Memories : A scrapyard in England, 1991

The joy of getting your hands mucky

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…

Picture: Fryske, Flickr

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!

Keith Adams
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44 Comments

  1. I rescued Jim Clark’s 1964 Lotus Elan from a scrapyard – it had a tree growing through the gearbox tunnel which I had to cut out and lift the car over. At the time, I didn’t have a clue whose car it was – I just knew that I could not see a Lotus sitting here and needed to be saved. I think I paid £70.00 as there was nothing left apart from axle center and a few other bits. I have a photos on the back of my trailer of its condition – everyone thought I was nuts to buy it including the scrapyard owner, but to me it was a Lotus Elan and Diana Rigg was my hero as a 10-year-old boy and that was my driver.

    Needless to say, I sold it to a Lotus restorer and apparently some many years later I was told it was sold for £25,000. People say to me do you wish you had kept it? My answer was no, to me it was all about Diana Rigg and the Lotus Elan love affair and basically there was not enough of the original car to class it as Jim’s car, but hey some people are easily fooled out of their money and I have the photos to prove it, and would post if I could.

  2. Ah, yes! Evocative memories of sorting through such places, back in the 1960’s, for parts for my successive variety of Hillman Minx (all of them Mark models, side-valve and OHV; never did own an Audax version, Ford 100E and 105E, Ford Mk 2 Consuls, various early Minis and Austin Cambridge A50/A55’s, 948cc Triumph Herald, the Vauhall FB Victor and Jaguar Mk II 3.4. The scrapyards all had that inimitable aroma; once encountered, never forgotten – even 60 years on and half-a-world away!

  3. Vauxhall Carlton Estate elegantly rear-ending an almost-identical Opel Rekord Estate

  4. Monks scrap yard, Harborne Lane, Birmingham. What a place!
    It’s was quite a small place, I’m 68 y old now, i/we rummaged through between the remains of old bangers like box shaped Ford prefects, many cars were coloured black. Austin A40s were to new to yet be found in scrapyards!
    Step outside and often see Austin Westminster police cars parked up and operating their ‘speed traps’ for traffic coming downhill.
    Oh now… Monks scrapyard site is a modern residential home and some sort of flats… No stench of burnt engine oil… Sadly.

    • Monks? I knew it better known as “Arfur Sheets” as everything was “half-a-sheet” that is 10/-. Always managed to come out with more stashed in my pockets and toolbox than was actually paid for…

  5. I’m always suprised these days how new & undamaged cars in scrapyards actually look..

    • These days thanks to zinc galvanisation they no longer die of rust but because some super expensive electronic component has failed whose replacement cost is far more then the car is worth. Not very environmentally friendly but that’s progress.

      • Yes, it’s amazing how much better old cars LOOK than they did 30 years ago, when old cars used to visibly show their age.

      • Not just electronic components, until recently the value of older mainstream stuff had dropped away to nothing so that even a normal service item like a clutch or pads and discs could render a car beyond economic repair for most people. Post covid the exponential rise in all used car values it will be interesting to see if this changes.

  6. That’s a great post. It could have been about me but I was looking for VW parts mostly. I did have and old 1976 Mercedes like the gold one squashed under the viva and remember scrap yards were full of them in the late 80s

  7. Being a little older, the scrap yard to me means a yard full of mostly cars with separate wings and running boards. We ran 30’s and 40’s Vauxhalls, Austin’s and a 1938 Jowett – so many Sunday afternoon’s we spent collecting bits. This was no ‘enthusiast hobby thing’ – this was to mend a car so dad could go to work on Monday! Our local yard seems to have been there forever – and yes, Keith’s quite right – the smell was to be never forgotten. And for real ‘atmosphere’ you needed to be there on a damp and misty December afternoon!
    Our daughter still enjoyed looking around the yard too – but only last week reported that everything was gone – another bit of history bites the dust!

  8. There is still a yard like this near where I live.
    I’ve lost count of the written off cars I have bought from there over the years, together with the parts to repair them.
    I was there a few weeks ago, and came away with a tidy pair of seats from an Astra mk5, to go in my friend’s mk4 Astra van. I also got a window winder motor for my Astra mk5 estate. The whole lot cost £50!

  9. Ah the rummage round a scrappie to find the bits you need. Was a past time when I was little with my dad keeping his Escort on the road (it was still cheaper to buy of a scrap man and with Ford Discount). Then it was eventually me years later doing the same for my Fiestas. Last time I went to a scrappie, you could’nt rummage but only look at the container of parts dismantled, which was a shame as you used to see some unusual stuff lying around.

  10. My ‘local’ was Coopers, past the Owlerton dog track in Sheffield. It was situated on raised bit of ground between two electricity pylons right where the cables sagged the most, so after any length of time spent there, I’d end up with a massive headache from the buzzing. A step up in convenience was KR Autos who already had most parts on shelves even back then in the early 80s. Both of these are still trading. My favourite, though, was Wilf Jays at Treeton, mainly because they had an MGC GT (not for sale) tucked away at the side of the yard!

  11. The Forge at Cleator was my local scrapyard. I needed a new starter motor for a Mark 2 Cavalier which would have cost £ 150 at the dealer in 1995. The Forge had one for £ 15 on a similar car in the yard. Paid someone £ 15 to fit it and the car was working properly again in a couple of hours. Also they had a row of radio/cassettes on a rack and as the cassette deck had stopped working took a chance and bought one for a fiver, which luckily worked. Again considerably cheaper than paying Halfords £ 40 for their cheapest radio/cassette player.

    • Used to love walking past The Forge on the other side of the river (until recently I lived in the village) and seeing what they had in there. It’s been my local scrapyard too over the years. Goodfellows still own the site, but run a groundworks/plant hire business from it now. I seem to remember an unusually high number of Citroen BXs in there just before it stopped being a scrappy (around the turn of the Millennium) – loads of BX owners bought discounted Saxons, Xsaras and Xsara Picassos up at Ellis Davis at Bigrigg, with a guaranteed trade in value, and as BX values were so low a lot of the older ones were just scrapped at The Forge. It was a sort of proto scrappage scheme just for BXs, and as The Forge was cleared not long after the BXs just ended up cubed.

      • I remember BXs were deep in bangerdom in the first decade of Millennium, especially the petrol engined ones. I can recall a few being driven around with obvious suspension faults, probably owned by the sort of motorists who bought a car & drove it until the next big breakdown or an MOT that was too difficult to pass.

      • @ John Shuttleworth, Ellis Davis lost their Ctiroen franchise to Arnold Clark in 2007 and moved to The Forge to sell Daihatsus from a used car showroom. When Daihatsu quit the UK due to low sales, Ellis Davis quit the motor trade. The former Bigrigg showroom is now a Spar.

        • Daihatsu never seemed to get that well established in the UK, with most dealers operating from small out the way showrooms. Suzuki seemed in a similar position at one time, but always motorbike sales to fall back on.

          Also the European demand for Daihatsus never seemed to get high enough to make it worth having any European production, and the credit crunch made UK sales unviable, followed a few years later by withdrawn from the rest of Europe.

          • Daihatsu operated mainly in the supermini and city car market, where the competition was very strong, and apart from very good reliability and low prices, there were no other reasons to buy one as several other cars did the same with better styling and a better driving experience. Also Telfords of Carlsle handed back the franchise in 2008 as they were making very little money from selling Daihatsus.
            OTOH Suzuki became established by selling cheap SUVs and once the Swift was adapted more for European tastes and given a sporting image, sales really took off.

  12. Always a good source of fuses, bulbs and bolts, apart from what I actually needed!

  13. The scary thing is that the little red metro int he middle looks in better nick than the one I was driving at the time!

  14. Just noticed the Landcrab among all the other scrap cars. This would have been at least 17 years old when it was scrapped and it outlived the later model Golf at the bottom of the photograph. Bet the owner had a quiet laugh when his ADO 17 finally gave up after 17 years and it was dumped next to a 10 year old Golf.

  15. It’s an intangible thing when a car turns from being a rusty old car into being a potential classic,

    For example that Hillman Imp to 2022 eyes seems a classic car, but back in 1991 that one could have been as young as 15 years old, so merely an old car!

    • @ maestrowoof, the oldest Imps were 27 years old in 1991 and a classic market was developing for them, particularly the sporting versions. These were quite distinctive little cars, being rear engined and rear wheel drive, and the 875cc engine was known for being high revving and tuneable and over 90 mph was possible with an Imp Sport. Also the singer Jarvis Cocker owned an Imp, which gave the car some kudos.

  16. Early 1980s for me. Hunting parts to keep 1100s, Cortinas, Minis going for another few months. Cars stacked 3 high, the top ones a challenge. Oily puddles, and yes the smell. The occasional family car festooned with stickers from Sandy Balls or the Lake District, those that had been further afield to Eurocamp in France or Italy. Once proud old Jags with common Fords and Austins stacked on top. An abandoned Farina estate resto project with new panels and glass in the back. What stories could they tell? Used to be a kind of fun way to spend a Saturday morning. Happy days!

  17. I can spot a Triumph Acclaim & a Metro, both of which would have been barley a decade old at the time, but seemed to rust badly when getting on for 10 years old.

    Some of the better selling 1970s cars seemed to be common to see well into the 1990s, but many 1980s cars were rare to see around the turn of the Millennium. I guess rust & not being able to run on unleaded meant a lot were scrapped early.

    • Eighties cars tended to be better protected against rust than seventies cars, but early in the decade there were still some cars that rusted badly, particularly Italian cars, some French cars and the Austin M cars. By the end of the decade galvanised steel, the use of plastics and anti perforation warranties, meant a car made in 1989 would be mostly rust free ten years later. Also mechanical durability improved.

    • The Acclaim had probably eaten its engine. We ran quite a few on a national fleet and they were great cars but often suffered at higher miles from a piston picking up in the bore. There were no recon engines available unlike most BL/ARG stuff at that time, so the only options were a full engine rebuild which wasn’t cheap, or a one way journey to the scrapper.

  18. I wonder why the Volvo 240 was scrapped? From what I can make out, it’s a 1983-1986 model (the 240 received the 260’s bonnet and grille in 1983), so it was eight years old at the very most when the photo was taken, which in RWD Volvo years means that it was a nearly new car :/

    • I was wondering that too, as it doesn’t look the Volvo has any accident damage, maybe it was caught up in flood?

  19. It was a Sunday ritual when \I was in my late teens early twentys, (I’m 78 now) with a gang of mates to spend an afternoon at a breakers near us. We didn’t want anything just to have a look round all of the old cars there, and fill our pockets with bulbs and other small bits. I remember going to a scrapyard with my brother to get an alternator pulley for my Cortina. I left him in charge of my tool box while I went to pay, and when I opened it later I found he had been busy filling it with odds and ends whilst I was away. Good job the man on the gate didn’t ask to see inside it when we left. Happy days!

  20. Saturday afternoons at a scrapyard in Summer Wine country, of all the ‘lads’ in the local pub someone always needed some part or other, I’d a mini van at the time, so always got roped in for larger bits and pieces like engines and gearboxes.
    Amazing how many of us had mini’s at that time, transformed from the humble 850 engine to the 1100 or if you were lucky enough to find one, the 1275.
    One had a HC Viva which within a 12 month period had the full range of engines fitted, starting with the 1159 which seized, 1256 which threw a rod through the block, replaced by a 1759 from a Bedford CF which was very tired to start with, and the crowning glory the 2279.
    Happy days.

  21. ‘@ Sam, the HC Viva was quite a car, you had the early cooking versions with the slow 1159 or the better 1256, up to the 2279 slant 4 from the FE, that could transform a Viva into a flying machine. Later 2279s had an uplift in power that made them even better.

  22. Derbyshire humour: I was visiting a yard near Alfreton when there was a loud clang and vicious swearing. Then in a much more jovial tone, “more tea, Vicar?”

    Similarly, I was in Albert Looms’ yard in Derby, extracting an overdrive gearbox from an FD Victor which had been rolled onto its roof. The propshaft had gone, I decided it would be much easier to extract the box if it was pointing upwards. So I grabbed the tailshaft housing and pulled it up. The engine mounts gave way, and there was a tremendous bang as the engine hit the inside of the bonnet.
    All around me, other customers popped their heads up like meerkats. When they saw I was alive and unhurt, they left me to get on with the job.

  23. Whenever I have seen scrapyards or photos of them I find the images sad. Stacks of cars packed on top of each other. I recall when all these such cars had been the latest new models, shiny in car showrooms or forecourts ready for delivery.

    I once bought a set of 4 white Ford wheel covers for my company Escort MKIV Pop from a scrapyard – cost £10… bargain, as they cost over £10 each new.

  24. Great to read these comments, I too remember going to the scrapyard at the weekend as a teen to get parts for my mk2 escort and later 2.8i Capri, not been to a scrapyard for many years, but still have good memories.

  25. The best yard I have ever known was at Hykeham in Lincolnshire. The owners got so fed up with people nicking parts by concealing them in their toolboxes that they wouldn’t let people in, so you had to place an order at the gate and go back when they had removed it for you. Business was slow and they were loth to remove cars until they were well stripped – I remember going to see the yard in the 1980s, when it still contained an F Victor and an early 1960s Mini van. The site has now been cleared.

    New topic: there was a yard in Derby called Journey’s End, which was quite an appropriate name. I remember seeing a Mark 2 Ford Consul in there in the early 1980’s – so at least 20 years old. It was the final resting place of my brother Rick’s white Rover 2000 P6, KEL458E, affectionately known as Kelly. he never lived in Derby; I think he was commuting from North East Scotland to Port Talbot every weekend, so he probably dropped it off on the way!

    • Hi Ken,

      Where was the scrapyard in Hykeham? I lived in that area for a number of years and have no recollection of a yard. You have piqued my curiosity!

  26. Hi Johnny, thanks for feedback. I’m afraid it’s so long since I visited Hykeham myself (27 years?) that I don’t remember too well. I think it was on a road leading to a level crossing, but not quite visible from the railway. Best to make enquiries locally should you be popping back for a visit.

    • Thank you Ken for the forum link. Will have a good read through. Although I don’t recall the yard, I now know where it was. Thanks again.

    • Thank you Ken; that was a nice meander down memory lane! Australia still has quite a lot of scrapyards (vehicle recyclers, to use the PC term) – though at the moment my current vehicle is a bit too recent to cause me to visit them. Probably won’t be too much longer before I’m getting re-accquainted, however!

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