Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Junkyard tour: King's Auto Parts in Birmingham, Alabama

Call it King’s Auto Parts in Birmingham, Alabama or the location of Job’s Junkyard Salvation for a family that has been dealt tragic loss. Lonnie King and his wife raised three sons and a daughter among a hodgepodge of buildings and vehicles that surround their homeplace. Decades of honest, hard work building a business was destroyed and became meaningless in 1998. One of King’s sons was murdered. Then an F-5 tornado ripped through their home and wrecked the junkyard in a span of two months that year. 

Lonnie King, owner of King's Auto Parts in Birmingham, AL.

King almost didn’t recover from the pain of 1998. “Daddy didn’t want to get out of bed or leave the house,” said King’s daughter, Lottie Green. The family worked together and pulled King’s Auto Parts from despair. “Mom and I started the junkyard back up. We ran it and got daddy motivated again.” The King family suffered through three murder trials while keeping the junkyard in business.

A 1970 Chevrolet is King's junkyard wrecker.

Starting from scratch
King has been buying junk since 1970 but started the junkyard after being laid off from his welding job in 1979. “I used to buy and sell cars and parts. Pull engines, you name it,” King says. “I had a real job and started doing this out of necessity.” After King was laid off, the family was down to its last $800 when he saw a truck for sale. King bought it for $750, built it into a wrecker and went to work hauling cars to his yard. Eventually, he got a business license so the local authorities would quit harassing him about the number of cars parked at his house. “I worked for a long time before anybody knew what I was doing. Sometimes, the police would sit out here and watch the place.”

Bread and butter years
King remembers years in the 1980s and 1990s when buyers from Ohio and Canada would buy cars from him and resell them up north. “In those days you could sell them a 1970 Chevelle SS or any other muscle car for top dollar,” King said. “Loads of rust-free, southern cars found new homes.” 

King's Auto Parts has tons of junkyard character. 
Can you find the Dale Earnhardt Wrangler model car in this photo?
Junkyard thieves
King’s business, like most junkyards, has been victimized by crime. One day while King was working alone, he was robbed at gunpoint by two men who left him tied up. On another occassion he caught a burglar in the act of stealing. King managed to fire a few warning shots at the would-be robber as he fled on foot. “There’s no telling what’s been stolen that I don’t even know about,” King said.
Lonnie King raised a family and operated a junkyard on this property.

Looks can be deceiving
At 10 a.m. on a recent summer day, the temperature was rising fast. Lonnie King, 66, stood on the porch of his house in the center of the automotive compound he rebuilt after the tornado. King, sporting a sleeveless t-shirt and Dale Jr. belt buckle, looks tough but has the heart of a true southern gentleman. King went out of his way to show me around what remains of his junkyard in western Birmingham. King’s Auto Parts unofficially closed in 2006 but it still looks like a junkyard, as dozens of cars remain. King leases a back lot to a towing company and the few vehicles that litter the red, clay hillside are for sale.
What’s for sale?
A couple of late 1970s Chevrolet Malibu Classics, a 1977 Nova along with some 1968-1972 pick-up trucks that can be bought. A 1975 Camaro and a destroyed, demolition derby car round out King’s upper yard. The older, collectible parts have all but disappeared but he does have a rare 1968 Chevy 302 engine and a 350 4-bolt main engine for sale as well. 
Junkyard vegetable garden
King now operates a produce stand called “Job’s Vegetable Garden” near the main road. In the Bible, Job’s faith was tested when he lost everything and remained faithful. The Lord restored all the things Job lost. It seems faith has not been lost at King’s. “Jesus loves you” and a dozen similar religious messages decorate the fence and front gate of King’s junkyard. Directly across the street from the junkyard is a church. If you make it out to King’s you may get a lesson in faith, the junkyard business and a basket of vegetables.

A first gen Camaro fender sporting vintage war paint at King's.

An old round-tracker, junkyard eye candy at King's.

A 1975 aluminum-bumpered Camaro bides time at King' junkyard.

King's 1966 Mustang convertible is for sale, read more.

1990 Mustang GT with parts to spare at Kings Auto Parts.
What? Where? Hours?
King’s Auto Parts
1432 Huron Pl N
Birmingham, AL 35224

Hours - Closed in 2006 but King still has cars and parts he will sell. You might catch him in person or call, (205) 786-3256
Know of a junkyard I need to visit? Send me an email here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Griswold's "Vacation" station wagon completes third Hot Rod Power Tour

The Griswold's Wagon Queen Family Truckster, a tribute to the station wagon made famous in the "National Lampoon's Vacation" movie, completed its third Hot Rod Power Tour this year. The car's builder, Eric Wise of Independence, Missouri, was spotted taking a break from the heat inside the modified, green 1985 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon. It's hard to look cool in a replica of inarguably the ugliest vehicle to grace a movie screen. Camera-happy onlookers peppered Wise with questions, giving him little chance to rest inside the back of the distinctive station wagon.
Why ask why?
Building a quality, custom station wagon is no easy task. Wise removed sheet metal from a donor station wagon and welded it to the top edge of rear quarter panels on his Truckster. This created smaller side windows and a place for the snazzy Wagon Queen crown emblem. The movie wagon also had the gasoline filler door in an odd place – on top of the hood! Not to be outdone, Wise crafted a mock gas door on the hood of his wagon and placed the "real" gas door behind a custom-built, swing-out driver's side tail light. The factory gas door was located on the driver's side quarter panel. Wise welded it up and smoothed it out. Leaving no trace. Some guys love challenges to test their skills.

Crown hood ornament, nice woodgrain.

Griswold wagon gets better every year
Wise completed the Truckster in time for the 2008 Hot Rod Power Tour and posted his progress on That exposure garnered rave reviews as well as some helpful suggestions. Wise added green wall tires, "honky lips" graffiti and "Dinky's" dog leash now hangs from the rear bumper. To top it off, the correct luggage ensemble rides on top of the super-long luggage rack. "There are three of these wagon replicas in the U.S. that are close to this quality," Wise said proudly. "But, a lot of them don't have this much attention to detail." Power Tour crowds loved Wise's wagon. The spot-on movie car clone was like seeing a Hollywood celebrity in person. 

Ouch! Not Ford powered, a GM 5.3L LS engine is under this Truckster's hood.

What makes it run?
Wise, a true hot rod enthusiast, installed a 5.3L GM LS engine in the Truckster. He's managed to get more power and better gas mileage, 22.4 mpg on the highway, with the updated drivetrain. That fuel economy dropped a bit on the Power Tour. "It's hard to keep your foot out of it when there's so many other people haulin' ass!," Wise said. Despite the modern engine, Wise claims he hasn't spent much money on the wagon. "I don't have that much in it really, it's a $700 car. I sold the 302-V8 and automatic overdrive transmission for $300, and I do all my own work," says Wise.

When 4 headlights won't do, a Truckster has twice the light!

Truckster history
The original Griswold wagon was designed by custom car guru, George Barris for the 1983 "Vacation" film. Barris was famous for creating the original "Batmobile," "Munster Koach," "The General Lee," "KITT" and many other iconic  vehicles for television and movies. Legend has it that the three Trucksters used in filming "Vacation" were destroyed and/or parted out several years ago. Recreations like Wise's keep the movie's memories alive and on the road for all to see.

What's a Wagon Queen Truckster without a crown molded from the original movie emblem?

Why do we like it so much?
Crowds laugh out loud as the Truckster draws attention away from show cars costing ten times as much. Families crowd around it for photos. Everyone wants to get a look at the over-the-top, goofiness and excess of the dare-to-be different Truckster. Viewers knew Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, could be suckered into a bad deal, just like anyone else. He was imperfect, the everyman, who could smile through it all and we could laugh with him and at ourselves. Ride on Griswolds, everywhere.

FYI – In the "Vacation" movie the hubcaps were stolen.

Aunt Edna and Dinky were not harmed during the building of Wise's wagon.

Wise placed a Lou Glutz window sticker in the back seat of his Truckster.
(In the movie Eugene Levy sold the wagon to Chevy Chase at Lou Glutz Motors)

Comment below and send your photos and stories, Griswold-mobiles welcome also, to

Saturday, June 12, 2010

2010 Hot Rod Power Tour Junkyardlife Award winner

A 1947 Dodge Wayfarer grabbed the Junkyardlife Award from a field of more than 5,000 vehicles in this year's Hot Rod Power Tour. Armed with a welder and a pair of wingback chairs, Texans, Corey and T.J. delivered a cool, chopped and channeled sled that Archie Bunker would feel proud to own.
The Long Haulin' buddies threw this thing together in three weeks, using a 1984 Buick Regal chassis below the 1947 Dodge Sedan shell. A 305-cubic inch Chevy engine pulls the Dodge for now but a donated Hemi will make its way under the ram hood ornament when it gets back to Texas. A first aid kit loaded with Band-Aids keeps the guys safe from ragged welds on the 5-inch chop top job. A set of Oldsmobile wheel covers and wide white walls complete the look. 
What's missing?
I noticed several comfort items that may get overlooked unless your not riding in the comfy wingback chairs. Side door glass and windshield wipers are nonexistent. A quick shot of Rain-X on the windshield and Corey makes the Dodge rain-ready. A bungee strap holds the trunk in place. No need to ask if the A/C works. For a modern touch, a CD player and iPod are mounted on a homebuilt center console.
Future plans
Corey says the car is mostly done. They plan to leave the top half of the car bare metal and let the elements have their way with it.
Corey and T.J.
Living a junkyardlife
Corey and T.J. will drive away from this Power Tour knowing they have the junkyard ingenuity and drive to make what they have work. It's more sweat than money and crowds eat it up. Salute!

Resting in Hoover, Alabama after a long day on the Hot Rod Power Tour

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hot Rod Power Tour 2010 makes two stops in Alabama

The 2010 Hot Rod Power Tour winds up its seven city road trip with two stops in Alabama this week. The circus on wheels stops in Hoover, Alabama on Thursday, June 10, with cars arriving around noon at Regions Park Stadium. Friday morning, June 11 at 8:30 a.m., the Power Tour will begin the trek to Mobile for the final stop. Kind of ironic, don't you think? The Hot Rod Power Tour ends at the oily Gulf of Mexico. Anyway, on Saturday at the U.S.S. Alabama, Hot Rod Magazine hands out the Long Hauler Awards and gives away a 2010 Camaro SS
How much?
Each year since the mid-1990s, dedicated automotive enthusiasts attempt to become Long Hauler legends by completing every stop on each tour. Thousands more join the show as spectators for free or pay the $25 single-day registration fee to enter their car and grab a goodie bag. Cost is $80 this year to register for entire tour and get (let's hope) a bigger goodie bag. A cruise-in ensues each night of the tour as some of the 80 sponsors provide entertainment and freebies for all attending.
Break down?
Don't worry too much about breaking down in your ride. GM Performance Division provides the Motor Medic rescue vehicle to help stranded Hot Rods along the 1,352-mile tour. Some of the cars that made the 2005 Power Tour in Birmingham (roadster photos) looked like they needed some help.
Reasons to go
Drive your junk and fellowship with your gear head friends. See what's hot in restorations. You may even find some parts or a car for sale. 

Get out there and drive! Be sure to get the HRPT 2010 sticker and the T-shirt to prove you went.

Send junkyardlife your Hot Rod Power Tour stories and photos.