Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cars in Yards: Buccaneer Red 1973 Pontiac Trans Am tops my Christmas wish list

Santa didn't leave a Buccaneer Red 1973 Trans Am under my tree this year. But I did have this 455-powered ’73 T/A project on my wish list this year. This Trans Am, one-of-4,772 built for the 1973 model year, reappeared this summer after being tucked away in an ancient, clapboard garage several years ago northeast of Birmingham, Alabama. The owner didn’t want to talk about his rare bird when I first saw it parked in his driveway in front of his battered, Carousel Red, 1969 Pontiac GTO. I remember the GTO had Judge decals and a black plastic bag covering the passenger's side window. The Trans Am scabbed with severe rust damage in its lower tail panel. Two rare Pontiacs parked in the elements. Oh, the humanity!

Don’t go away mad ...
The owner, possibly a Pontiac fan like myself, had no intentions of selling the Trans Am or GTO to me or anyone else that day or that year, for that matter. With minimal pleasantries exchanged, I gathered that full restorations on both Pontiacs were in his plans. Maximizing his profits when they were sold was the name of the game that day. Be on your way now.

1973 was the last year of the Endura front bumper on the Pontiac Trans Am and the first year of government mandated 5 mph front bumper standards.

’73 Trans Am parked outside again
It must have been late July or early August, two years after I first spotted the T/A in the yard, when I slammed on the brakes. The Buccaneer Red Trans Am briefly reappeared to taunt me on my way to work. Was it a Super Duty? Four-speed? I dreamed of hammering through the gears and listening to the 455-V8 roar. Why was it parked outside? A few days passed and the red, rusty beauty was gone. My questions remain unanswered, for now.

1973 Trans Am facts
The 1973 Trans Am was a year of many firsts. It was the first year Pontiac offered the hand-built, beefed-up, Super Duty 455-V8 engine. Trans Ams needed little help attracting attention on the road but 1973 was the debut of the large, iconic, decal that featured Firebird’s screaming chicken graphic smack dab in the center of the hood. 1973 was also the first year the second generation (1970-1981) Trans Am was offered in colors other than Cameo White or Lucerne Blue. Single, wide stripe T/As were no more. Buccaneer Red, Brewster Green and Cameo White were the only paint options. Lucerne Blue was no longer an exterior color option.

Buccaneer Red 1973 Trans Ams are rare birds and were the epitome of "The Fast and Furious" in the 1970s.

1973 Trans Am production total: 4,772 
BASE 455 T/A total: 4,550
- 4-speed manual: 1,420
- TH400 3-speed automatic: 3,130
455 SUPER DUTY T/A total: 252
- 4-speed manual: 72
- TH400 3-speed automatic: 180

– Jody Potter,

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Crushed Pontiac Grand Prix SJ recycled at scrap yard instead of junkyard

Being a car guy at times can be painful. You see things you don’t want to see. Or you find things you are looking for but under the wrong circumstances. Such as this trailer in Birmingham, Alabama loaded with crushed cars and mangled parts. This gruesome sight made me stop in my tracks when I saw a rare Grand Prix flattened under a stack of cars. What's worse than a crushed Pontiac Grand Prix SJ? A crushed, green SJ with Rally II wheels! Kill me.

One trailer load of parts that have been scrapped.

  In this batch of soon to be Pepsi cans, is a cavalcade of treasure. Included in this one load were, but not limited to:
  • An early sixties Chevrolet pickup that was still wearing its dog dish hub caps. There were actually two of those, one was on another trailer full of newer vehicles that we probably won’t miss, like Ford Festivas and such.
  • An early seventies Pinto wagon.
  • A mid seventies Buick Century. I know, although not super collectible now, I guarantee someone is looking for this.
  • Two 1963 or 1964 Chevrolets. One of them was a Biscayne with original emblems.
  • A Pontiac that I could only identify by its 15-inch Pontiac Rally II wheels. It was mostly intact with trim rings and Pontiac arrowhead centerpieces.
  • A mid-seventies Pontiac Grand Prix SJ
  • Late 1970s Ford Granada - often sought out for their brakes and front end parts for early Mustang and Falcon owners.

Sure, there's some ugly in that stack of cars.

Ford Granada on top, wanted by Mustang and Falcon owners.

Unrecognizable Pontiac with good 15-inch Rally II wheels.

Parts prices continue to climb
In my opinion the Pontiac Grand Prix SJ was the worst crime of the entire scene. I'm one of the few people I know that love those Colonnade-style Grand Prixs of the '73-'77 body style now, but I crystal ball that these cars will be valuable. They are already hard to find and I want one bad.
  To make matters worse, this was the top of the line SJ model that was packed out with options such as a 455-V8, bucket seats and console. Often equipped with power everything and a lot of classy touches that made this car more exclusive and very expensive compared to other entry level models. The SJ designation was inspired by Duesenberg and Stutz, if that tells you anything. To top that all off, if it wasn't heinous enough for me, this SJ example was in green. Ah, green. My color choice, second only to the beautiful Aztec Bronze.

  See the C10 truck? A Chevy Biscayne and Impala in there also.

Stop the classic carnage
We cannot allow these kind of shenanigans to continue. This must be stopped. There needs to be some way to allow enthusiasts the opportunity to find a home for collectible scrap victims such as this. At least let us remove everything we can off of one car to save another. Kind of like organ donors do for humans. We can start by not letting even one get to be a potential scale victim. 
  Save what you can and encourage others to restore and not crush. We have all seen those 'someday' cars that sit outside and ruin while waiting for their return to the road. I look at this scene and I see lots of opportunity that someone will not have in favor of aluminum siding.

— Ron Kidd, The Earth Roaming Car Guy at

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Look what I found: 1963 Pontiac Catalina

A 1963 Pontiac Catalina followed me home. This time I may have gone a bit overboard when checking out a cool car to write about. Junkyardlife guys love finding a cool car, photographing it, dreaming a lot and then writing the whole thing down. How much further did I go with this Catalina? It is now in my driveway. 
  The story unfolded innocently enough. I went to a house where I heard someone had some Oldsmobile parts for sale. I was looking for an A/C bracket for my 1979 Trans Am and I came back with this big, crusty Pontiac. Yep. It’s mine. That’s the good news. The bad news is also that it’s mine. It needs essentially everything. 

Dig what they gave you to hold on to when that GM Posi-traction rear end started side-stepping? In this case it was used to guide grandma to the fabric store.

’63 Catalina lures new owner
  The Poncho has its original 389 4-barrel, Slim Jim transmission Power Glide combination. Its got bench seats with the way cool Pontiac emblem stitched right on them from the factory. That’s one thing I always thought was super cool about these cars. Four Pontiac Motor Division hub caps brighten up the rolling stock rims and the heater proudly declares Pontiac right across the dial. I have never seen that before and it very well may have contributed to the spontaneous “I’ll take it!” I somehow managed to tell the lady owner. My drooling completely negated any negotiating skills I may have ever had. 
  This big Cat was only a little more than basic transportation of its day. Not a lot of options here, which seems to be pretty collectible these days. This one has an add-on air conditioner from Sears that is mounted under the dash. That was not as uncommon as it seems. I understand Sears was a very reputable automobile air conditioning name at the time. Laugh, if you want.

The ’63 was full of trim and emblems such as this Catalina fender emblem. If only Pontiac were still around to give us a full-size, rear-wheel drive Catalina today. You could always bolt some of these emblems onto your 2009 G8.

Imagine this cool bench with a long Hurst bent up and around. The seats are not bad. Plus, I love the Pontiac emblem stitched in the seats.

Too many projects, what was I thinking?
  If I were to keep the Pontiac (which I cannot due to many other projects), I would have to hang onto the bench seat and find one of those base model shifters that curve around the sofa-like seat for my 4-speed! If I could not find a 421-cubic inch engine, I would build a 455 and spray it very Pontiac blue, then disguise it as a 421. I would give Edelbrock a call and score a factory-looking aluminum intake to perch two Carters on top. I would go back with the factory green on the exterior and (you know me!), leave the hub caps for that ‘Earth Roaming Car Guy’ sleeper appeal.

Aftermarket wheels? Sure, after you kill me!

Swiss Cheese please
  Here’s a bit of cool Pontiac trivia. Did you know Pontiac built 14 Catalinas strictly for the NHRA’s Super Stock drag races with aluminum bumpers, fenders and hood along with approximately 120 holes drilled into the frame to lighten the load even more? They were nicknamed “Swiss cheese” Pontiacs. In 1963 these modified, full-size Pontiacs did quite well at the track. 12-seconds and change on the 1/4-mile at 120 mph. Your average Joe may not have been able to stroll into a Pontiac dealership and order a Swiss cheese car, but he could check off a mean street car with 421 cubic inches of Pontiac fury with two four-barrel carbs and a mean four-speed.

Here’s the crazy Pontiac heater I was so crazy about. The irony of calling a heater “cool.”

What now?
  Sometimes a great project car can take years to find. Sometimes they just appear before you.
  I’m about to walk out and see if I can figure out what I’m going to do with this thing. I may not be able to keep it, but I assure you it will not go to a car crusher. Save as many as you can, and as always… Happy Hunting! 

Ron Kidd, The Earth Roaming Car Guy at

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Barn find: 1974 Dodge Charger project car

Driving a classic car leads to more old cars. Ham Lake, Minnesota’s Joe Marano experienced the powerful ability an American muscle car has to ignite a conversation. Marano was minding his own business, walking to his red 1968 Chevy Nova SS in the church parking lot, when a stranger started a conversation about his own old car. “I was jokingly asked if I wanted a Dodge Charger?,” said Marano. “He said it had been parked in his garage since 1990 and that I could have it for what he paid for it, $500.”

Marano soon had the 1974 Dodge Charger washed and running.

“I said yes!” 
Marano didn’t hesitate to say yes. He followed the man home after church and found a bronze 1974 Dodge Charger covered in dust and buried under boxes and a mattress packed in a tight, one-car garage. “After I got the Charger home I had it running in 10 minutes,” said Marano. After rebuilding the brake lines and topping off the transmission fluid, Marano was driving the ’74 B-body around his neighborhood. 

The 1974 Charger's interior is original and in good shape. 

Pay it forward
Marano, who already has a handful of project cars, no longer owns the Charger. Being a ‘car guy,’ Marano wanted to see the Charger land in good hands. “A fellow muscle car buddy owns it now and is going to build it for one of his boys,” said Marano. “I'm kind of partial to father-son projects since I built my ’68 Nova with my dad.” 

Rust as taken up residence in the ’74 Charger's rockers and quarter panel.

More to come
Don’t worry, you will see more barn finds and projects from Joe Marano. He has another Charger, a 1969 model, and runs across quite a few classic cars while running his junk car business called Junkers Towed by Joe

– Jody Potter,

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1974 was the last year for the third generation Chargers.

How many garages look like this?

This 1974 Dodge Charger has reflective side stripes.

Interior of a 318-V8 column shifted 1974 Dodge Charger.

This ’74 Charger spent 20 years in this garage in Minnesota.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Junkyard tour: Classic cars at Junkyard USA in French Lake, Minnesota

Chasing classic cars in junkyards. Junkyardlife's new best friend in Minnesota is 21-year-old Joe Marano of Ham Lake. Marano recently turned his hobby into a full-time business he calls Junkers Towed by Joe. He hauls junk cars, sells parts, cars and is accumulating a fleet of desirable restoration projects along the way. Marano provided photos from a trip to Junkyard USA, a giant 100-acre yard specializing in older vehicles.

1958 Chevy Impala at French Lake Auto Parts.

French Lake Auto Parts 
Located in Minnesota 60 miles West of Minneapolis/St. Paul, ‘JunkTown USA’ is a monolith of car recycling in the Midwestern United States. Family-owned since 1956, these owners know better than to crush the old stuff. They have a section of 1970s and older vehicles waiting for eager parts pullers. You may want to take extra cash if you go. “They want a lot for their part,” said Marano. “But they have a lot of good stuff.” Vintage Mopars, Chevys and Fords are spread out in rows and stacks behind the main building past the school buses. 

What  - French Lake Auto Parts
Where - Located 60 miles West of Minneapolis/St. Paul in French Lake, Minnesota.

 3531 County Road 3 NW, Annandale, MN 55302
Hours - Tues-Fri 8-5 p.m., Sat 8 a.m.-1 p.m. 

100s of cars from the 1950s-1970s are stashed at French Lake.

Most junkyards scrapped older models during lean economic times.

1969 Dodge Super Bee in the French Lake junkyard. 

1968 Dodge Monaco 500 at FLAP’s junkyard.

This junked 1964 Chevy Impala looks almost ready for the cruise-in.

1962 Chevy Impala at the junkyard in Minnesota.

Do you see Mopars at French Lake?

If you get lost in FLAP’s junkyard look for landmarks such as the 1971 Chevy El Camino in the sky.

Searching for just one part? It may take you more than a day to see all of French Lake’s junkyard.

1968-74 Chevy Nova in a field at French Lake Auto Parts.

Like most yards you have to get the parts you want ASAP.

1968-72 Chevelle parts are plentiful at French Lake.

Is that a Firebird behind the Chevelle?

More to come from Minnesota
I will have more cool cars from Joe Marano soon. This enterprising gear head, car crafter has a barn find 1969 Dodge Charger and built a super slick 1968 Nova. Marano is chasing his dream, combining a business with his passion for old cars. If you need his services at Junkers Towed by Joe, you can reach him at

– Jody Potter,

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Readers ride: Stolen 1969 Camaro Z28 races back to life in Hugger Orange without DZ302

Fast times in a stolen 1969 Camaro Z/28. Forty years ago Alabama drag racer, Wayne Simpson, bought a theft-recovered 1969 Camaro Z/28 for $750. The 11,000-mile Rally Sport Camaro received a big-block engine transplant in 1971, then spent the next 13 years at the drag strip racing in Super Stock ‘D’ class. In 1984, when bracket racing became the only game in town, Simpson quit racing. That same year a small-block, new paint and a car cover were fitted onto the low-mile Z/28. Recently, I witnessed Simpson’s first look at the Camaro sealed in a car cover and tarps. “I haven’t uncovered the car in 10 years,” said Simpson.

This stolen-recovery ’69 Z/28 became a drag car after the missing front end and doors were replaced.

The driver
It was the late 1960s and Wayne Simpson was employed at Buffalo Rock bottling in Birmingham. He loved Alabama football and drag racing on the weekends. Simpson drove a fast 1968 Camaro drag car with a 427-cu. inch engine. His first-gen Camaro ran 127 mph in the 1/4-mile, around 10.65 second ETs. “I raced full-time from the 1960s to 1984,” said Simpson. Many nights were spent on Alabama dragways throughout the state. “I raced at Holiday Beach, Green Valley, Lassiter Mountain, Montgomery and Huntsville.”

Wayne Simpson stands watch over the ’69 Z/28 he bought in 1971.

The wreck
Simpson’s brother, Joe, flipped the ’68 Camaro in 1971 and fractured a vertebra in his back while racing the f-body one night. The car was destroyed but luckily his brother was alive. That unfortunate accident forced Simpson to locate another car so he could continue drag racing. “I had to get another Camaro because that was my only race car,” Simpson said.

This M22 tranny has been hammered with the Hurst stick a few times on the track.

$750 1969 Camaro Z/28
Simpson bought a 
theft recovery 1969 Camaro Z/28 for $750 in 1971. The dark green Z/28 had been sitting for several months at Goodgame Garage in Pell City, Alabama until the insurance company released ownership to the garage. With just over 11,000-miles, the ’69 Z/28 was nearly new but it was missing the front end and both doors. The all important 302-cu inch V8 engine was in place along with the factory 4-speed Muncie transmission which came standard in all 1969 Z/28s. Then Simpson paid $1,000 for a front end and doors to make his Z/28 a complete car again.

 1969 Camaro Rally Sports featured hideaway headlight doors with horizontal slits that allowed light to shine through if the doors failed.

Let’s go racing
Not long after Simpson bought the Camaro, he removed the low-mile 302 cubic inch small block engine and Muncie 4-speed transmission. He stored them in the corner of his shop while he converted the Camaro into a Big-Block drag car with a 427-cu inch engine and M22 Muncie ‘Rock Crusher’ 4-speed transmission. Simpson beefed up the Camaro with a 4.11 ratio Dana 60 rear axle out of a Barracuda. He raced the ’69 Camaro for 13 years in 'heads-up' drag racing in the Super Stock 'D' class.

302, gone. 427, swapped. 350, you bet.

“Borrowed” 302 engine sold!
Finding an original ’69 Z/28 with a matching number engine is extremely rare. The first-gen Z/28’s high revving 302-V8s were often blown up and replaced by engines with more cubic inches. Simpson’s theft-recovered Camaro had its original engine until he let his nephew ‘borrow’ it. 
  Simpson’s nephew, in his early 20s in 1971, spotted the Z/28 engine and 4-speed transmission in the corner of the shop. “My nephew wanted to put the Camaro’s engine and transmission in his 1966 Nova,” Simpson said. “I told him that I would let him borrow them but not to sell the car with my engine and transmission.”
  Guess what? The nephew traded the ’66 Nova in at a Chevy dealership in Leeds, Alabama for a new 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle. “I know when you let somebody borrow something, it’s like your giving it to them,” said Simpson. To this day, no tension exists over the loss of the rare Camaro’s low-mile engine. “We still talk all the time,” Simpson said.

10 years of garage clutter rests on the Camaro.

You never know what to expect under the car cover.

Changes colors, engine
Simpson removed two blue tarps and the car cover that protects his Z/28 on a recent Saturday morning. The 67-year-old Simpson has long since given up hot rodding Camaros. "The ’69 hasn’t been over 70 MPH the way you see it." Several years ago Simpson transformed the Z/28 from a drag car into a streetable hot rod. 
A 350-cu. inch/350 HP engine resides under the Z/28's striped hood. “I painted it Hugger Orange in 1984 or ’85,” said Simpson. “And I took the black vinyl top off.” 

All in the family

Simpson gave the car to his son, Scott, who coincidentally was born in 1969. There was one condition put on the ownership of the Camaro. “He could never sell it,” Simpson said. “I asked him to keep it in the family.” The Camaro now has 23,815 miles on the odometer. “My son hasn’t driven it much through the years because he was afraid somebody would steal it.” 

– Jody Potter,

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Just 23,815 miles on this 1969 Z/28!

A quick wipe-down and the interior would look good-as-new.

Very little wear on these original ’69 Camaro seats.

243,085 Camaros were built for the 1969 model year.

1969 Camaro Z/28s had 4-speeds and no a/c.

The 1969 Camaro’s rear spoiler produces 130 lbs. of downforce at 115 mph.

20,302 Z/28-equipped Camaros were built during the 1969 model year.

The 1969 Camaro is an icon and on my list of dream cars to own.

Tires were a bit low on air but the Camaro still shines after 10 years under cover.

Hugger Orange paint replaced the Camaro’s original dark green in the 1980s.

Chevy designed the ’69 Camaro with more aggressive body lines.

I bet more repop ’69 Z/28 emblems have been sold than the total Camaro production for 1969.

A 9-3/4" Dana 60 rear axle with 4.11 gears from a Barracuda is bolted under the Z/28.

Spotter alert: Backup lights were installed below the rear bumper on RS equipped Camaros. A Rally Sport front end doesn’t mean it's a true RS.

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