I can smell the dampness, the rust, the oil and other fluids oozing into the mud from here. It’s a grim and strangely fascinating sight, and one that was echoed across the land until quite recently – where cars went to endure a slow death, picked clean by those looking for parts to keep their own cars on the road. Welcome to your local scrapyard, or vehicle dismantler, depending on who was in charge.
I have to say that I have a long relationship with scrapyards. My emotions are generally peppered with sadness – usually for the cars I feel have some life left in them, and which were never given the chance. More often than not, the visit would be pragmatic – I’d be running a car that couldn’t go a week without something going wrong with it and needed cheap parts to keep mobile. I’ve lived in a few places in my time, but one was pretty much the same as another. You get a run-down hut at the entrance, with a bunch of random parts strewn around for good measure.
You’d not gain access until you asked the oily keeper of the keys if he had a certain type of car and, if he did, you’d go and rummage and find your part. Retrieved, you’d go back to the hut, walk in, wonder at how every surface, including all the paperwork, had a light sheen of used engine oil, then look the bloke in the face before bartering for a good price.
Heaven. I love scrapyards. Always have, always will. They were were usually named after their owner – Frank Beale, Charlie Perkins, whatever, and you’d soon get a feel for the best ones to go to…
My first experience of my local scrappie was in Blackpool back in the mid-1980s. I’d just bought my Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 and, as it was a bit of a shed, I decided to go hunting for bits to make it look nicer. Wandering through the entrance, I was stopped by the owner. ‘What are you looking for, cocker,’ he boomed at me. ‘Some bits for my Cavalier,’ I replied, voice wavering as I was completely out of my comfort zone. I was 17, and this was a rough and tumble world I’d never experienced before, despite living on a sprawling council estate…
Wandering in, they may as well have played some cheesy Welcome to Paradise sound clip. I truly was in heaven. And amazed that most of the cars in there were far tidier than my rusty, dented Cavalier. What I particularly liked was the way the cars were sorted into manufacturer order. The Vauxhalls were all together – as were the Fords, the British Leyland stuff, whatever.
I also liked how they were piled up, sometimes three or four high, and as long as you could get in, you were free to go in and grab what you could. Rarely would you find them on hard-standing, generally sinking into the ground, returning to the earth that sired them. That’s what I romantically thought, anyway.
After a few visits, I felt like an old hand, and was soon grabbing new stereos (generally a ‘fiver, mate’) or replacement bits when I couldn’t run to new stuff. I changed the starter motor on my Allegro in five minutes flat, in the dark, by the entrance – as vehicles rumbled past my left ear. The picture at the top of the page was taken in 1991, by which time, I’d moved from Vauxhalls to Austins (I know, I know) and managed to secure more than my fair share of Maestro bits this way (they were pretty common in the scrappies, despite still being in production at the time).
I’d make regular visits to scrapyards well into the 2010s, often making a morning out of it, taking my sons with me when most fathers would be going mountain biking or somesuch. Instead, I’d be having a good old poke around some dead old cars. But since then, my visits have become less frequent, I guess because I work on my cars less these days.
Also, though, scrapyards aren’t what they once were (and probably for a good reason) – you can’t really wander around them like you could, with many now dismantling the vehicles themselves in compliance with all manner of (much-needed) health and safety legislation, while selling the parts off the shelves. Where’s the fun in that? Despite that, I do still hanker after another day at the scrappies.
So, tell us about the cars…
Is this peak scrapyard? It can’t be far off, with a joyous selection of cars wherever you choose to look. There’s a proper crossover between what we’d call absolute classics today, such as the Austin 1800, Hillman Imp and Vauxhall Viva HC – but I can’t help but admit my eyes are drawn to the Renault 18 in the immediate foreground, the Opel Kadett City in green piled on top of the Imp and the Volkswagen Golf Mk1.
Other highlights include the trio of Austin Metros, the pair of Morris Marina/Ital vans, the Ambassador and the Acclaim. I love the Volvo 240 with its bonnet up in the foreground, too, but the more the look, the more you find. The Fiat 127 alongside its kissing cousin the Yugo 45 is a delight, as is the E12-generation BMW 5 Series with its back end to the camera.
Sheer loveliness all round – and you can click on the image at the top of the page to zoom in and see it at wonderful full resolution. Enjoy!