Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Thinking About Cars: Junkyards

I have a Volvo 240.  Volvo built these things for about a thousand years and didn't change them much from one end of that span to the other.  Headlights changed a little, interior appointments changed a little.  At some point they stopped using Freon in the AC and started making the factory installed refrigerant R-134a.  Cassette players went away and CD players became the stock option.  But the car?  Same basic engine, same basic architecture for about 20 years.  Why mess with what works?

Why indeed.  I need a taillight lens, an expensive part on a lot of cars and no exception on my Swedish beauty.  $130 new from an online dealer; if I can find that at my favorite junkyard, that's about $120 saved.

I've learned from experience that you can find parts if you're willing to sweat a little for them.  But there's risk involved.  Junkyards are dangerous places where cars are sometimes stacked five high, wasps have built nests right under that beautifully unblemished stereo and so many things are sharp or filthy or heavy and might land on your foot.  But there's another, greater danger to watch out for.

At the junkyard is a whole 'nother world.  No one yells at you if you walk on the cars.  In fact, some of them are so haphazardly stuffed in there, walking on them is the only way to make progress.  But still, you try not to walk right in the middle of a broad, flat hood - someone might need that, no point in oilcanning it so it's no good.  So you step on fenders which are much more rigid due to their shape, and right over the hood latch.

There are amazing things to be found at the junkyard.  There's jacks out of trunks everywhere, including jacks that would fit my truck.  Some are in perfect condition.

There's a bus I recognize, a shorty model from the local city bus service, complete with its handicapped lift.  I recognize this bus.  Why do I recognize it?  Its owner tried to donate it to me.  I listened to it run and was seriously tempted by the absolutely perfect engine...but the dreadful condition of everything else stopped me.  I'm not surprised to see it on the hill at Lambert's Used Auto Parts.

In the front lot is a SAAB 96 sedan.  It's pre-1967 because it has the three-cylinder two-stroke engine under the hood, but it's not the Sport or Monte Carlo model.  No triple carbs.  Too bad.

Too bad in general, really.  It pains me to see such an interesting car parked in front of Lambert's.  It's probably doomed.  I'd love to own it, but I'd love to win the lottery too.  And neither one is going to happen, because I don't buy into them.

At the top of the hill with a little halo of open ground around it is a late-70s Jeep Grand Wagoneer.  It's a little rough but the woodgrain is all there on the sides.  The windows are sound, the seats aren't torn, even all four tires are still inflated.  It looks as if someone with incredibly bad judgment has driven it here and parked it.

One day, shopping for new control buttons for the fog lights and cruise control in my Forester, Son #1 and I found a Subaru Legacy Outback wagon that not only still had the battery in it, but it started right up.  We ran the radio and air conditioning while I harvested its two perfectly functional buttons.  They fit in my Forester like original equipment and unlike most junkyard finds, I didn't break a sweat getting them.  It made me feel good about my Subaru that a junked one fired right up, and it made me feel pretty bad that someone seemed to be trashing a car that had a lot of utility left in it.

At the top of the hill, just barely visible from next to the Wagoneer, is a Volvo 240.  It's one of only two up here, a little surprising when you think about it: Volvo built the 240 for so long, eventually nearly three million rolled off the line.  Some companies change body styles every three years, and here's one that looks remarkably unchanged from one end to the other.  The taillight lenses seem to be exactly the same as mine even though I can tell by the VIN the car is about ten years older...but the lens I need is broken here, too.  Great.  Only two out here?  The other one's a wagon, taillights are different.  I'll check around...

Huh.  Pull-a-Part has one on the yard now.  It wasn't there when I looked two weeks ago...yep, arrived the day after I looked.  Okay, three 240s in junkyards around my home.  That's precious few.

It makes you wonder whether people don't junk them because they're just so easy to fix - which is great for me - or because they simply don't break - which is also great for me.  But it still leaves me on the hook for a taillight lens.  I'll go out there on my lunch break tomorrow.

There's a few models you don't see at the junkyard.  Not at Lambert's, not at Pull-a-Part, not at all as far as I've been able to tell.  You see Jeep Cherokees, you see the not-a-Jeep other models of Jeep like the Liberty and Compass.  But you don't see the Wrangler or the CJ.  There aren't any.  None.

There's a Mustang, just one.  It looks like a late 80s model, very rough.

No Corvettes.

The Wagoneers are an oddity - not one but two on the same day.  One looks great, the other looks like its been abandoned and someone finally decided to drag it out of the woods.

An International Scout II Terra.  That almost makes me want to cry, I want an International Scout.  It's the only International up here.  But this isn't the style I want and I'd rather find a '67, so we'd be the same age.  I daydream about it just a little, and move on.

There are vans of every description, trucks, assorted anonymous cars, everyday cars, the kind of cars owned not by people who love to drive but people who want to already be where they want to be.  Cars owned by people who are interested only in the destination, not the journey.  Many Kias, many Geos and Toyota Camries and other even less noticeable models.  The majority of what's here is the faceless mass of every rush hour you've ever driven in.

  A couple of incredibly old and rudimentary  motorcycles.  Piles of transmissions and transfer cases that make me fantasize about building my own tractor from scratch...and right there is an already bare truck frame I could use to start that project.  And maybe I could wrestle that excellent diesel engine out of that bus, it's still here...

That's the other danger I mentioned.  In spite of the explosive heat, the distant but distinct danger of being squashed by a collapsing stack of wrecks or the much more immediate threat of picking up a wad of yellow jackets, you can get even more lost inside the daydream of what you might build if you had the money, time and materials to just cruise the yard, picking and putting until you've confabulated something entirely new.

The operable Subaru was a real eye opener for me.  It made me wish I owned a company that bought up "junked" cars and restored them to like new condition.  That Grabber Orange Ford Maverick back in the corner?  Save that.  The SAAB on the front apron?  Definitely save that - but maybe swap the engine for something less troublesome than a noisy, smoky two-stroke.  Maybe a two-liter turbo four from a later 900?  And swap in brakes for whoa to match the new go.  A total sleeper, a real junkyard racing dog.

There's a gigantic Cadillac hearse in the back, painted a lurid orange and white.  It is East Tennessee after all, and those are Volunteer colors.  I tried to use a landau bar from the side of the hearse to prop up a trunk lid to see if there were any useful bulbs, but the landau bar was surprisingly floppy and flexible - vinyl trim. If I could, I'd save that and make it into a new game day parade car.  Do I care about football, not a bit - but a snazzy parade car would be fun.  Don't forget, I used to drive a minivan that was covered with mermaids.

Well, the good news is that tomorrow I have an excuse to go to the junkyard.

No comments:

Post a Comment