Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Readers ride: 1959 Chevy El Camino, a finished project with junkyard attitude

Don't even think about buying this El Camino. Bruce King, a 54-year-old from Hartselle, Alabama, loves everything about his 1959 Chevrolet El Camino. 25 years ago he traded his '78 Camaro for the keys to the low-slung pickup.  “This car is the most fun to drive of any that I’ve owned,” said King. Custom flames, mag wheels, layers of peeling paint, rust and graffiti surround the enthusiastic owner. King's resourcefulness is evident and necessary in keeping the 52-year-old vehicle road-worthy. This one-of-a-kind, first generation El Camino is a direct reflection of King's personality and it draws a crowd wherever he goes. 

Bruce King behind the wheel of his '59 El Camino.

'It's my daily driver'
  King, who looks like he could play the part of friendly lumberjack in a movie, enjoys seat time in his ’59 Elky. “I guess I’ve put more than 250,000 miles on the El Camino,” said King. “I’ve been all over the country in that car.” 
  Throughout King's ownership the Chevy has continually evolved. “The Chevy had the original 6 cylinder engine and straight shift transmission with column shift when I bought it,” said King. “It was painted in red oxide primer.” People often ask King when he is going to finish the truck. "It is finished!" King has owned scores of ‘50s and ‘60s model cars through the years but his favorite remains this El Camino.

Driving with junk parts
   The winged truck is now on it’s third engine, a 305-cubic inch Chevy V8 with a four-speed in the floor.  A well-used 350-V8 previously lived under the hood before King scored enough freebie parts to build his dirt-cheap 305-V8. “The engine block came out of a flooded car and somebody gave me the heads,” said King. Before he knew it, the conglomeration of parts became his El Camino’s new power plant. “It’s just an assortment of junk parts.”

Beneath the disappearing flat white paint, red oxide primer. King says high speeds in a '59 El Camino will do that.

Elky circles Indy track

  King once drove the El Camino to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a car show and wound up driving his car around the track with a cameraman hanging off the tailgate. “A production crew was filming some old hot rods making laps around the track for a TV show,” said King. The television guys wanted to film from on board King's El Camino. "Two camera guys were hanging on for dear life.” King pedaled the Chevy around Indy at a pretty good clip in front of a pack of hot rods. Top end-friendly 2.73 gears and tall rear tires helped the El Camino reach ‘Oh crap!’ speed at the flat 2.5-mile track. Luckily the camera guys survived and King’s El Camino even received some screen time.

King's wife does not like the passenger's seat view in the '59 El Camino.

Driver’s side is best 

  King’s wife, Jill, has ridden in the El Camino only a handful of times. “I believe she’s been on 10 or 11 trips in it,” King said with raised eyebrows. His wife, sitting nearby, quickly flashed three fingers.
  “Three times. I’ve been in that thing three times,” said Jill,  King’s wife of 29 years.
  Her reluctance to ride shotgun in the ‘59 Chevy is made obvious when you take a peek through the passenger’s side of the windshield. A spider web of deep cracks covers the shotgun side of the El Camino’s windshield. “She don’t like the view out the window,” King said with a laugh. “Plus, it don’t have air.”

If you see someone riding King's bumper they are just trying to read the graffiti on his El Camino.

Flames were hand-painted by King during his Huntsville Speedway days.

Paint it and forget it 

  King, an unwitting trendsetter at the time, painted the El Camino with flat white paint in 1989. “You see these flat paint jobs all over now,” King said, noting his foresight. A keen eye will also notice the faint hint of red lettering along the bed of the truck. King spent two decades working at Huntsville Speedway, a quarter-mile round track in north Alabama. “I painted ‘Hunstville Speedway’ on the sides when I started working at the track.” Nowadays, car magazines and show vehicles mimic weathered lettered doors of vintage shop trucks. King’s El Camino patina is raw and real. King continues to add character to his ride and doesn’t mind making fun of his El Camino’s less-than-concours condition. “I grabbed a Sharpie and wrote a few things on it,” said King. ‘Body & Paint by Mother Nature’ is scrawled on the tailgate. Just below that in thick and thin strokes of black ink, you will find the words ‘Think Naked.’ They are written small and have an arrow directing your eyes to a rusty splotch. “People pass me, then slow down to take pictures or ask me what it says,” said King.

King has fun not worrying about messing up the paint on his El Camino

Carlos is no cry baby doll 

  King pulled a paper mache doll, named Carlos, out of the El Camino and faced him toward the tire in ‘cry baby doll’ fashion. “My buddy has a rule at his car shows,” King says, trying not to laugh. “No crying baby dolls.” For those not in the know – you may find 2-foot tall, ‘crying baby’ dolls with their heads down, positioned against bumpers at many car shows. The dolls creep out and confuse young kids and have become scorn-worthy by some car show communities. King couldn’t resist using ‘Carlos,’ with a sombrero emblazoned with ‘El Palomo’, as the El Camino’s mascot. “That doll was bought off the street in Mexico and I thought it fit the car.”

King's car show mascot, 'Carlos.'

Til death do us part 

  King lights up when talking about his adventures in the Elky. It’s no wonder he would never consider selling it but it won’t stay in the family after he is gone. “My son’s friend, Brock, has loved this car every since he was little,” King said. “I told him I would leave it to him when I’m gone.” King’s two sons, now 25 and 21 years old, were OK with the idea. The youngster's enthusiasm for King’s rat rod El Camino hasn’t waned. “Brock asks about the ‘59 whenever I see him.” Chances are that King's El Camino will be making road trips around the U.S. for many years to come.

– Jody Potter, junkyardlife

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Essentials for the road: four-speed, tachometer, foil, Duct tape.

King's custom 1959 El Camino is part traditional hot rod and part rat rod. It draws crowds.

King made the rear glass from a sheet of Lexan. He could replace it but the Elky would lose some hard earned character.

King was offered a grand for his wheels in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

'Carlos' is no cry baby, show car doll.

1959 Chevys had distinctive fins and cat eye tail lights.

1959 El Camino's tag spring loaded to be visible when tail gate drops.

Four in the floor and an Impala steering wheel.

1959 was the first year Chevrolet built a steel bed floor in a truck instead of wood.

22,246 Chevrolet El Caminos were built during the 1959 model year, their first year of production.

Look closely for the 'mold' and 'wash me' graffiti.

1959 El Camino gauges and King's box of toothpicks.

Dog under King's hand-made Lexan rear window with braces. The rear window blew out one time, so he made sure it would stay.
Chevrolet El Camino production numbers
Your guide to First Generation El Caminos *

1959 El Camino
  22,246 - 2-door coupe pickup trucks

1960 El Camino
  14,163 - 2-door pickup trucks
* Available with 235-cu inch Inline 6, 283 or 348-cu inch V8s
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Readers' junk: Willys wagons, Edsels found on Pennsylvania junkyard crawl


An ear for music and an eye for old cars. When he's not jamming on blues and rock, 47-year-old Greg Platzer, owner of BCR Music & Sound in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, is on the lookout for old cars to photograph. Platzer, an avid photographer, once owned a 1973 Dodge Challenger and is naturally drawn to vintage American iron at old junkyards. Platzer shared some of his recent finds with junkyardlife.

– Jody Potter, junkyardlife

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1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe with some Pennsylvania junkyard patina.
A distinctive grill bar identifies this as a 1955, 1956 or 1957 Chevy dump truck.

Platzer spotted these junked Edsels while taking his daughter to school. They were not for sale.

Salvaged axles were piled high at this unnamed Pennsylvania junkyard.

This black 1966 Lincoln Continental still sheds its 45-year-old factory paint.

Greg Platzer, guitar guru and junkyardlife rock star.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

2011 Hot Rod Power Tour: Jeep Miata hybrid is a 'Meep' project car that gets great MPG

A junked Jeep CJ-7 on top of a wrecked Mazda Miata. "It's what happens after too many beers," David Russell of Eclectic, Alabama said proudly. This $500 backyard buildup came to be after Russell's friend flipped his 1990 Mazda Miata over in a wreck. The little Miata's was body damaged beyond repair but the engine still ran. What to do? "We figured this old 1985 CJ I had out back might fit on that Miata's chassis." 
  The Jeep had been put out to pasture and forgotten. "We used it for target practice behind the house," said Russell. A few rounds of beer and some bench racing was all it took before the two buddies decided to hack into the two vehicles and weld them into one economical, lowrider Jeep. "It gets 30 miles per gallon and goes 400 miles on a tank of gas."    

David Russell in his 'Meep' — a Jeep on a Miata chassis. Check out the redneck-gangsta bullet holes.

Drag racing a Miata-Jeep 'Meep'

I quizzed, Russell, (note: Micheal Robbins was the original builder of the slammed Jeep) just before he raced the Mazda-powered beast on the drag strip at Montgomery MotorSports Park during the 2011 Hot Rod Power Tour. The 1.6-liter Mazda engine, sporting 150K miles, propelled Russell to a 17.49 E.T. in the quarter-mile. Spinning a 4.30:1 Mazda limited slip rear end gear adds some zip to the four banger. Russell has logged about 10,000 miles since his hybrid Jeep was completed.

Mazda built the Miata drivetrain and chassis in Hiroshima, Japan. Jeep CJ-7s were built in Toledo, Ohio. Their uncommon bond formed in Eclectic, Alabama courtesy of David Russell.

Built for fun and questions

Russell drives his 'Meep' creation everywhere and everywhere it goes he gets gobs of attention. Curious onlookers notice the Mazda steering wheel and gauges inside the CJ7, then ask Russell a series of questions. "Does it have airbag suspension?", "How did you get it so low?", "What is it?" Russell is used to the barrage of questions and eager to answer them. "The car is a lot of fun," Russell said. "That's the whole point, ain't it?"

Jody Potter
— Junkyard Life

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Russell crafted the rear glass from a truck camper shell and molded it into a modified Jeep hardtop.

A 1990 Mazda Miata 1.6 Liter engine at home in the CJ's engine bay.

How often do you see a Jeep this low?

Generous cutting was required to get the Jeep to sit over the Miata's front wheels.

Mazda Miata gauges tucked into the CJ's dash.

No joke. This is a Jeep-Miata or just call it a 'Meep.'

Plenty of room to spare in the CJ's floorboard with Mazda Miata pedals.

Russell has taken his Jeep off-roading and this was the result. The Miata chassis has some clearance issues. 

Original Miata wheels were painted black and used on the CJ-7.

David Russell caused a stir at the Hot Rod Power Tour with his custom Jeep-Miata project.

David Russell's Jeep CJ-7 on a Miata chassis is a good bit lower than your average Jeep.

No joke. This is a Jeep-Miata or just call it a 'Meep.'

Do you have a classic or muscle car barn find? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Jody Potter  at

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Classic 1951 Dodge Coronet damaged by Alabama tornado sold to junk car buyer

A tornado ripped the roof off the house but the 1951 Dodge stayed glued to the driveway. David Reddell, a Concord, Alabama resident at 82 years young, is a veteran of three wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and recently survived a horrifying tornado that tore through his home on April 27, 2011. Reddell and his wife lost many keepsakes and valuables and were forced to move into a camper in their front yard. Four of their vehicles were severely damaged, including a 1987 Chevrolet Silverado and a 1980 Ford Granada, that once belonged to Reddell’s mother. The Granada had only 16,000 miles and was totally destroyed in the 200-MPH winds full of swirling debris and falling trees. Somehow Reddell’s 1951 Dodge Coronet, with 39,000 miles on the odometer, suffered only a broken rear glass.   

David Reddell poses with his 1951 Dodge that was bound for the junk car buyer.
Built to last... but
  They don’t make cars or men like Reddell anymore. The tough, former Air Force fighter pilot who has seen his share of brutal war zones had to make a difficult decision concerning his damaged vehicles. More important matters required his attention, like food, water and shelter, as he struggles to live in the aftermath of the tornado. Reddell sold his damaged cars to a junk car buyer. He stood his ground and forced them to raise their first offer. The low mile Dodge was among Reddell's vehicles that were loaded up and carried away the day after I took these photos. 

This 1951 Dodge's rear glass was all that was damaged during the tornado that damaged the Reddell's property.
  More than 240 people died in Alabama from injuries sustained during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes. Miles of houses were demolished and thousands of vehicles were crushed. Some of those cars will continue to provide transportation in the form of engine and transmission transplants. Determined gearheads will locate salvageable parts from these tornado-stricken vehicles and find a way to use them on future project cars.

– Jody Potter, junkyardlife

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Reddell's 1951 Dodge was parked just outside his garage that suffered a partially collapsed roof.

Dodge's 3.8 liter flat head engine circa 1951.

This '51 Dodge Coronet had optional rear foot rests. 

39K miles on the Dodge's odometer.

1951 Dodge Coronet featured a fluid-drive or 'Gyro-Matic' transmission.

Dodge Coronet was introduced in 1949.

1951 Dodge 230-cubic inch straight six engine.

1951 Dodge Ram hood ornament.

David Reddell checks under the hood of his 1951 Dodge.

This giant tree fell onto Reddell's Granada but the stump stood upright when the top of the tree was cut off.

Reddell's tornado-damaged Silverado was purchased by a junk car buyer.

Reddell's Concord, Alabama neighborhood was destroyed by tornadoes.

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