiCROSS. It looked angular, low, and menacing, which is just how plenty of Americans wanted their truckish vehicles. When the production Aztek appeared as a 2001 model, however, some changes had been made.
Ford updated its full-sized cars for 1969, stretching the wheelbase a couple of inches and adding a completely new snout. Production of this generation of big Fords continued through 1978, with well over a half-million sold just for 1969, so these cars were everywhere on American roads well into the 1990s. Here's one of the sportiest models you could buy in that first year, found in a Colorado self-service car graveyard last month.
Prior to the 1980s, Subarus were known by Americans more for being tiny and cheap than anything else (though some car shoppers in snow-prone areas came to appreciate Subaru's optional four-wheel-drive system during that time), but then the bigger second-generation Leone went on sale here for the 1980 model year and Subaru became quite a bit more mainstream on our shores. Today's Junkyard Find is one of those second-gen cars, found in a Colorado self-service yard.
Because of all the rebadged Daewoos sold in North America via the Suzuki brand during the 2000s (as well as actual Suzukis), you'll find no shortage of cars bearing the big S logo in most car graveyards these days. But what about the first highway-legal four-wheeled Suzuki sold on our shores, the Jimny?
When the arms manufacturer known as Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget built its first production automobile, the goofy-looking 1950 Saab 92, that company's best-known product was the goofy-looking fighter jet known as the "Flying Barrel." Both the aircraft and cars got the job done, but it wasn't until the late 1960s that Saab built a jet that looked just as cool as the hippest Lockheeds and Mikoyan-Gureviches. At around the same time, Saab introduced its first car that wasn't viewed by non-Scandinavians as an oddball machine for eccentrics: The 99. Here's one of those cars, found in a self-service yard just south of Denver.
After all these years of writing about junkyard-found vehicles (15 years, to be exact), I'm trying to fill in some of the thin spots in these automotive history lessons. I've caught up on some of the post-1980s BMWs I'd neglected, I'm trying to add more SUVs to the mix, and now I realize that I haven't paid much attention to discarded VW Passats built since we called that model the Dasher or the Quantum over here. So, I decided to document the very first Passat I found in a junkyard with a manual transmission (just to make the search more of a challenge), and that turned out to be this '03 GLS.
Most of the inventory at your typical Ewe Pullet-style big self-service car graveyard will be vehicles between about 15 and 25 years old, though you'll see some much newer 500s and Mirages while discarded machinery of the 1970s and 1980s remains easy enough to find. The 1930s, though— that's a different story. While you will run across prewar iron in a generations-old family junkyard, I've managed to document but a single 1930s car in a U-Wrench-type facility prior to today. Here's the second: a once-glamorous 1938 Buick in an excellent yard in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The General began selling rebadged Suzukis on our shores for the 1985 model year, with a Chevrolet-badged Cultus called the Sprint. A few years later, GM's Geo brand came into being, with the Cultus becoming the Metro and the Escudo aka Vitara, rolling into Geo dealerships bearing Tracker badging. Meanwhile, Suzuki began selling its own versions of both vehicles here, with the Tracker's sibling known as the Sidekick. Here's one of those trucks, a rusty '93 in a Denver car graveyard.
When I walk the rows of a big Ewe Pullet-style self-service car graveyard, I always take a look inside every 2000s Toyota Camry I see. I do this because I wish to document one of the most elusive of all junkyard inmates: One of the final Camrys sold in the United States with a factory-installed manual transmission. Prior to today's Junkyard Find, the newest discarded three-pedal Camry I'd found was a 2001 model in California. We're pushing the record another five years forward today because I've found this five-on-the-floor-equipped 2006 Camry in the very same yard.
The middle 1970s through early 1980s were the Golden Age of small Japanese pickups in the United States, when truck shoppers could choose from various models made by Isuzu, Mazda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Nissan. The decade of the 1970s began with Nissan selling the Datsun 521 here and finished just around the time the first Datsun 720s appeared in showrooms, with the workhorse 620 in between and proving a tough competitor for the Toyota Hilux and (Mazda-built) Ford Courier.
This week's Junkyard Find is a much-battered 1977 Datsun 620 King Cab, found in a self-service yard located on the High Plains between Denver and Cheyenne.
Volvo built the 200 Series for nearly 20 years and the owners of those sensibly rectangular machines tended to keep them for decade after decade, so I have no problem finding plenty of discarded examples during my junkyard travels despite the last ones rolling off the assembly line in 1993. Most of those machines have been the four– cylinder/ four– or five– door cars, though, because more cylinders and/or fewer doors didn’t seem stolid enough for your typical American Volvo shopper. In fact, prior to today, I had documented as many junked 262C Bertones as 242 two– doors (and just a single 264 sedan). Now I’ve found this rusty 242 in a self-service yard between Denver and Cheyenne.
I’ve been living in Colorado for 12 years now, and I’ve found that the junkyards here have plenty of both the rust-free Japanese cars you’d find in California yards and the late-model Detroit machinery of the Midwest yards (the liquor stores here also stock the watery yellow beers of both the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Midwest, great news if you’re throwing a Denver party that requires both Rainier and Hamm’s). The one thing that really sets Colorado car graveyards apart from those elsewhere (besides all the Scouts and edge-case 4WD cars) is the huge numbers of pre-1960 American vehicles that end up in the U-Wrench-It-type yards here. Here’s the latest, a 1949 Plymouth Special Deluxe sedan in a big self-service yard between Denver and Cheyenne.
The Mazda Miata has been with us for well over three decades, becoming the best-selling two-seat sports car in history along the way. Miatas were popular as quasi-sensible commuter cars in North America well into our current century, which means that I should have been seeing at least a couple in every junkyard I’ve visited for at least the last 15 years. In fact, I still see many more discarded MGBs and Fiat 124 Sport Spiders than I do Miatas, so this reasonably intact ’93 in Crystal White paint caught my attention immediately (naturally, there was an ’81 Fiat Spider 2000 a few rows away).
Ah, the Chevrolet Corvair. Easily the most controversial American car ever made, nearly two million examples were sold during the 1960 through 1969 model years. It remains one of the most common 1960s Detroit cars in Ewe Pullet-style car graveyards to this day. I found this sporty 1962 Monza Club Coupe in a Denver-area yard last month.