Salvaging a weekend, Part 1: Mired in the junkyard


I climbed out of the car in the local self-service junkyard’s pothole-scarred parking lot. I had gone on the pretense of looking for simple part for my sister-in-law’s car, which should cost me about $10 instead of the $300 the original equipment manufacturer wanted for same, but I figured I’d do some exploring if time permitted. Inside, I signed the liability wavier, the counter attendant took a cursory glance in my bag, and I opened the door to the salvage yard.

The reviews I’d read told me to expect an abundance of mud in the yard even when it hadn’t rained in a several days, but nothing prepared me for the reality of such a scene. The massive forklifts perpetually circled the boneyard, scavengers picking out The Crusher’s next victim and churning the freshly thawed mud into a paste. Ankle-deep. 


I trudged through the rows of cars and the mud coated me in no time flat. After a few minutes of searching, I realized the potential donor car I was looking for had been scooped up by the huge forklifts and turned into its constituent parts. Giving up on that quest, I instead found a couple potential spares donors for my own daily driver. Further inspection found anything I’d have wanted already broken or useless. 

I muttered to myself over the clatter of a Crown Vic and moved on, though it soon became clear I was something of a junkyard amateur compared to, say, a seasoned professional Saucy Minx. Nevertheless, within moments, I’d found some interesting vehicles patiently awaiting Their Time.


The main aisle’s river of mud was virtually impassable, but I tiptoed just carefully enough to avoid inevitable trench foot. This late-1970s Honda Accord hatchback was worth the crossing. The oversized CVCC badges indicate it’s probably one with the confounding emissions plumbing, but it’s a refreshingly boxy figure in this junkyard laden with Dodge Intrepids and Ford Contours.


Someone had plucked the gearbox and head beneath its front-hinged hood, but the rear and side markers looked remarkably intact.


This example had certainly seen its fair share of use and would retire with 107,000 or 207,000, or 307,000 miles registered on its five-digit odometer.


Further searching turned up this MN12-platform Mercury Cougar. I could have scoffed at this final vestige of the American personal luxury coupe, but someone had taken good care of this example. A well-cared-for vehicle is nothing to thumb one’s nose at.


To boot, this was no mere wildcat; it was a Bostonian Edition, a sales gimmick offering (token) regional identifiers on the car. As best I can tell, this included a fake Landau roof with an extra Cougar badge and the word “Bostonian” on the roof. 


Ford’s Modular V8 powered these regional examples, whose trim pieces all got gold-colored treatment. The grille resembles a baleen whale gulping an entire krill community, which would be an unflattering comparison if this wasn’t intended as a bloated luxury vehicle.

[Author’s Note: Personal luxury coupes peaked in their oceanic filter-feeder inspiration with the 1968 Ford Thunderbird, which closely resembled the massive whale shark. In a good way.]



I walked a few more steps in the mire, where this titanic late ’60s Cadillac Coupe DeVille awaited its fate. It sported a massive grille, massive headlight protuberances, massive hood, massive motor, massive fins, and massive signs of duress. 


Some optimistic soul had stripped the interior entirely. I envisioned its final owner, plotting its purchase to one-up the “What Dat Teal Do” SLAB


…only to be foiled by the Midwest reclaiming the car a few iron oxide particles at a time until restoration and customization hopes faded to the dim desire for a fistful of cash on the spot.


I’m not terribly surprised by customized third-generation Chevy Cavaliers. Where I live, I see many of their tidy, curvy lines interrupted with ill-fitting DSM body kits and touring-style wings that make Hooniverse editor Kamil Kaluski’s 24 Hours of LeMons Buick look understated. But this early second-gen Cavalier took me off guard.


I’ve seldom found the 1980s a flattering period of automotive design and the immense, gridded taillights seem now a curious relic, accentuated on this ’88-ish Cavalier by a bizarre checkerboard graphic.


I’ve seen worse custom paint jobs and these racing stripes were even perhaps a bit tasteful.


However, the interior got the bulk of the customizer’s attention with yellow stitching and piping on baby-blue seats. In fact, baby blue adorns not only the seats, but also the door cards, interior trim plastic, and even seat belts. Say what you want about its tastefulness; whoever did this performed quality work and whoever owned the car took care of its interior.


Nothing appeared amiss with the car, really, except a healthy dose of Midwest body rust. The engine bay, containing a GM 2.2-liter engine (whose origins appear up for debate), even looked clean. Maybe its owner could no longer keep it for whatever reason; maybe something broke internally in the motor. Regardless, this custom work’s fate looms.


I have a soft spot in my heart for the Ford Tempo and its Topaz brethren. I took pause and removed my cap for this Ford Tempo, whose original owner (along with tens of thousands of others) must have checked the “Extra Useless Clearcoat” option when purchasing this Personal Misery Coupe. 


This particular junkyard wasn’t as big as I’d hoped and was primarily full of domestic and Japanese imports, though the far corner had a couple of interesting European imports. I’d hoped to check them out, but I’d heard rumors of Jaguars’ ruinous siren song. The places that looked passable in the foreground above were a trap, giving way under the weight of a boot and sucking legs into the knee-deep mud. I admired this pair from afar.


Back where the mud was navigable, I found a Volvo 240, one of the few cars with tires still attached. If the Cougar is one of the worst LeMons cars in history, the 240 is on the spectrum’s opposite end


This 240’s owner is part of the 99 percent, he or she would want you to know. Some will claim the 240 is getting harder to find for LeMons, but this example begs to differ with no one to save it from The Crusher.

[Author’s Note:I could have fixed this image in a photo editor so that the badges didn’t appear floating in mid air, but I thought my photographic ineptness added a certain…somethingorother…to the composition.]



I had slung my tools over my shoulder to leave and was navigating a Mazda maze when I saw this, stopping to take a horrible wide photo (above) before bothering to see what it was. I knew it was French but couldn’t place it at a glance. 



But of course, mon frere! I had found an increasingly rare Peugeot 405 Mi16!


The twin-cam, 16-valve four cylinder put out tremendous power for its time: 160 horsepower from 1.9 liters. This one had obviously sat for some time with the hood open, accumulating leaves and sadness while it wallowed transmission-less.


This was some kind of car in Europe, but it never caught on stateside. The 405 was the last Pug sold in the U.S. and only a few thousand Americans put down their hard-earned cash on this breathtaking beast.


In the northeast of the country, some of the craziest of crazy LeMons drivers found not one but two Mi16s, which they race regularly. They’re relatively fast and seem to have two true outcomes: Easy Class C winners or Exhibiting Displays of Engine Externals (Sometimes winding up in a Toyota Celica’s windshield). Of note, a very highly modified, turbocharged 405 (the T16) starred in the inspiring “Climb Dance” short film shot on Pikes Peak.


Back down into the well-scoured earth, I found that this 405 came nicely equipped with power windows, power locks, and leather seats that appear, at one time, to have been very comfortable. The odometer read 181,000 miles, which is quite an accomplishment even if it came entirely through a longtime owner’s force of will. 


Cushy, heated leather seats sounded appealing, but the seats were long-worn out and gave little support.


While picking my way through the more solid bits of mud, I took the opportunity to peek under a few hoods to see engines I’d probably never otherwise see. This Honda D15 (I’m sure someone can chime in with the exact alphanumberic suffix) was a missing a big chunk of valve cover, though I suspect that occurred after the owner gave up on it. I found the broken piece on the subframe below.


This plastic-topped chunk resided in a Hyundai Accent and a little online searching dug up that it was probably the 1.5-liter version of Hyundai’s Alpha engine. The little engine made considerably fewer than 100 horsepower, but I drove a similar-vintage Accent several times, which never felt it insufficiently powered. It also made good gas mileage; if a small appliance was what one required, then the Alpha was the appliance to power that appliance.

Motor_Iron Duke

What can I say about General Motors’ Iron Duke (aka the Tech 4) that hasn’t yet been said? The 1.5-liter version of the above-mentioned Hyundai motor made the same or more power from GM’s Tech 4, which displaced 2.5 liters. Further, GM dropped the wheezing four-banger into heavy cars like the pictured Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and even a version in the F-Body. The graphic on the intake piping is this engine’s best feature.


In 2001, Kia’s MI-Tech four cylinder replaced the license-built Mazda B-series motors going into early-year Rios and Sephias. Like the Hyundai Alpha, it only displaced 1.5 liters but Road & Track’s reviewer at the time noted that—like the Accent I’d occasionally driven—it never felt underpowered. This motor’s existence coincides with the Korean builder’s timeline of starting to get things right, as the Rio was one of the first cars offered with the brand’s 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty and Kia build quality improved dramatically as a result.


The Suzuki Forenza apparently has the 2.0-liter, DOHC version of the Daewoo-sourced D-TEC engine. While that doesn’t sound too appealing, this engine quietly makes about 130 horsepower, which was a reasonably good amount for a cheap appliance. What truly makes the Forenza forgettable, however, was its miserly 27 mpg rating on the highway.


I had a Saturn wagons for several years equipped with this same twin-cam, 1.9-liter motor. It made a couple fewer horsepower than the Forenza’s engine, but as Hooniverse’s Robby DeGraff noted, the Saturn’s drivetrain returned terrific gas mileage. Mine regularly handed out 35 mpg or better and took everything I threw at it. This junkyard example looked decent, except…


…Yep, that’s your problem right there.


As I on my way out of the junkyard, splashing and soaking in the mud, I pulled to a stop at a haggard-looking early 1960s Ford F100 pickup. I failed to get a good shot of both it and of the entire straight six under the bonnet, but this photo speaks volumes about the entire truck’s condition.

I left the junkyard empty-handed and headed home, where I hosed a pound or two of mud off my boots. They were just clean enough then for the next day’s British car swap meet, which I hoped would have a heaps of rusted charm and self-deprecating humor. Check back tomorrow for that story.


[Photos copyright Hooniverse 2014/Eric Rood]

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