If there’s one takeaway from journalism class, it’s this: Never bury the lede. OK, there’s also this: When you have a great story, you (the writer) can only mess it up, so ride those quotes and stay out of the way. And this is pretty doggone important too: If your momma tells you she loves you, get confirmation.
That last bit of advice is an amusing way to say, “Always check your sources.” But it’s also a good reminder that we should never assume anything. For instance, don’t presume that the only thing you can find in a garbage can is garbage. Sometimes there’s gold in there. We recently asked our Facebook audience, “What’s the craziest car you’ve found in a junkyard?” And after reading Bill Cunningham’s answer, we decided to: A) Lead with it; B) Let him tell it in his own words; and C) Include photos that confirm his story.
“While walking through a junkyard in Illinois (looking for a rear bumper for my Toyota 4Runner), I walked past an Audi with a license plate frame from the Porsche-Audi dealership I worked for while in college,” Bill wrote. “I walked up and looked at the plates, and I realized I had driven that car at one time, as it was a former customer’s car back in Minnesota (I was younger and my brain kept weird reference stuff like that on file).
“When I looked behind that Audi, a Guards Red 1984 Porsche 944 was looking right at me. I checked the odometer—fewer than 23,000 miles—and yes, from all indications they were original miles; it still had the original Pirelli tires. It was apparently owned by a Porsche fan who let his son take it out, and he promptly side swiped something.
photo courtesy Bill Cunningham
Bill Cunningham restored this 1984 Porsche 944 after finding it in a junkyard
“I told the guy who ran the yard that I wanted the Porsche, but there were some paperwork hurdles I had to deal with first. So I went to the Illinois Secretary of State’s office in Springfield, and apparently I share a name with a lawmaker or some other well-placed individual, because when I gave my name to the woman up front, I was immediately sent into Secretary of State George Ryan’s office. He chuckled when a 23-year-old kid walked in. After some polite conversation (in which I told him about the 1983 Toyota Celica GTS that I’d rebuilt and still owned), he called the salvage yard himself and asked them to figure out how to sell me the car. The owner of the yard called me later and asked, ‘Who in the heck are you? Please don’t have the Secretary of State call me again. We prefer to keep a low profile.’ (George Ryan eventually went to federal prison on corruption charges, by the way.)
“A week later, the yard delivered the Porsche on a flatbed. I rebuilt the mechanicals and had a body shop go through it. I ordered many parts directly from Germany, which took a few months to arrive, but I finally got the 944 back on the road. Wonderful car. I drove it for the next two college semesters, then I sold it to pay for the last year of school. I still miss that car, although I know the guy who owns it.”
Bill’s wasn’t the only story, just the most in-depth. Others chose brevity.
Tom Hornberger (“Cop car”), Todd Welsh (“Opel GT and 1961 Dodge Lancer”), and Andy Hopper (“Series 1 Datsun 240Z”) shared but a dozen words between them. Certainly they could have spared a few more. And we were left wondering if John King has a giant collection or perhaps drives a Duesenberg, since he nonchalantly offered this little teaser without further explanation: “An Edsel wagon and a Tucker.” A Tucker? Come on, John, don’t leave us hanging!
Richard Pastecchi didn’t write a single word, but he posted a photo that was worth a thousand, as the old saying goes. Richard’s pic showed the forgotten hulks of four Little Tikes cars, rotting away (if plastic indeed rots) in the backyard of some nostalgic father whose kids now drive the real thing. Tom Long also posted a photo showing the 1950s Opel Rekord he discovered in a junkyard. That’s Tom right there, smiling and waving. Perhaps he’s hailing a cab, since it doesn’t look like there’s an engine in that thing and, well, it’s snowing.
Michael T. Cunningham provided a photo showing a stack of junk cars and this description: “At Desert Valley Auto Parts in Arizona… The black Oldsmobile on top is a 1962 Jetfire.” How cool is that? We just wrote about the rare Jetfire. Guess we now know where one of them ended up.
Alan Joksch made an amazing discovery about 15 years ago when he found two vehicles that he previously owned—a 1975 Celica GT and 1979 F150 4x4—parked side by side in a junkyard. And Scott Campbell found a Big Bad Blue-painted 1969 AMC AMX with 390 engine and Go Pack performance upgrade.
We’ll let the rest of you tell your own story.
Joyce Epperson: “My husband went for Mustang parts and came home with a rusty, dented, stripped shell of an original pink 1966 Mustang. If she wasn’t pink, she’d be soup cans now. But he restored her for me.”
Darrell Palmer: “Went to a junkyard looking for a windshield and front bumper for my ’52 Chevy and saw a truck loaded with cars going to be recycled. On top was a 1959 or ’60 Corvette. At that time it was an old car not a classic, and back in the early ’70s restoring it would not have been financially sensible.”
Kevin Hines: “Datsun Fairlady Z. It was right-hand drive, purple with white interior. I bought it.” (Whew, good call.)
Austin Moerike: “I don’t remember the name of the model, but last year I came across a Renault that was converted to rear engine, rear drive. It’s the same car they used in group B rally. It struck me as odd and pretty dang cool since I live in the middle of western Canada and they don't do much rally racing here.” Juan Ignacio Caino’s reply: “Could have been a Renault 5 turbo. If so, go strike your (blank) with a hammer.”
Kevin Fenwick: “I worked in a wrecking yard in the mid-to-late 1980s here in Australia, and I remember some of the ’60s and ’70s classics and muscle cars that were lying around, all restorable with today's technology. Now where did I put that time machine?”
Abraham Valadez: “Two Monte Carlos—one an Intimidator Edition, the other an orange Limited Edition with Taz (Tasmanian Devil) decal under the quarter panel, and checkers.”
The last word goes to Dan Kelsey, who shared what may be the best junkyard success story of all. Dan found “an all-original 1969 Mercury Cyclone Cale Yarborough 428 Cobra Jet wearing its original paint and wheels! It was all there and had no rust—it was just covered with dust and sitting on flat tires. One of only 41 ever made!”