The Scrapyard

When I was a little kid, my Dad would occasionally visit the local scrapyard. By the time ‘scrap-‘ had come out of his mouth, I was already darting around at his feet aching to be taken along with him. One day, he took me with him, and for a brief few years all I ever got to do was wait in the car on our visits – usually reading the instruction manual out of boredom – until he returned with whatever car part (a light, an alternator, timing belt) he needed. Looking into the yard of dead cars, but not being able to go in, was just incredibly exciting.

I was stuck in the purgatory between being too young to roam around the sharp, sticky and greasy objects in the yard, yet too old to be left with my Lego. Whether it was rain, shine or hail, my dad would return with a different car badge every time as a trophy of our visit. To this day I have a shoebox of car badges ranging from the mid-60’s until the 1990s. The unicorn of the lot was the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star that I finally got my hands after years of searching.

I didn’t just write this post to talk about that, however. As my driving career progressed, I’ve been going to the same scrapyard I used to accompany Dad to; accumulating various bits I’ve needed (most recently a water pump pulley) and dozens more I’ve just liked the look of (dash clocks from an Alfa 156, the passenger ‘Tombstone’ seat from a Porsche 944, for example). Of course, car fans will be more than familiar with the retailesque blueprint that large-scale scrappies operate nowadays; where you tell a person at a desk what you want, and a mechanic searches their organised database, removes the part for you and takes payment. The ‘traditional’ type of scrapyard – the real type, where the rules of Health and Safety don’t seem to apply – they’re a dying breed. This old scrapyard is in some regards as dear to me as the playground of my first school or the street I practised football on.

So why do I like them? I can’t quite explain. Part of the charm is the autonomy of taking what you want or need. If you see the part you want, you have to remove it. If you haven’t got the right tools for the job, the tough. To this day, I still lament the Alfa Romeo crema leather seat I couldn’t remove from a 166 – it would’ve been a brilliant seat from which to type this! The ‘first-come, first-served’ mentality is in full effect here, too – any German cars that end up in the yard are torn to pieces in the time it takes to microwave a Pot Noodle. It’s a jackpot from which you never quite know what you’ll end up with – one week, there’ll be Fords everywhere, whilst the next will have a Porsche, rat-look MX-5, old MG…

The scrapyard’s also a good place to see how things work on your own car, if you can find a similar model. Seeing an engine or suspension strut stripped right down to its components gives you an idea of how things work on your own car, as well as allowing you to search for that elusive part you may need. Just watch it when you’re in there, though: it would be a great place to maim yourself on various rusty cars jacked up with another car’s door wedged underneath and a good dose of wishful thinking.

In the case of ‘my local’, it’s also a sad reflection of how quickly modern Britain throws away its cars. More and more cars from this century are appearing in this scrapyard, with the youngest I’ve seen recently being from 2006. Why do we bin things that are ‘old’, or just a couple of generations out? Cars – if properly looked after – can run on for decades.

In amongst the broken glass, spilt oil and dented body panels lie the remains of someone’s family car. Sticking your head inside what’s left of the interior, you can imagine the commutes, the holidays, the shopping runs and perhaps the accidents or arguments that the car has seen. The scrapyard is the jumble sale or the antiques shop of the car world. It’s messy, unpredictable, diverse and sometimes irritating, but even if you come home empty-handed it’s always worth a visit.

P.S. The 320i got featured in local paper, The Press and Journal, earlier this month. I’m proud that the Topazblau saloon has earned its first ever feature!

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