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,

Know of a junkyard I need to visit or want to send me photos and info about a junkyard? Send emails to

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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Monday, November 7, 2011

Cars in Yards: 1979 Corvette L-82 nearly crushed by an oak tree after 20 year hiatus

TIMBER! If a tree falls onto a Corvette and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This dark blue 1979 Corvette, parked for many years outdoors, beside a house, narrowly escaped the crushing blow of a falling oak tree. The long dormant Vette was completely hidden from view by overgrown foliage. Recently, a strong storm system that rocked Alabama this spring tried to destroy this disco duck.

Sections of the giant oak rolled against the ’79 Corvette after it initially survived the tree's crush undamaged. 

Missed it by...
To say this giant tree that fell from a neighbor’s yard “missed by this much” would be an understatement. Huge branches from the falling tree brought down the carport above the Vette. The protected cover provided by the carport had destroyed the plastic fantastic, right? No! Once again the Corvette escaped unscathed when the crushed carport fell down around it, but not on it. Wow.

Corvette numbers crunching
Of the 53,807 Corvettes that rolled out of GM’s 
St. Louis assembly plant in 1979, a total of 5,670 were painted this attractive dark blue. Chevy unimaginatively dubbed this royal color “Corvette Dark Blue.” (Research indicates dark blue as paint code 83, but I seem to recall a dark blue ’79 Corvette with GM paint code 29. Crazy, huh?) I would have called it “Super Sly Navy Blue” or “Darkest Day Blue” seeing as “Nocturne Blue” had changed names several times by GM in the 1970s. The super exclusive Corvette was deserving of a cool exterior name. “Corvette Dark Blue”? Please.

1979 Corvette’s red leather interior is a bit dirty after 20 years of disuse.

This shark had been given some extra fins with an aftermarket hood (blasphemy), aftermarket wheels (the very idea) and aftermarket exhaust tips (if you can’t say something nice). The exterior color was neatly accented with red interior. That’s not a combination that I would have guessed, although seeing it in person was pleasantly surprising. Equipped with an automatic transmission and a host of power options often found on many other Corvettes.

Parked to save money
This car only saw about ten years of action. It was last registered in 1989. The owner says he parked it due to high insurance premiums when he was in his 20s. That’s a shame. Once the tree is cleared, hopefully without damaging the Vette, the owner will decide if he is going to fix it up or sell it.

This ’79 Vette is an original L-82 car. The owner says it has a 400 small block in it now.

The tin-roofed carport protected the Vette from the falling tree’s limbs.

L-82 Vette with D-80 option
This is an L-82 Vette according to the 5th digit of the VIN being a four. L-82 signified a 350 engine, which was bumped up to 225hp. That was up from the 1978 power options of 220hp. GM attributed it to “better breathing.”
Bolt-on front and rear spoilers were standard on the 1978 Corvette Pace Car and were RPO D80 option on the 1979 models. This is one-of-6,853 (12.74%) of the record 53,807 Corvette built for the 1979 model year that featured this $265 option.

Last of the fast C3s 
We Junkyard Life guys wonder how long it held on to its factory hood and wheels. The wheels were beautiful no matter which option the buyer chose. The 15x8 Rally wheel or the new slotted aluminum wheel continue to make a classy and classic look.
  Some of the late 1979 Corvettes built received the 85 mph speedometers, which would become government mandated in 1980. I’ll bet the late 1979 Corvette buyers were happy about this! You know what that L82 would do to an 85mph speedometer. That mandate would not be lifted again until the late 1980s.

The dark blue paint is more visible in the sunlight. This ’79 Vette looks black in most of the photos.

Undervalued Vette? Buy now, save $ later
We wonder why these surviving examples have not hit the huge dollar collectible status as of yet. Even the 1978 Pace Cars can be had at a decent price. With all due respect to a popular saying, get them while they are not hot. Most all parts can be had or found. They have performance and comfort potential. And the most important and simple reason to rescue these shark-like, predator cars… it’s a Corvette. Say no more. Happy Hunting.

Ron Kidd, The Earth Roaming Car Guy at

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Where are the original ’79 Vette wheels?

Vines and bushes protected the Vette’s hood from damage by the falling carport.

Look closely and you might see this Vette from the road. Nah!

Removable glass roof panels and aftermarket window louvers.

Dark Blue or Black?

I like my Vettes stored indoors not under doors.

The remains of the tree that tried to kill a ’79 Corvette. The car is not visible from the road.

1979 Chevrolet Corvette advertisement.

If you had any doubts about leaving a classic car outside, this should convince you to keep it indoors. That is if "your going to restore it someday."

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