5 Insanely Cool Muscle Car Junkyards!
Every hot rodder loves a good junkyard, but as we've reported time after time, junkyards just aren't what they used to be. Today's junkyards are largely a source of cheap steel for offshore foundries, not old parts and project cars for local repair shops and home DIY guys. Environmental laws have also put the squeeze on salvage yards, which catch a lot of grief for soil and water contamination, meaning most cars can't afford to languish in yards that are the most convenient for car crafting city dwellers and suburbanites.
Related: Like junkyard and barn finds? Check out Roadkill's Junkyard Gold on the MotorTrend App, hosted by Steve Magnante, where he travels to junkyards across the country to unearth hidden gems and talk about their history. Sign up today for a free trial!
Serviceable junkyards with vintage cars and parts are dwindling in size and number, but our network of barn find experts and the crew of Roadkill's Junkyard Gold are on the case. Here are five amazing junkyards for finding muscle cars and other antique classics below, plus the links to more detailed info and some fascinating galleries from those locations. Let's take a look now!
Mopar Graveyard Hidden in the Carolina Hills
For good reason, barn find experts like Ryan Brutt often keep the source of their finds a secret. Since many old car junkyards are on private property and not considered commercial ventures, their owners like to remain anonymous and their whereabouts unknown. All Ryan tells us about this Mopar dream world's location is that it's in the hills of North Carolina (the locals call it the Piedmont area), and fortunately for you, I grew up there, just a few miles from Richard Petty and a few miles the other direction from Herb McCandless—both Mopar standard bearers. Ryan says a significant number of cars, parts, and memorabilia are from Petty, including the ill-fated 43 Jr. 1965 Barracuda that's the unrestored twin to the one at Petty's museum in Randleman, North Carolina.
Michigan Junkyard with Buried Muscle Car Treasure
Detroit is the center of the automotive world, and when auto archeologist Ryan Brutt traveled to the area a few years ago on business, his compass naturally turned to hunting old junkyards for muscle cars. This private yard north of Detroit held some spectacular finds, and most unusually, they were not limited to mostly one brand. You can just about hear Ryan's heartbreak here when he describes finding a '69 Mach 1 Mustang sitting on top of a bus with a tree growing through it. While most of the cars were beyond restoring, the trip to see them was well worth it for the stroll down memory lane.
Colorado Junkyard Selling Off Collection
Not all junkyards with gold are off-limits to the public—some even want you to know about them, such as Colorado Auto and Parts, an average pick-a-part, with a twist! Some time ago owners Gary and Alice Corns had segregated the older, more interesting cars from the late-models and put restrictions on their use to ensure that they weren't destroyed. For instance, a customer isn't allowed to destroy a whole door just to snag a door handle.
Why so many older classics? The yard has been in the family since 1959 and some of the classics have been around since the beginning. Mustang lovers take notice: There looks to be an abundance of Mustangs from the muscle car era, so after checking out Elana Scherr's original story with 134 photos here, you can go to the yard's website at coloradoautoparts.com.
Stephen's Performance in Anderson, Alabama
When staffer Jordon Scott got a hold of a batch of photos from Roadkill's Junkyard Gold hosted by Steve Magnante, he leapt into action with a neat Dodge Charger historical overview. The Junkyard Gold team found themselves at Stephen's Performance in Anderson, Alabama, looking at 58 acres and more than 3,000 cars—a good portion of them B-Body Mopars. If you're a Charger guy or gal, you likely already know about Stephen's Performance, but in case you don't you'll be glad to have a look at Jordon's original story here.
Browne Auto Salvage in Sunset, Texas
About 85 miles northwest of Dallas is the village of Sunset, Texas, and 38 acres of magical machinery at Browne Auto Salvage. Once again, Steve Magnante and the production crew of Roadkill's Junkyard Gold were on hand to document an amazing assortment of Studebakers. Well preserved in the dry West Texas steppe, one can only marvel at their pristine condition.
Far away from prying eyes, it takes some real effort to see Browne Auto Salvage, but considering the desirability of antique Studebakers and other vintage machines, this yard is bound to be around for a long time!
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Everybody likes the idea of scoring a classic car or truck at the junkyard—especially as TV restoration shows have taken to highlighting builds seemingly resurrected from scrap. But while the romantic notion is nice, it’s important to remember that the days of easily finding a desirable car at the junkyard are behind us. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible—just that you need to have a particularly sharp eye, especially if a valuable restoration is the goal.
So, with that in mind, we’ve compiled some of the best tips and tricks we’ve picked up over the years and put them into a short, simple guide to finding a car at the junkyard. We’ve also listed some great resources and YouTube channels that have helped us score a few gems.
Know What to Look For
Here in the States, most of us link the word “classic” with iconic cars from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, leaving many others to the wind. What’s more, many people limit themselves to specific generations of these cars. For example, something like the 1968-1970 Roadrunners have always been a favorite among muscle car enthusiasts, making them popular targets while later models were often left behind.
Check out this list of underappreciated (and underrated) “alternative muscle cars” by Zero to 60 Times for a few out-of-the-box ideas next time you’re walking the junkyard or nosing through the classifieds. Many of the vehicles on that list may not be as popular as the traditional classics, but they offer impressive performance and demand lower prices.
But maybe you’re not interested in classic muscle. Maybe your idea of a nostalgic car is a vintage pickup or SUV—a noticeable trend at the auctions right now. The snag there is that a lot of these babies were crushed during the Cash for Clunkers program for being big and wasteful gas guzzlers. While the classic models were spared (the program excluded cars built before 1984), a lot of good-condition Explorers, Jeep Cherokees/Grand Cherokees, and Blazers still got tossed in the crusher.
Again, this doesn’t mean you can’t find them. (Old XJs are still a dime a dozen where I live.) It just means it could be a little tricky to find the right one—especially at the junkyard.
That means, know your niche.
Brush up on what models sport compatible parts and be prepared to look beyond the vehicle in your head. For example, the Roadrunner was built on the B-body platform, which means it’s nearly identical to Satellites, Sebrings, and GTXs. And while people might eat up the GTX and Roadrunner based on the badging, Satellites and Sebrings can be just as badass when built right.
And why not head further down that rabbit hole? Chrysler’s B and E platforms may be their signature cars, but plenty of A and C platform rides sported similar performance and truly great styling. They just never really got the love they deserve.
Some junkyards will let you know when a certain vehicle becomes available. Similarly, if you’re doing your scavenging online, you can set alerts and filters to help find that diamond in the rough. But remember that a lot of other guys are probably doing the exact same thing. So, keep a slush fund handy and don’t procrastinate.
This extends to good parts deals at the junkyard, as well. “Get it while you can,” advises HOT ROD Network. “Most junkyards will sell a complete engine with all its accessories and brackets for much less than the sum of the individual part prices. Not only does having every bracket and bolt make your future swap easier, you might have a hard time even finding some of these parts for a less-common motor when you need them.”
Check out HOT ROD’s Junkyard’s Spotters Guide for more words of wisdom like those above. Seriously—give it a read, memorize it, and then print it out just in case. From how to distinguish between different engines to why “grosser is better,” it reads like a literal treasure map.
Consult the Experts
As we said before, finding a junkyard car is pretty trendy right now. And that means that you can tune into shows like Roadkill (and Roadkill Extra), Junkyard Gold, Rust Valley Restorations, Gas Monkey Garage, and a host of other TV and online shows to gain some more knowledge on the topic. They’ll also help you get a jump on any upcoming trends—so if you’re in this to make some money, that insight is helpful.
Check out Uncle Tony’s Garage on YouTube while you’re at it, too. His focus is classic muscle cars but the way he approaches the content is a little different. It’s also based on a raw passion for these vehicles, which is refreshing to see. The knowledge and tips that he shares surround true-to-form hotrodding, and he even has a few videos where he discusses getting into the scene through junkyard sourcing. (See one below!)
Remember Your Budget
While we recommend being open to some out-of-the-box thinking, a budget’s a budget. Sure, everything is fixable with the right level of skills and money, but this isn’t the reality for most of us.
Even on Rust Valley Restorations, I witnessed them put a project on the back burner because the frame was bent—even though they had a guy to do the job for them. And David Freiburger said in a recent Roadkill Extra segment that he walks away from a project if parts like the cowl are rusted through. These types of repairs can be very involved and potentially blow a budget out of the water. (This is especially true with odd-ball cars that lack parts support.)
Remember, a vehicle lands in a junkyard for a reason. Find that reason. Just because something may be rare or desirable doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s worth your time or money.
Be Realistic with Your Expectations
The last thing—and first thing—you need to know, is not to head to your local U-Pull It to find classic cars and trucks. Sure, there are some exceptions to this, but generally speaking—you’re going to have to do some digging. Ask around and hit up your buddies and fellow enthusiasts for where the local gold mine is. (Just be prepared to do some schmoozing—most people may not be inclined to share their secret spot.)
This article is about scrapping automobiles. For the scrapping of ships, see Shipbreaking.
A wrecking yard (Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian English), scrapyard (Irish, British and New Zealand English) or junkyard (American English) is the location of a business in dismantling where wrecked or decommissioned vehicles are brought, their usable parts are sold for use in operating vehicles, while the unusable metal parts, known as scrap metal parts, are sold to metal-recycling companies. Other terms include wreck yard, wrecker's yard, salvage yard, breaker's yard, dismantler and scrapheap. In the United Kingdom, car salvage yards are known as car breakers, while motorcycle salvage yards are known as bike breakers. In Australia, they are often referred to as 'Wreckers'.
Types of wreck yards
Further information: Aircraft boneyard and Shipbreaking
The most common type of wreck yards are automobile wreck yards, but junkyards for motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, buses, heavy equipment, small airplanes and boats or trains or trams exist too.
A scrapyard is a recycling center that buys and sells scrap metal. Scrapyards are effectively a scrap metalbrokerage. Scrapyards typically buy any base metal; for example, iron, steel, stainless steel, brass, copper, aluminum, zinc, nickel, and lead would all be found at a modern-day scrapyard. Scrapyards will often buy electronics, appliances, and metal vehicles. Scrapyards will sell their accumulations of metals either to refineries or larger scrap brokers. Metal theft is committed so thieves can sell stolen copper or other stolen valuable metals to scrapyards.
See also: Vehicle recycling
Many salvage yards operate on a local level—when an automobile is severely damaged, has malfunctioned beyond repair, or not worth the repair, the owner may sell it to a junkyard; in some cases—as when the car has become disabled in a place where derelict cars are not allowed to be left—the car owner will pay the wrecker to haul the car away. Salvage yards also buy most of the wrecked, derelict and abandoned vehicles that are sold at auction from police impound storage lots, and often buy vehicles from insurance tow yards as well. The salvage yard will usually tow the vehicle from the location of its purchase to the yard, but occasionally vehicles are driven in. At the salvage yard the automobiles are typically arranged in rows, often stacked on top of one another. Some yards keep inventories in their offices, as to the usable parts in each car, as well as the car's location in the yard. Many yards have computerized inventory systems. About 75% of any given vehicle can be recycled and used for other goods.
In recent years it is becoming increasingly common to use satellite part finder services to contact multiple salvage yards from a single source. In the 20th century these were call centres that charged a premium rate for calls and compiled a facsimile that was sent to various salvage yards so they could respond directly if the part was in stock. Many of these are now Web-based with requests for parts being e-mailed instantly.
Often parts for which there is high demand are removed from cars and brought to the salvage yard's warehouse. Then a customer who asks for a specific part can obtain it immediately, without having to wait for the salvage yard employees to remove that part. Some salvage yards expect customers to remove the part themselves (known as "self-service yards"), or allow this at a substantially reduced price compared to having the junkyard's staff remove it. This style of yard is often referred to as a "You Pull It" yard.
However, it is more common for a customer to call in and inquire whether the specific item they need is available. If the yard has the requested item, the customer is usually instructed to leave a deposit and to come to pick up the part at a later time. The part is usually installed by the customer or agent ("the customer's mechanic"); however, some salvage yards also provide installation services.
The parts usually dismantled from automobiles are generally any that can be resold such as the light assemblies (commonly known as just "lights", e.g. headlights, blinkers, taillights), seats, parts of the exhaust system, mirrors, hubcaps etc. Late model vehicles will often have entire halves or portions of the body removed and stored on shelves as inventory. Other major parts such as the engine and transmission are often removed and sold, usually to auto-parts companies that will rebuild the part and resell it with a warranty, or will sell the components as-is in used condition, either with or without warranty. Other, usually very large, junkyards will rebuild and sell such parts themselves. Unbroken windshields and windows may also be removed intact and resold to car owners needing replacements. Some salvage yards will sell damaged or wrecked, but repairable vehicles to amateur car builders, or older vehicles to collectors, who will restore ("rebuild") the car for their own use or entertainment, or sometimes for resale. These people are known as "rebuilders".
Once vehicles in a wrecking yard do not have more usable parts, the hulks are usually sold to a scrap-metal processor, who will usually crush the bodies on-site at the yard's premises using a mobile baling press, shredder, or flattener, with final disposal occurring within a hammer mill which smashes the vehicle remains into fist-sized chunks. These chunks are then sold by multiple tons for further processing and recycling.
In Australia there are more than 426 auto dismantling businesses.
Media related to Vehicle scrap yards at Wikimedia Commons
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