Saturday, June 26, 2021

LRP custom Shag Wagon put out at the junkyard - 1976 Dodge Tradesman 200 van

 1976 Dodge Tradesman 200 LRP custom van

Rolling with the purple shag.
This throwback from the 1970s shag wagons glory days, a 1976 Dodge Tradesman 200, landed at the local pull-your-own parts yard in Birmingham, Alabama this week. The "LRP" lettering under the door is a hint that this was no ordinary home-built heavyweight. This van was originally built by Leisure & Recreational Products, a professional conversion van company in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Back in the day they churned out Ford, Chevy/GMC, and Dodge rigs with bubble windows, hand-airbrushed art, and miles of pin striping. Let's take a look inside a ’70s "survivor" of sorts.

Mirrored ceiling and purple shag carpet throughout.

Inside, purple shag carpet is found throughout. Swivel seats are stationed up front and a mirrored ceiling lined with fur once reflected all the activities in the rear of the heavily customized van.

For some reason, Sinatra singing "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere" come to mind. This was luxury and a place to relax 45 years ago.

Swivel purple front seats.

This swivel driver's seat shows its mileage. This bad boy still has plenty of originality and signs of wear. This van must have been driven long after the 1970s were only a memory. 

Deep purple shag carpet hangs inside van's rear doors.

Why is it in the junkyard?
The road to ruin may have been mechanical difficulty. A clue is the 
disassembled 318-cu. inch V8 engine under the hood. The engine cover can be seen, covered in purple shag carpet, laying askew behind the passenger seat. For those unfamiliar with the short nose vans, working on your van's mechanicals could get messy. Once you ruin the interior, the whole value thing slides downhill fast.
  But maybe it was as simple as A/C problems? Try keeping your hottie or significant other cool in Alabama with high heat and ridiculous humidity in a slab-sided sweat box. 

Each LRP custom van was hand-painted by airbrush.

Bad things happen to good vans
Worse things can happen to a vehicle but becoming a punchline can spell doom for once-desired vehicles. What is once deemed "cool" is soon to be outdated for the next "cool" thing. When all the embarrassed van drivers dumped their now "uncool" rides, they trickled down to the young, poor, or desperate in need of cheap transportation. A lucky few held onto their custom vans, maintaining and leaving period correct. What you see here will soon be recycled at the pick-a-part.
  Something tells me this van was loved for a long time. But, I doubt many parts get pulled and re-used. Who needs some purple shag? The number of 1970s van-era survivors is shrinking daily.

Bubble windows are a signature of the 1970s custom van craze.

Graphics on the ’76 Dodge van were airbrushed at the LRP shop during customization. Note the 1977-1979 Ford Thunderbird wheels all around.

Bubble windows were a signature of 1970s custom van craze. Tinted and still cool.

Purple shag carpet everywhere inside Dodge van.

Flip side of bubble window: open up and you see the glorious purple shag.

Vintage slot mag hangs on rear door.

A slotted mag is hanging on the rear of the van. 

LRP letters are under both front doors of this custom Leisure & Recreation Products van.

Under the door you can find the "LRP" decal. The company who customized this van was operated by Lee Bender in Wisconsin. The LRP name still holds some weight in the dedicated Vannin' community because of the quality and craftsmanship LRP put into each van they built. The fact that Leisure & Recreational Products fully customized ’76 Dodge refugee from the 1970s made it this far in almost complete condition is a testament to their work.

Farewell funky van!

Jody Potter
– Junkyard Life 

Do you have a classic car in the yard, or a great story?
Send us details and we’re on the way!
Send emails to Jody Potter at 
or Ron Kidd at


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Loaded 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo at the scrap yard


Scrap that! I guess we do live in an era where someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure. Look what we found unceremoniously discarded at the side door to a scrap yard. A 1976 Monte Carlo Landau!

The first look I took just made me shake my head. How could someone NOT want this? How could it have been saved this entire time and only now finding its way out of hiding and into a crusher? This place does not even entertain selling parts. It literally means a few dollars to them. 

When Jody said that this car has his name on it, I thought he was speaking metaphorically.

Now my second look yielded more head shaking. I didn’t realize it at the time, but upon closer inspection this baby was loaded! You just had to look a little closer. The full Monte, If you will.*

Original window sticker was in the car!

Someone may have left the original window sticker in the car and possibly a Junkyard Life Monte Carlo Nerd could have come along and retrieved the document for a story he planned to write. This is all just speculation at this point. Who said anything about a window sticker?

Knights of the vinyl top table in the order of Landau.

If there was a window sticker, it may have alerted (alarmed?) the Monte Carlo Nerd to other hidden and not so hidden treasures. Desired options fill up this disco era Colonnade. This silver Monte with a vinyl top was some looker in its day. Someone beat us to the small block 400 engine that Chevrolet left under the hood. Yes, it was indeed a small block 400 power plant. Two options above the base motor. Shame.

Window Sticker, Where Art Thou?
Looky there! The original paperwork just sitting on the bench seat. Who could resist?

Cruise control under the hood still intact.

More options
That wasn’t all. It wasn’t cheap. If we did have that window sticker, it potentially could have told us about all of these options: 

  • 400 4 barrel ($73)
  • Power bench seat ($124)
  • Power windows ($99)
  • Power locks ($62), 
  • Tilt wheel ($52)
  • Cruise control ($73)
  • 15” wheels and not hub caps (actually standard on the Monte according to the window sticker we don’t have)
  • Rear window defroster ($77)
  • Cloth interior (free with this package)
  • Illuminated sunvisor with vanity mirrors ($23)
  • Extra lighting group for the trunk, glove compartment ($31)
  • Landua roof package (no charge in this case)
  • Air conditioning ($471)
  • Intermittent windshield wiper ($28) 
  • Color key seat belts ($17)
  • And for a substantial amount in 1976 American dollars… an 8-track stereo ($324)!

You got all this and more for a mere $6,985! At least that is our guess. We would confirm if we had that confounded window sticker. We can only guess that it was borrowed by an inspiring automotive journalist for the integrity of the article he was going to write. Sounds like a nice guy. 

See 8-track stereo?

Mandatory poke of slot on 8-track stereo is the official tape deck test.

Four Squares a Day…

This car was a nice package all wrapped up in luxury, comfort and performance. Would we have liked it then? 

1976 was a great year. The Monte Carlo was still big.** Chevrolet celebrated America’s independence with a new beginning for the classy Monte Carlo, the entry level Malibu and the racy Laguna. Maybe not so much a beginning as a new front… the square stacked headlights. 

Is there a sadder sight than a Monte Carlo parked on the hood of a 1982 Camaro?

Hey, four eyes!
The headlights were met with mixed reviews from many different perspectives of the new automobile buyers. They ran the entire gamut from “Yay!” safety via improved visibility to “we hate the new stacked headlights.” Junkyard Life is guilty to some degree. What can we say? We love Colonnades but prefer the round eye headlight era.  

What doesn’t this have? Sunroof, tachometer and bucket seats are all we can think of.
What would you have ordered?

Stop the madness
So someone’s trash may be someone else’s treasure. I wish our treasure would stop showing up at scrap yards. There are so many other avenues that do not lead to the foreboding scales. Then people like us would not cringe as we pass by. That is indeed the Junkyard Life.

Ron Kidd
– Junkyard Life

Editor’s Notes:
* We allow Ron only one “Full Monte” joke in his Monte Carlo articles. Why do we do this to ourselves and our readers?

** Ron tried to use another “Full Monte” joke here. Like I said, he is limited to one.

Optional 15-inch Monte Carlo wheels.

We believe the name Monte Carlo is responsible for a few children named Monte.

Bumpers that only people who lived through the 1970s understand.

Cruise control on the stalk.

Last look. The next day the car vanished from in front of the scrap yard. We suspect the giant shredder ate its way through the Monte Carlo, options and all, in seconds.

Do you have a classic car in the yard, or a great story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Jody Potter at 
or Ron Kidd at

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Atomic Blast 10: Rat Rod inferno of good times

 Atomic Blast Rat Rod event at Gulfport Dragway.

Junkyard Life had a Blast… An Atomic Blast. The annual Rat Rod celebration in Gulfport, Mississippi is very aptly named The Atomic Blast. This is one of the only West Coast flavored Rat Rod Runs on this side of Nevada. We are now believers in The Atomic Blast. We've always loved the original recyclers (hot rodders) but now we have an all new appreciation for driving junk. These apocalyptic cars captivated our hearts for two days. Simple, not simple, fast, brutal, fun loving, flat, satin, fire! I need a thesaurus to find more words to describe this fun event.

We had heard of the Atomic Blast, but had never attended. Once our friend Stefanie Lea from Road Rage Garage heard we had never been, she made a request (an order?) for us to attend. Stefanie has found a way to submerse herself in what she loves — flat finished patina preserved tire smoking hot rods and the great people that come along with them.

The weather forecast would have scared the slick hot rods away. Not the Rat Rods. Keep in mind, some of these are driven and they don’t necessarily handle well in the rain. Some of them don’t actually have a water tight roof. Yet, these tire smokers did come from near and far.    

A pink rat rod truck burns the tire completely off the rim.
The Rat Rods burn rubber until they got no more to burn.

Smoking Isn’t good for You? Yes, It Is!

These rat rod guys are not afraid to light em’ up. This is practically an event that advocates smoking…tires that is. They like crawfish too, but let’s get back to the smoking. Junkyard Life brother Jay explained to us newbies why it is called “The Atomic Blast.”  He explained it to us, but yet…unpack all of your adjectives and you still feel the best words really are “Atomic Blast.”

Stefanie Lea raises her arms to signal the rat rods to start burning their tires.
Stefanie Lea says "Light'em up!"

Stefanie Lea: The Goddess of the Burning Radials 

Coordinator and hostess Stefanie Lea waits until near dark. Then she places two Rat Rods that are actually flame throwers on the track behind the burnout box (another aptly named area). She then places as many fearless homegrown Rats in the burnout box that dare rise to her calling.

When the sun begins to lower itself in the horizon behind the Gulfport Dragway, Stefanie raises her arms like a symphony conductor and line locks engage. RPMs go up and she gives the go ahead to start incinerating tires. Wait. There is more.

Once the cars begin to disappear engulfed in the tire smoke–another cue from Stefanie awakens the now invisible flame throwers to shoot fire from the center of the smoke...thus, The Atomic Blast!

Billowing smoke rises high above the burnout box and flame throwers shoot up into the sky making an atomic spectacle.
This looks like the aftermath of an atomic blast. Well, not a real one, just the smoke and fire from dozens of big block rat rods, some with built-in flame throwers. It is a sight to behold! 

Watch this! The sight, the smell we love (Hey, note to self: million dollar scented candle idea) and the sound. Oh my. The sound. The sounds we love from a variety of Detroit power plants. Roaring together in automotive symphonic harmony. You can feel the heat and the patriotism. Many rods are adorned in American flags and like the song says, when the smoke clears, the flags are one of the first things you see. You, my friend, have been Atomic Blasted. There is no coming back from that.

Dennis Landry wheels his RATical rat rod down a beach road in Gulfport, Mississippi


This sub culture of the car genre is so much fun. The Atomic Blast offers so many activities and is so inclusive. If you feel you just can’t see everything…fear not. Stefanie has included what she calls “Roll Call” where every car cruises, i.e., “rolls” in front of the bleachers to give everyone a good look and often a little rubber is left behind.

Grumpy's 1941 Dodge WF-31 with a Detroit Diesel 92TA engine and flame throwers that shoot enormous amounts of fire high into the air.

More Cruising Add Water and Music

The Atomic Blasters also do a beach cruise along the beautiful coast of Gulfport and Biloxi. Nothing is more rock and roll than that. Except maybe the musical guest. The Martini Shakers treated us to some awesome throw back rock-a-billy.  A great band and really nice people. It is so nice to see and meet people that love where they are and what they do. These guys rock.

There was even a kid’s motor bike cruise that also drew a lot of attention. What can you do if you are a young car guy or girl that can’t yet have four wheels? You make do with two wheels and look like a tiny Fonz. "Ayyy!"

Rat rodders compete in the crawfish eating contest at the Atomic Blast 10.
Crawfish eating contest is part of the kick-off festivities.

Cruising, Crabs, Crawfish, Rats – oh my!

To kick our weekend off, we caught the cruise to The Cajun Crawfish Hut in Long Beach, Mississippi. Just a stone's throw from Gulfport down Beach Boulevard on Highway 90. Here, they fed us spectacular food, rocked us with the Martini Shakers and schooled us in crawfish consumption. The now famous Atomic Blast Crawfish Eating Contest was soon underway. MC’ed by the infamous original rat rodder Dennis Landry, aka Crab or Crab Who? This event was great messy fun! The winning consumer of the Cajun crustaceans was a 27-year-old Army paratrooper named Shane Jackson. Shane is no stranger to Atomic Blast awards. It seems the first rat rod he built kicked the bucket on the first time out, which granted him the dreaded “Damn My Luck” award. 

We spotted more than 200 Rat Rods and other cool cruisers in the pit area and campgrounds at Gulfport Dragway during the Atomic Blast 10.

We Want More!

Do you like traditional home grown hot rod fun? Do Rat Rods fill your hot rod heart? Then you need to do this. Do you want to see a 425 Olds duke it out with a 390 Ford? Grudge races, swap meet, food, music and tire smoking traditions? The Atomic Blast is for you. This annual Rat Rod Run is held every April at the Gulf Port Dragway. Let us not let the West Coast have all the fun. Thank you, Road Rage Garage for including us in the party. Check those calendars and we will see you there! We were told they also have a Halloween event in October for those of us who will have a hard time waiting. Keep a rat look at the calendar and never miss The Blast again.


Ron Kidd

— Junkyard Life 

Step 1: Apply throttle

Step 2: Hold down the gas pedal

Step 3: Never let up

Shane Sink, Jackson, Mississippi

Shane Sink's winning combo burned the tires right off the rim.

Dennis Landry, Larose, Louisiana
Landry, known as the godfather of this event with his big-cubed Rat Rods and willingness to keep the rubber burning and the party going was also the Master of Ceremonies at the Atomic Blast. You could spot him easily in his orange shirt and white overalls.

Dennis Landry gets ready to fire up his Rat Rod for a beach cruise.

And away he goes!

Burnout box was always filled with mayhem. Two rat rods take a spin for the crowd.

Do you have a great story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  
Send emails to Jody Potter at 
or Ron Kidd at

Friday, April 16, 2021

Digging out a 1974 Chevrolet Caprice Estate

1974 Chevrolet Caprice Estate station wagon in green has been parked in woods for three decades and is covered in pine straw and sunk to the rims in the dirt.

The Big Green Family Machine. Junkyard Life gravitates toward some strange vehicles. For us, this find is not even that strange really. We love vintage station wagons. What were we supposed to do when the opportunity presented itself to own a well-optioned 1974 Caprice Estate Wagon?  

Look at all the boxes the original owner checked off… tilt wheel, air conditioning, power windows, power seats, power door locks, third-row seat, roof rack, and more. 

Power needed to cruise this castle down the highway was provided by a Small Block 400 with a TH400 transmission. Considering this Estate weighed slightly north of 5,000 pounds, torque under foot is a given. This behemoth isn’t going to like a small motor. Chevrolet didn’t even entertain the idea. The word “thrifty” and the name Caprice are not found in the same sentence. 

Rear tailgate on the 1974 Caprice features the glide-away option.
Disappearing tailgate? Yes!

Clam Up and Glide Away!

To have a moment of clarity is welcome. Let us clear our head and credit a really forward thinking option that many people have never seen. The awesome tailgates on the Caprice Estate wagons have a cool trick no one can deny. The “Glide Away” tailgate. This option (only available on the full-size wagons) would sell most people who dig new fangled gadgets and have fond memories of magicians at childhood birthday parties. 

  1. Insert a key into the quarter panel on the right rear of the car.
  2. Turn key to the right and the window DISAPPEARS into the roof.
  3. Turn the key to the left and *Alakazam!…the tailgate disappears! It slides under the floor leaving you with… wait for it… a totally open rear cargo area! As if you have no tailgate at all! Ta-Da! Cool. 

This made for easy access for loading and unloading. This changed the standards for tailgating parties forever. Tailgating sans the tailgate. Interesting.

"Caprice Estate" emblem on quarter panel of 1974 wagon.
Fun, quirky emblem on "Caprice Estate" is a symbol of a bygone era. Cell phones have never been aboard this beauty. All eyes up, seeing the world.

Green inside, green outside

The color of our former party wagon is also interesting. Code 49 on the trim tag. Some GM literature refers to this hue as Medium Green Metallic. Others call it Medium Green Poly. Our favorite paint of this era was Medium Dark Green. So, not too dark. No, not dark enough. A compromise was in order, but what do we call it? One year prior to our wagon, a beautiful green offered on the Trans Am (Code 48) Brewster Green.* 

Green interior of 1974 Chevrolet Caprice Estate station wagon includes a bench seat and has become a makeshift storage container.
Thirty years go by fast. Just the other day this 1974 Chevy Estate wagon was ending a career as the family car, handed down to the next (youngest) driver on the totem pole.  

Bench seat fun

Our big green party machine was used as a family car and fulfilled its station wagon destiny. Road trips to grocery runs, this wagon did it all. We spoke with the seller's daughter who took her driver’s license test in the green wagon. The car she didn’t want to be seen in has a fan following now. 

Now we load it up and assess the damage and fill out our rust and corrosion score card. How did the wagon fare in the battle of Alabama environmental elements? Inventory the good parts and bad parts. Once we have that hammered out, we can determine the fate of this car. Something good will come out of this. How could it not? Junkyard Life and a vintage wagon… What could go wrong?

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

1974 Chevrolet Caprice Estate station wagon has been parked in woods for three decades and is covered in pine straw and sunk in the dirt.

Junkyard Life’s Full-Size Wagon Fun Facts (or Full Facts?):

  • Chevrolet only gave two choices of rear gear in the Estate wagon… 3.08:1 or an optional 3.42:1. Positraction was also offered, but unfortunately our example doesn’t have that.
  • Apparently, they also gave you two engine choices. A small block 400 (like our feature car has) or a 454 fat boy.
  • The small block 400 residing under the hood was not intended to be the mad powerhouse that the car community has now found them to be. It was a low RPM torque motor made for applications such as our wagon.
  • 1974 was the first year (for the Caprice) to have a 4-barrel on the small block 400 engine. 
  • Until 1972 if you noticed a Caprice or Impala with a “400” badge on the lower fender trim — you could be looking at either a small block 400 or a 402 big block. Yes, one emblem for two different engine. To our knowledge, they never made a 402 emblem.
  • The Glide Away tailgate proved to be popular across the board in GM full size wagons such as the Pontiac Safari, the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser and the Buick Estate.
  • These big wagons really proved themselves useful. Over the years full-size wagon owners boasted the ability to carry sheets of 4' x 8’ plywood, sheetrock or paneling. Try that with your modern crossover.
  • Ron figured this wagon to be a 1973 model due to the presence of an external coil and points distributor. Jody said he had seen a 1974 with this pre-H.E.I. ignition. Ron bet it was a 1973 while Jody was rather confident. Jody was right. The 1974 was the last of that ignition and by 1975 electronic ignitions could be found under most General Motors products. Bye-Bye points and condensers. We won’t miss you. 
  • It is no secret that Chevrolet was targeting the Cadillac market with their high standards on the Caprice. But they had one advantage on that luxury model. Cadillac did not make a big wagon to option out this highly. Okay, we DO know that Cadillac did make a wagon. However, you would not want to ride in one. We mean for the “still on Earth” buyers. Don’t spoil our mood here.
  • The wood grain simulated finish was the industry salute to the days when actual wood was used on vehicles. “I got me a ’34 wagon, they call it a ‘Woody’” said The Beach Boys. From surfers to soccer moms, wagons are a life necessity. Us too.

Ron Kidd looks around the wagon for clues.
Ron Kidd exploring the forgotten wagon before we haul it home.

View looking over roof and luggage rack on 1974 Caprice Estate.
The view atop the stately battleship, known as a 1974 Caprice Estate wagon, looks promising. New roads ahead on the back of a trailer. Destination: The Junkyard Life Top Secret Undisclosed Storage Facility.

Editor’s Notes:
*This may be the only time we allow Ron to use the word “Alakazam!” in a story. He came up with this after the original phrase was cut in editing. In retrospect, we should have just let him say “open sesame” like he wanted. Now we have a story with the word “alakazam” in it.   

** We wondered how Ron would get through this assignment without making a Pontiac reference. There it is (with Brewster Green)

Do you have a classic car in the yard, or a great story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Jody Potter at 
or Ron Kidd at

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Rescue time for 1966 Pontiac Tempest


Dig it out! Buying a 1966 Pontiac Tempest two-door for $300? Unheard of, you say. The Junkyard Life team has been working on this deal for more than a couple of years. Maybe four? It was time for a quick touch base with the Tempest's owners about the future of the widetrack Pontiac that has been parked in their yard since 1977. A deal was made in short order – it was time for the Tempest to go to a new home. Ours!

Red and rusty 1966 Pontiac Tempest two-door has no rear glass. It fell into the backseat due to the rot around the window channel.
The red Tempest features a mashed roof and a back glass that found a better view in the backseat. Glass is still intact, the sheet metal, not so much. 

Never give up
This rescue shows that persistence pays off! We've been searching for a good, used core support for another one of our "someday" projects and this car has been simmering in our back pocket. It is always good to keep tabs on the old, automotive landmarks in your town. One day they will be gone. Either eliminated by nature or a more diligent car hound will scoop them up.
We know! These junkyard dogs will hunt!

Stay with us! More to come on the 1966 Pontiac Tempest!

Jody Potter
— Junkyard Life

The distinctive flared tail panel found on 1966 and 1967 Tempest, LeMans and GTOs.

Swoopy script "Tempest" emblem on the 1966 Pontiac.

Rust devoured the ’66 Tempest hood and pock-marked the top of one of the fenders with holes. A GTO scooped hood would be a nice replacement!

Pontiac wasn't the first with stacked headlamps but certainly a contender for best design.

Inside the Tempest we found blue vinyl bench seats, A/C controls, and original radio. 

Last tag on the 1966 Tempest? 1977 – only 11 years old when put out to pasture.

More to come as we load up this old Pontiac and head for home. Stay tuned!

Do you have a classic car in the yard, or a great story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Jody Potter at 
or Ron Kidd at