I’ve been writing for Autoblog since 2015, and the very first discarded vehicle I selected for the Junkyard Gems series was a 1973 Cadillac Eldorado in the following year. Now that my 1,000th article here has been published, I’m going to share five of the Junkyard Gems dearest to my heart. Perhaps some of them are not what we’d consider collectible classics (though I do share some of those from time to time), but I feel proud of having found them, recognized their historical importance, photographed them and shared them with readers. Here we go!
The Fiat 128 was an incredibly influential and successful design, built from 1969 (in Italy) through 2008 (in Serbia). For quite a few years, it was either the cheapest or one of the cheapest new cars available in the United States and was quite a common sight on our roads fairly deep into the 1970s. Because of this, because my parents bought a pair of new 1973 Fiat 128s when I was in first grade, and because these cars are nearly nonexistent on our continent now, I was unreasonably excited to find this one a few years back.
The Toyota Camry proved to be one of the most successful cars ever sold in the United States, starting with the second-generation Camrys that went on sale here as 1987 models (if you want to be picky about such things, the Japan-only Celica Camry makes the 1987 models the third-generation ones). However, the first Camrys we got here showed up in the spring of 1983, and I managed to find one built in February of that year. That means it was one of the very first Camrys ever sold on this side of the Pacific, which is a serious piece of automotive history to find just languishing at the Denver U-Pull-&-Pay. I almost gave this spot to the 1970 Audi 100LS I found, because it was one of the first handful of Audis sold in North America, but the 100LS is nowhere near as rare as a first-year Camry.
By the dawn of the 1950s, most of Detroit’s cars were becoming long, low Space Age machines with swoopy lines and square yards of chrome. For Chrysler’s Plymouth Division, however, keeping cars cheap and simple remained the priority, and the 1946-1954 Plymouths were considered homely and old-fashioned even in their own time. Hardly anyone has cared to rescue these cars at any point during the past 65 years, and yet someone not only kept this flathead-powered ’54 alive for decades but even gave it some nice customizing touches. The airbrush mural on the decklid of this car brought tears to my eyes, and I will never forget it.
Everyone has heard of the 1980 Datsun 280ZX Black Gold Edition and its cocaine-injected TV commercial, but that car was just one of two special editions that Nissan built to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Z-Car. The other was the Black Red 280ZX, and only 500 were built. I found one in a Colorado boneyard, which doesn’t happen every day.
Why would an ordinary Iron-Duke-powered example of a long-forgotten 1980s GM sedan get first place here? We writers like our jobs best when we can tell good stories, and this everyman Chevy sedan came full of paperwork that allowed me to trace its history back to the beginning. It lived its entire life in Denver and I even managed to find old photos of it in its pre-junkyard days on Google Street View.