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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

On the Verge of Unobtainum: A mad junkyard dash to save endangered parts

To all my fellow classic luxury car enthusiasts, I feel your pain. We avoid the usual smattering of classic American trucks or muscle cars, where catalogs and vendors aplenty offer every restoration part needed. It must be hard to get soft bits for a 1976 Cadillac Seville these days, and I can't even fathom how much it'd cost to restore an Exner-era Imperial.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/maintenance-and-tech/on-the-verge-of-unobtainum-a-mad-junkyard-dash-to...
129 REPLIES 129
AndrewC
New Driver

I love my 2000 Lincoln LS. It currently has 225,000 miles on it and has been pretty darned reliable. As an aside, the battery hold-down in that car is exactly the same as the one you photographed, so there's another source for you. The comment you made about broken plastic tabs is something I have run into several times; the latest being the assembly that holds the 4 buttons in the center of the dash suddenly disappeared into the depths of the center heating ducts one day when I gently pushed the button to get my fuel status. That breakage was un-repairable. Fortunately I found another LS in our local junkyard and was able to recover the center dash panel. That car was also a biohazard-laden Petri dish, so I couldn't poke around too much. I did score a good center air vent, though. Good luck with your searches
Sajeev
Community Manager

Thank you and same to you!  LSs are pretty common in yards now, but they'll be thin on the ground in 5-10 years...closer to 5 if another Cash for Clunkers comes around. 

Oldroad1
Gearhead

Yes that cash for clunkers was just another government swindle and the sad part was the clunkers went straight to the shredders. Not only were tax payers swindled but we junk yard miners were swindled out of a treasure trough of perfectly good replacement parts.
Sajeev
Community Manager

You can thank the dealerships and--to a lesser extent--automakers for that bit o' legislation. They got rich off of taxpayer incentives on that month, selling everything on their lot and not needing to discount much in the process (if at all). 

GrumpyOne
Intermediate Driver

Luckily my interests are Studebakers and my current daily driver, an ancient 1998 Honda CRV Lx front wheel drive with automatic transmission.

Parts for the former are readily available for most models with my needs for 1955 President State sedans. Parts for the latter are also available from junkyards and aftermarket sources.

Life is good...
DerekInHouston
New Driver

Sajeev - I’m sure we’ve bumped into each other at the various ‘yards in Houston. I do the same for our family fleet of 80’s, 90’s and 00’s vehicles…and I too rely on notifications to drop everything I’m doing. The tools are always in my trunk.
Sajeev
Community Manager

Very, very likely!  Keep up the good work 😀

1956meteor
Intermediate Driver

I have the same issue with my 94 F150 and 97 Thunderbird. I bought a complete dash out of a wrecked truck last summer so I have all the related parts inside the dash and knobs and controls. also bought a spare set of doors so have the guts if needed in the future. I am on the look out for similar parts for the bird.
Sajeev
Community Manager

Those "OBS" truck parts are getting kinda spendy now, glad you got the whole dash. Luckily that isnt a problem for MN-12 Thunderbirds, just find one and grab all the bits you need! 

1956meteor
Intermediate Driver

They are rare here in Ontario Canada. I have the only one at cruise nights. I see the odd one on Kijiji but only the whole car is for sale which I can't do.
1956meteor
Intermediate Driver

well got lucky today, scored a drivers front fender for my T bird , NOS still in the original box off Kijiji . One less part for the collection. 

TonyT
Technician

A note for those trying to preserve what they have regarding broken plastic: Try the baking soda/super glue process. Add a couple of drops of super glue to the broken part and then sprinkle the baking soda on it. You can repeat the process as often as necessary to build up the repair and then sand and repaint it. The chemical reaction of the cyanoacrylate and the soda is amazingly strong and will pull you out of the depths of dismay and despair. I have seen people also add a bit of chopped up fiberglass to the mix which adds a bit more strength.
Sajeev
Community Manager

I've had good luck with plasti-welding and, as it turns out, I will have to do just that to the speaker grille in this article. I will be consolidating clips from both grilles and welding a set of four onto the "good" one I just made! 

golfnut53083
Intermediate Driver

Back in the '80's when I was working at a small car lot, we always kept several Ford/GM/Chrysler trades that were junkyard candidates to have readily available replacement parts. It was like having our own private junkyard!!
Tim
Technician

First, I have to say that I knew this would be Sajeev's article as soon as I saw the photo of the Lincoln. Sajeev's a Ford guy through-and-through (and that's not a bad thing), so it wasn't a great leap to come to that conclusion. 🙂

Junkyard crawling is a lot like going to a swap meet or garage sale. A lot of people enjoy the hunt. And when you've got a fairly rare vehicle, often times desperation overrides all else. Like that time when I was looking for a radiator for a '69 Opel GT. I found a '70 or '71 Manta a guy was parting out. Had the same motor. Radiator looked like the same size, so I went for it. Installed it and discovered the outlet was located in a different spot on the new radiator. Fortunately, I was able to find a hose at the part store that I could make fit with a little encouragement.

Auto reviewers often decry the parts bin sharing that goes on with new vehicles, but anyone trying to keep an old classic going absolutely welcomes the idea of being able to get parts from other years, makes and models to work with their vehicle.
Sajeev
Community Manager

I like that people know my brand. This is good 😀

 

+1 on the "desperation overrides all else" as I certainly felt that way on this junkyard trip. 

 

I have and will continue to decry parts bin sharing as a journalist, only because I know how to do it right. The 1988 Continental clearly was a 1986 Taurus, but only the windshield tips you off. Everything else is unique. You could bolt a Taurus front clip on the Conti, but it'd make no sense with everything behind the A-pillar. That's some good engineering in my book. 

Every brand needs to badge engineer like my little Conti. 

MustangJim
Technician

Great article and good luck with the Lincoln. I always liked those cars. Almost bought one once and regret that I did not. I ended up with a more useful Sable station wagon. I don't regret that car at all but always think about that Lincoln.
Sajeev
Community Manager

Yeah when I drove this car (back in like 2015) I instantly fell in love with it. Handling was shockingly good but what got me was how much better the ride and steering was over a Town Car. I was hooked, it got me and my wallet from that moment on. Thanks for reading. 

SteveNL
Detailer

Sajeev! You are very cool and you wrote a great article. I have been touring auto salvage yards for about 50 years and I love them. In the past 10 years, I have restored an '88 Mercedes W124 Coupe, an '87 BMW 325is and a 1992 Taurus LX. ( I already know that I'm the only guy who loves an old Taurus.) Salvage yards have been critical is finding parts for all of these car.

The Mercedes is surprisingly the most difficult car to source parts. The E Class coupes are rare, but they share some parts with the W124 sedans which are common. An intake tube to the air cleaner is an example of a discontinued part. On eBay, you can find them for $200, but in the salvage yard, maybe $15. I have spent many hours touring salvage yards in search of hard to find parts and I've been doing it for decades. My favorite cars are the ones with parts that can be found in salvage yards. There is no joy like finding that rare, hard to find part in a yard, especially if you have been searching it out for a while.

Salvage yards have changed a lot over the last 50 years. Much of it is for the better, I guess. Many of the salvage yards that I knew in the olden days were environmental nightmares. But they had so much more character than the corporate yards of today. The old yards were run by individuals or families and the yards reflected their characters and idiosyncrasies.

I remember one yard in Delaware that didn't have junk yard dogs. It had junk yard bulls. The yard had swaths of grass between the rows of cars and the owner told customers to get up on a roof if a bull came too close. I imagine that his liability insurance company finally put a stop to that. More recently, I went back looking for that yard and it was gone.

I remember yards that would stack the cars up two and three high. You would have to scale the stack to carefully remove the parts that you wanted. There is still a yard near Scranton that was one of the biggest on the east coast. We spent a day trying to find the back of the yard, but never did. It must have gone for miles. A fire reduced it's size in the 1990s. In that yard, we found cars that we had never seen in any other yard like XKEs and Corvettes. Some yards take better care of their cars than others. The yard in Scranton just dumped their cars in the dirt, while other yards put them up on rims.

Finally, I always try to show courtesy for my fellow pickers by doing the least damage and disrespect to the parts cars in order to leave more good stuff behind for the next guy. That's especially true with the higher end cars. I respectfully ask that you do the same. It's good Karma
Sajeev
Community Manager

Steve, glad to hear you are a not-SHO Taurus fan...I can appreciate and relate to that with my car. Your thoughts on junkyards are spot on, thanks for sharing. 

OldCarMan
Instructor

This problem is especially true for the used, abused, and rode hard economy cars that were run into the ground. We are talking about Gremlins, Pintos, and even the '89-'96 Spirit Acclaims. IO have a rust-free left rear door I can't give away, plus a nice grey interior with the optional split, fold-down rear seat, 4 door panels and more. Just want them to go to someone that cares, rather than pitching in the trash...
Sajeev
Community Manager

Join a Facebook group for the car in question and offer the parts. I am dumbfounded how many folks are looking there, and they are very nice when you are being generous like that. 

DanC
Intermediate Driver

Make friends with an old Realtor (they get their "old" friends listings) and get on auctioneers email list. You would be shocked how many homes that belonged to a senior citizen have a cache of cars/parts in the garage, and the out-of-town heirs / executors want it "cleaned out". For a fair price I have a 2006 Jaguar (that had 13,000 miles after 7 years use), a 2005 E 350 Mercedes (with 20,000 after 8 years), a ton of tools, and even a few old manuals. The parts, tools, and manuals are always tossed into a dumpster and the cars get sold to the guy with cash. Estate auctions also yield a bunch of non-running cars/parts. Even contact the "trash out" companies.
Osprey
Pit Crew

We need to retire the word "unobtainum" in 2022. It has become a tiresome cliché.
In the 1970s I scoured junkyards for trim items for Alfa Romeo Guiliettas and 1900s. I haven't been in a junkyard for 50 years.
Sajeev
Community Manager

But it's not a tiresome cliché when it comes to 1988-94 Continentals. 

MoparMan
Advanced Driver

Sajeev: Another "junkyard crawler" here who really enjoyed your article! I still remember the absolute joy I felt some years ago at obtaining a Rallye instrument cluster for a '74 Challenger for $15!! Unfortunately, yards near big metro areas have become "automotive parts recycling centers" with cars entered into a database/rotation schedule/etc. There was a "Pick-A-Part" that actually made an effort to keep some older cars (50's-90's) apart from the rotation, but, alas, it was sold and has become a Copart! I recently drove 2 hours to a small yard that was heaven, no entry fee, just walk around and look for as long as you like! Sadly, a lot of DIY'ers will never get to have that type of experience!! I now have to scan eBay/forums/etc. to look for 70's - '90's parts, when if found, often come at a premium cost. Oh, well, time marches on and waits for no one! 🙂
Sajeev
Community Manager

Thank you for reading! I haven't been to an old-school junkyard like that in a long time. Too far away and I can't say I terribly enjoyed the experience last time I went. These high turnover yards aren't perfect but they will suffice. 

MARK400
Detailer

I have noticed for years now that people from outside of my immediate area ( I call them locusts ) come into the u pull it`s and strip off valuable o.e.m. parts off cars and make a living off reselling them on E Bay or other sites, while this nothing new or illegal it does make it much harder for the average car guy to obtain these parts at a reasonable price so to keep their hobby vehicle in operating condition. It seems to be the same principal as the guy with more money than brains who pays crazy amounts of money for vehicles at prestigious auctions who never gets his hands dirty on repairing them or actually appreciates the vehicle for what it truly is, and we all know this drives up the prices and puts the vehicles out of the average guy`s price range. This only profits the so called car guy....................... same principal with parts.
Sajeev
Community Manager

First come, first served. I am just lucky the cars I own are undesirable to the vast majority of folks out there. 

ASmelko
Pit Crew

Sometimes it is better, I don't have time to go salvage/junk yard hopping. I would pay more to get part without hunting. What gets me at pull a part is people ruin 10 parts to get one they need.
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

I remember going to a junkyard back in the day for parts for my 1992 Eagle Talon Tsi AWD almost 20 years ago. It was fun to go and look for things I needed that were just not readily available. Of course back then the parts were only around 10 years old. 30+ year old parts are going to be even harder to find in in useful condition. Junkyards in the Houston area? You have a better tolerance for heat/humidity than me my friend.

Sajeev
Community Manager

Native Houstonians are used to it. That said, in the summertime I only junkyard in the morning. 

Truax
Intermediate Driver

Great job on the article. Brought back many memories of going to find parts at the “junkyard” with my mechanic father. It was a kids playground; finding interesting treasure laying on the ground, “driving” cool wrecks, postulating the events surrounding the wreckage etc. I still enjoy going on occasions! In fact my car club, KYANA region AACA, does a junkyard tour of local yards that specialize in antiques. We have a ball! (Whether we buy parts or not!) It’s not about the kind of car you work on but about the hunt and enjoyment you get! Thanks for a fun read.
Sajeev
Community Manager

Thank you for reading! That's one thing I didn't realize about these big, corporate yards...they don't allow children in there! 

Truax
Intermediate Driver

It’s a shame that one can’t take their kids. How can the hobby/love of cars be shared?
I understand the liability but I was awed by what I saw as a kid. As a teen, I even dabbled in selling parts off of a 240z parts car I owned, after seeing “how it’s done”
Sajeev
Community Manager

Granted these places don't exactly check IDs...if you look even remotely close to 16 years old you're gonna get in. 

SAG
Technician

Obama forced 'destruction' of salvage.
_ can't make "the people" drive new cars with the old one's still serviceable with parts.
SAG
Technician

For all you "salvage Dogs"
any one run across a 1972 Opel 1900 wagon?
sold one 30 yrs ago, & still regret it
tim_stockwell57
New Driver

To the Author,

Yes, you can find prewar Packard parts. It takes patience and connections. I am restoring a 1940 Packard 120. Facebook and eBay are also good resources. The car clubs all over the world also know members that have extra parts they are willing to sell.

Tim
Sajeev
Community Manager

Hi Tim, I assumed as much and I am glad that patience and connections make it happen. The question I asked was more rhetorical than anything, as I've personally sourced Cord 812 parts before, but it wasn't terribly easy or affordable relative to the car I found in the junkyard (of course). 

dartvader
Pit Crew

I still love going to local junkyards in my area. I just picked up a 1975 318 v8 for my 67 Plymouth Fury wagon a few weeks ago. When I do find cars similar to the ones I own at junkyards I try to get what I can from them.
farna
Instructor

I have a 1963 Rambler Classic station wagon. No more in junkyards, and people who do find a decent parts car want a lot. "I haven't seen one in years (or ever), it's rare so must be worth a lot". $2500 for a rusted out car with few really good parts, and none of the ones that are really needed, like the (sun baked) plastic side panels in the cargo area. My car is customized enough I can change things without worrying about it, but for those with restored cars it's always been an "adventure" finding good mall parts. It's not a popular nor expensive make. Few want to spend $200 each for reproduction vent window seals (someone is trying to get some made, not sure what prices will end up being) for their $1500 find. There were a lot made, but slow parts sales in junkyards meant that they (all Nash/Rambler/AMC cars!) were some of the first to go to the crusher. If you have a $500,000 Packard you don't flinch much on paying a couple hundred on a small part that is needed. Few Ramblers are valued over $20K, and those are the late 60s muscle cars most with the AMC badge (the 69 SC/Rambler and 57 Rebel are probably the only two with the Rambler name!). I was feeling your pain well before you were having it!
Rich
Intermediate Driver

Re the speaker grilles, one word: "Silicone"!
Great article 🙂
oldstuff
New Driver

Last summer my work travels took me near a foreign car salvage yard and I decided to wander in to get a few tidbits for my ‘02 Passat. While wandering through the aisles I noticed an ‘89 Mazda four-wheel-drive pick up truck that looked far less forlorn than the rest. A bit crusty but perfect interior and 100k miles. I had recently sold my ‘65 Land Rover so there was something of a “need” for something utilitarian (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it ). Long story short, I completely forgot about the Passat parts, I haggled a deal with the yard owner to trade him a Passat parts car I already had and a couple hundred dollars for the Mazda pick up. Oh, did my wife laugh when I told her that story… of course I am now scouring the yards looking for cab mounts, inner fenders, etc.
Forester
Intermediate Driver

Great article. I love your passion for junkyards. I haven't been to a junkyard for 50 years when we went there to dump "big stuff" that trash collector wouldn't take. I would have such a fun time exploring. Those days are gone along with the Fall Saturday leaf pile burning that my father had my brother and do. Things have changes so much for the worse. (or maybe it's just me)
Keep the articles coming and the commenters below, I love your stories!!!
Smithsonite
Intermediate Driver

Up here in MA, there's nothing good left in any of the junkyards. They were all sent to the crusher during the "cash for clunkers" debacle. You're lucky!

We've owned a '86 Grand Marquis for 19 years now. Certain parts are extremely difficult to source, although I've had great luck at some NOS Ford parts places. Paid through the nose, but got systems working again, like the automatic parking brake release when you put the car in Drive, and the spring (which broke into 9 pieces) inside the column that holds the shift lever out towards the dash, instead of flopping around annoyingly. Thankfully this car possesses a build quality long since abandoned by automakers, so repairs are few and far between. 285k miles and counting. We take her off the road every winter. Still on the original engine, transmission, rear end, and electric in-tank fuel pump! Sadly this kind of quality has been nonexistent for 20+ years.
brb
Instructor

What?! You left behind a perfectly good vintage aftermarket rocker switch? With what will you switch on your chintzy 1980's amber fog lamps in your next project? Fun article.
Sajeev
Community Manager

I wanted the power cord just because it has some mental backstory that I'd love to know. Or maybe not.  Anyway, thanks for reading! 

WAKman
Intermediate Driver

I love the fact that for virtually any car on the planet, there is an enthusiast. (Well, perhaps except for the Toyota Paseo.) I've stockpiled hard-to-find pieces for my various cars over the years (a 968 cylinder head, an E92 M3 engine) and then have sold them with the car when the time comes. A spare 968 cylinder head, for example, will be a real plus to a knowledgeable buyer.

jaysalserVW
Advanced Driver

Sajeev--Great article, full of suggestions for the needy car guy! In younger years, almost every weekend, I visited one of several local "wrecking yards" and pulled parts. I pulled spares. Eventually, I built a fair spare inventory, into which I have been dipping these last few years. Why do this--even though I did not need the parts at the time? Because parts prices NEVER diminish. As well, as you have so aptly demonstrated, a LOT of parts are unavailable these days. When I am gone, lucky will be the person who buys my vintages--they will receive as part of the deals--all of my spare HTF parts!