Ever since I was a little kid, I have been a sucker for junkyards. I can get lost in time looking through piles of junked cars, having fun just trying to identify them all. So when I was working on an upcoming post and can across this cover shot from the May 1968 issue of Road Test Magazine, I stopped in my tracks and worked to figure out as many of them as possible. Now it’s your turn: what are all the makes, years, and–if you’re really on your game–models can you identify in this huge pile of junk?
Road Test even gave a little blurb on its Table of Contents page describing the challenges of snapping the picture–replete with the threat of junkyard dogs and the scorn of grumpy yard caretakers. “Keep away” was the modus operandi, and why not? For most people, old cars were nothing more than unwanted junk that rapidly piled up.
Back in the day, huge stacks of scrapped cars were seemingly more common than today. Scrap metal operators of yesteryear just stacked ’em high and then figured out what to do next, while today’s “salvage and recycling centers” nimbly extract anything of value as fast as they can, then crush, shred and ship the bits to China. No nostalgia, no piles of yesterday’s dreams just waiting to be ogled by car fanatics. But thanks to Road Test, we have this picture!
So have at it! Here’s a tighter cropped closeup of the junked cars, and I also tried to enhance the clarity. Enlarge it and see how many cars you can make out.
In addition to the array of 1950’s iron, a few other things spring to mind for me regarding this shot. A big one is the relative newness of the junked cars. Most of them seemed to be under 15 years old when the picture was taken, with quite a few that were just 10 to 12 years old in 1968.
Some statistics help define the magnitude of the change compared with today. Here’s a chart that shows the age of cars scrapped, as compiled by Antonio Bento, Kevin Roth, and Yiou Zuo at UC Irvine (ironically not too far from where Road Test‘s Orange County offices were located and the Southern California site where this huge scrapyard used to exist). The percentages indicate the number of cars by age that were scrapped annually, and the contrast can be seen between the late 1960s and 1970s versus the late 1980s through 2014.
|Vehicle Age (Years)||% Scrapped 1969-1979||% Scrapped 1987-2014|
Cars between 6 and 12 years old were much more likely to be junked back in the day. WardsAuto data relays a similar finding: the average age of cars on the American road was 5.6 years old in 1970 versus 11.6 years old in 2016. Of course, significant advances in technology, quality, reliability, rust protection and safety have contributed mightily to the longer lifespan for today’s cars.
But there’s another major issue at play: style. In 1968, Detroit’s strategy of planned obsolescence was still working brilliantly! Cars were still idolized as fashion statements, and for many American car buyers, that meant frequent change plus adhering to the motto: “out with the old and in with the new.” This was especially true for status conscious buyers–yesterday’s upmarket darling was soon a dated dud. Witness the abundance of Oldsmobiles in that stack of SoCal junk, including a very obvious 1958 model. The average upwardly mobile American driver in 1968 would have felt utterly stigmatized for driving a 10-year-old car since it would have seemed embarrassingly old and obsolete.
1958’s rocket age “Oldsmobility” was shockingly unfashionable in the late 1960s, just as this 1968 Ninety-Eight would have felt like a relic ten years later, even if it wasn’t as absurdly dated as the Detroit extravagances from the late 1950s had seemed 10 years after they were built. For upwardly mobile customers in the 1960s and 1970s, a late model Olds was a must, while a 10-year-old one was a bust.
Today, however, the automotive world is quite different. And 10 years barely make one whit of difference. Witness the following 2008 and 2018 editions of a currently fashionable upmarket car:
Many folks no longer care passionately about having the “latest and greatest” new vehicles because most people can’t really even tell which is which. Dated styling, tired mechanicals or corrosion won’t send these to the junkyard–rather it will be glitchy electronics, dead screens and un-updatable software that will kill them.
However, there is one thing I can say for certain: 50 years from now, there won’t be the same entertainment in examining a huge junk pile (if such a thing were even to exist) of 2000’s-era silver/gray/black/white aero-blob sedans and CUVs as we can enjoy from scrutinizing this heap of discarded 50’s dreams. So see how many you can ID, and happy hunting!