We all have dreams. And because most of us here have a real thing for cars, most of those dreams—well, all of them, really—involve cars. As we grow up and understand what a million dollars is and that we probably won't make that and probably won't buy an Enzo, it’s easy to slip into a commuter-car depression. Don’t give up on your dreams; you just need to get a little creative. Think outside the box as they say, or in this case, outside the showroom and classifieds.
Junkyards are the thrift stores of the automotive world. High-end designer brands are discarded after the first owner is through. A lot of the times, this means the T-shirt—or the Civic—has been completely run into the ground. But not always. For every Hanes tee, there’s an Hermes belt; for every Camry there just might be a Corvette. Junkyards are where some dreams have gone to die, but yours are certainly destined to start.
Be it muscle cars, JDM missiles, or sporty Euro imports, junkyards are an amazing jumble of cars and clutter. You’re going to get dirty, and you’re going to have to dig a bit, but we've all seen the stories of those magical barn-find Bugatti's. You might not strike gold and find Euro luxury, but you're at least going to have an adventure trekking through stacks of worn-out cars. Scroll down to see 25 of the dreamiest cars you can find in a junkyard.
25 Corvette Stingray
This one's a no-brainer and is just a dream car—period. But the thing is, almost everyone wants one of these beauties, meaning you pay a premium for a clean, roadworthy Stingray. Junkyards are a lot like thrift stores, with a lot of crap hiding a few gems. You’re going to have to dig for a bit, but you can find your dream Stingray tucked away between Accords and Camrys. Yeah, it might be a bit rusted or missing a few fenders, but c’mon... it’s a Stingray. This is one of the most iconic muscle cars of all time. Its aggressive aquatic styling emptied thousands of wallets. This means there are a lot of Stingrays out there in various states of repair (or disrepair).
24 Buick Grand National
First things first—we're talking Grand Nationals produced between 1984 and 1987. These were the glory years of the Grand National/ Regal model name, as Buick was looking to capitalize on its racing success in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. For three years, these boxy coupes were offered with increasingly stupid amounts of power. 1984 marked the start of the inter-cooled Grand Nationals, opening the door for all sorts of turbo madness. Forget big block V8s—the turbo’d V6 in the Grand National was walking Corvettes and Mustangs in the mid-eighties. A muscle car without a V8 badge goes under a lot of gearheads' radars, but dropping two cylinders can save you a lot of money—and still be a lot of fun.
23 Toyota MR2
The only difference between this and a supercar is that it’s not made in Italy and that you might actually be able to afford it.
The MR2 is one of the more radical cars Toyota ever produced, with its mid-engine layout and rear-wheel-drive platform.
Yeah, that’s right—you sit in front of the motor, and the rear wheels are powered. It’s a supercar, told you. You could get the first generation supercharged and the second generation turbocharged from the factory—further proof of supercar status. The later iterations went pretty much south in terms of style, and the Spyder is atrocious. But if you can find a W10 model MR2 in a scrapyard near you, get it—right away.
22 Subaru Justy
Easily the most under-appreciated Subarus of all time, the Justy is a junkyard dream come true. This all-wheel-drive ripper never sold well in the North American market, mostly due to the CVT transmission that came in the first generation. We like gears over here. Subaru listened to the masses, and all later models came with standard automatic or manual options. The CVT farce ruined the little four-doors reputation, meaning they can be found for very cheap in plenty of scrapyards. The quirky three-cylinder motor is a puny 1.6L, but with a curb weight hovering around 900 kilos, it gives more than enough grunt to have some fun. Cheap, AWD, and high-revving, this sparky little sedan is a junkyard gem.
21 Toyota Corolla E30
This is actually a Datsun 510 in disguise, but don’t tell anyone. With an almost identical drivetrain and body lines, the E30 is the bargain basement cousin of the iconic Datsun 510. Thanks to having the Toyota name, the E30 is oft looked past as a Datsun lookalike, meaning it can be found populating junkyards across North America. The car didn't initially fare well in the North American markets, developing a reputation for being heavy and expensive. Whether these gripes are true or not, this car is definitely a great junkyard find.
The E30 was produced in the good old days of rear-wheel-drive commuter cars, making it infinitely more fun than any Honda ever.
The stock four-cylinder motors made very pedestrian power, but the aftermarket for these engines is very comprehensive. Feel like bolting some Weber carbs onto a classic Japanese car? Go for it.
20 Volvo 240 Wagon
A Volvo 240 Wagon is a road-legal tank that’s a rear-wheel drive and accepts Ford Mustang V8 drivetrains. Grandparents everywhere eventually got sick of their boxy Volvo 240 wagon and cast it away to the junkyard. Much like a Coca-Cola can, Volvos don’t rot. If anything, they age like fine wine. There are stories of the standard four-cylinder motor doing over a million miles. A million. Any 240 Wagon you can find in a junkyard is a find, but if you happen across a GLT turbo, buy a lottery ticket. This was the first time Volvo had ever used a Turbo, and they decided to put it in a wagon. The suspension was also beefed up, with technology borrowed from their touring car-racing program of the time. Next time you walk by a rusty fridge at the scrap yard, stop and take a look.
19 Nissan 240SX
This one's a no-brainer. This is the drift car. Period. Go to any drift meet on any side of the Pacific, and the 240SX will be one of the most popular cars. They were cheap and new and were produced in plentiful numbers. The only problem was, unless you wanted to do a lot of work, they were a little slow.
With Camaro and Mustang competition, the 240SX was often sent to the scrapyard before it had been run into the ground.
So if you want to do a fair bit of work, go grab a 240SX from the scrapyard because they can be so fast and so fun. If you want to stay traditional, drop some fire-breathing turbo six-cylinder in the front. Want some grunt? These babies take V8 drivetrains with little to no complaints.
18 AMC Gremlin
As soon as you look outside of the big three American automakers, you find some quirky creations. This is one of them. The name alone raises eyebrows, and then you see the trunk line on this subcompact creation. It's polarizing, but if you love it, you’re in luck. Although these were marketed as subcompacts, if you take a look at the front end, there are some seriously muscle-car-esque proportions. That’s a big ol' hood, and underneath it, there's a chance you'll find a 6.6L V8. Yeah, right—subcompact. These were drag-raced extensively, thanks to their cheap MSRP and plentiful aftermarket, meaning you'll find all sorts of hot-rodded AMCs in junkyards across the country—a true junkyard dream!
17 First-Generation Mazda Rx-7
If you have a friend who doesn’t like rotary engines, don’t be friends with them anymore. They're wrong. Very wrong. Other than horses and steam, the internal combustion is pretty much the only other technology to have propelled people. That is, until Mazda bought the patent for the Wankel rotary and spent decades perfecting the technology. Rather than heavy camshafts and clunky cylinders, a rotary is one cylinder with a spinning triangle rotor, with the gaps between the rotor and the cylinder serving as the spark, combustion, and exhaust chambers. This means that the engine's footprint is far smaller, and in the case of the RX7, the entire unit is placed behind the centerline of the front axle. Weight distribution, anyone? Through a potent combo of ignorance and arrogance, the RX7 never developed the cult following it deserved. Now is your chance.
16 Mazda 323/GLC Turbo
This is a junkyard dream for the name alone. Overseas, this Mazda was marketed as the Familia. In North America, it was sold under the GLC acronym, which, for those who are curious, means “Great Little Car.” And it is a great little car. For the very lucky ones among us, you may stumble across the South African built 323s.
These were rally-prepped from the factory, coming with beefed-up suspension and an extra powerful turbo.
Fear not—the standard GLC came with its own little turbo, so you get waste gates and turbo lag and all that fun stuff. These were also all-wheel drive, making them ideal winter beaters. Through a mix of poor marketing and blasé styling, the 323/GLC has become commonplace at scrap yards across the country.
15 Mercedes-Benz W126 500 SE
If you've ever wanted a road-legal freight train, look no further than the W126. This car is a junkyard dream because you'll most likely find it in the same condition that it left the lot. These cars don’t wear out. The body? Close the door and listen to the clunk; then, ask about body rot. The suspension? There are countless stories of this car reaching almost a million miles, on all-original springs and tie rods. You won’t drive a car for a million miles. Ever. The drivetrain? You like 3.6L turbo diesels in your Mercedes sedan? Hopefully—because that’s what makes this car so impressive. It's a high-torque, low-revving, durable diesel power in a bomb-proof body shell. Thanks, Merc.
14 Audi 200 Quattro Turbo
The number of times Audi has been banned from GT and Touring Car racing is insane. They showed up with the Quattro in the late '80s and dominated the American Trans-Am series. Bear in mind, this is a unibody sedan messing around with tube-frame Corvettes and Mustangs. The Quattro Trans-Am program lasted one year, and then, they were told to go home and never come back.
A lot of die-hard muscle-car heads detest the Quattro for what it did to their beloved American muscle.
As well, the technology from the race program carried over to the road-going versions, making these seriously quick sedans. Turbos and all-wheel drive sound good to say together, and putting both of these elements in one car is a great idea—especially when it’s in an all-conquering Audi.
13 Mazda B-Series Pickup
This thing is super cool and is easily one of the most unknown junkyard dream cars. You’ve probably never heard of this quirky little pickup—that’s a good thing. Don’t tell anyone you read about it here. In its early years, the B-Series was the world's only rotary-powered pickup truck. How’s that for cool?
In later years, the B-Series was rebadged as a Ford Courier, with Ford contracting Mazda to produce a sub-sized pickup to compete with Toyota and Datsun.
The Ford-badged models are more common here in North America but have retained a fair amount of collectability. Thankfully, the Mazda-badged numbers have largely fallen by the wayside, most often found at the end of rural driveways with a "for sale" sign.
12 Vintage Chevrolet Pickup Trucks
A half-rotted, mid-'50s Chevy pickup is the unofficial mascot of junkyards across America. They can be found in herds, slowly becoming one with the field they were left in. Grouped together by color, these steel-bodied behemoths pay no attention to the elements, refusing to crumble completely. When fully restored, this pillar piece of American vernacular sells for substantial sums. But thanks to their prevalence, the classic Chevy Pickup can be found for pennies; however, it'll most likely be in pieces. Hey, that’s fine... you’ve got two hands and a brain; you can put it back together. These trucks were designed in a golden age of durability, meaning they remain easy to work on after decades of disrepair. Not all dreams are easy, but this one is worth working on.
11 IROC-Z Camaro
In the era of global warming, it’s nice that race cars have largely been left alone. F1 cars still guzzle fuel and NASCARs are still as far as humanly possible from hybrids. This is probably because the general public knows their cars are better when cars are left alone. The IROC Z Camaro is an excellent case study. The International Race of Champions (IROC) series was insane; the best drivers from around the world came to the States to drive spec cars at a bunch of tracks across the US. Mental stuff. The Camaro was the series’ choice of car from 1975-1980 and 1984-1989, and they didn't want to let anyone down. The Camaros with the IROC designation appear largely the same from the outside, but underneath are different beasts. Race-tuned suspension, larger engines, and tighter transmissions mean you're essentially buying a factory-prepped sleeper.
10 Honda Civic Type-R
A great example of Honda cracking the code for a fun car, the Type-R is THE Civic, with a slew of factory go-fast pieces. If you've ever driven on a road anywhere, you've definitely seen a Civic. They’re like Mosquitos—buzzy and everywhere. The Type-R isn't as populous as the common Civic, but it still exists in vast numbers. It also takes most standard Honda bits with no complaints, so you get to shop from one of the largest aftermarkets for any car.
The Type-R came with extra welds in the body, meaning it holds up better to the elements.
The body styling is mostly alike to the standard Civic, so you have to be hawk-eyed to spot the Type-R gem amongst mountains of Swiss-cheese Civics.
9 Toyota AE86/Trueno
Another entry into the “Japanese car that should've dominated the market but didn’t” journal. The AE86, or Trueno, is probably the perfect sports car. It doesn’t have a ton of power, but it revs high and weighs literally nothing. You can also put turbos the size of your face on the stock 4A with only some problems if you feel like going idiot fast. It’s rear-wheel drive, which is truly the only way a car should be laid out. Exceptions can be made for 4WD. It was also marketed as a commuter car, so it wasn’t that expensive new. The GTS spec models are the ideal but are tough to come by in North America. Really, though, any light rear-wheel-drive car that’s cheap is a dream come true.
8 Plymouth Barracuda
Out of the air and into the sea. I guess people really liked animals in the '70s. Or the model names are all part of an umbrella Pony-car pun. Who knows? What's known is Barracudas look sick. Just say the word. You feel fast and a little scared. That's what a muscle car should do to you.
If you can find one intact, the greenhouse tacked onto the back of the first-generation Barracudas is an astounding piece of styling and glass-blowing.
Later years took on the more standard aggressive cardboard-box styling of '70s muscle cars and upfront followed the trends with a big-block HEMI V8. Also, the grille kind of looks like shark gills, which is probably the coolest styling cue ever on a car.
7 Acura Integra Type-R Third Generation
This one's for you, North America, because the rest of the world doesn’t get Acuras. Who would buy a Honda Integra anyway? The thing with Integras is that they're not all made the same. The discrepancy in power—and inherently fun—between generations can be massive. You’re going to want a third-generation Integra for your dreams to come true—an R-Type, if you can. As previously discussed, as soon as Honda/Acura puts the R-Type designation on a car, they aren’t fooling around. The third generation of Integras saw a substantial jump in horsepower, and the R-Type came stock with a frankly unreasonable 195 hp in a 1,100-kilo car. A Type-R Acura is much less known than an R-Type Honda, meaning there's a much better chance of an R-badged Acura waiting for you at your local scrapyard.
6 Ford Econoline Van
Vans don’t look good anymore, which is truly upsetting because they can look so good. The Ford Econoline or E-Series was produced from 1960-2014, but all we care about here are the golden years between 1968-1974. For this decade and a bit, Ford had the van formula figured out. With a big burly grille, efficient and strangely sexy breadbox styling, and, of course, the choice of a 4.9L V8, these vans were built to a spec no normal person deserves, seen as they toss these trucks into junkyards everywhere. Much like the Chevy Pickup, the Econoline doesn’t go away. That much steel isn’t going to disappear overnight; nor will NOS parts and aftermarket options for one of America's largest automakers. Now, you can start the contracting company you've always wanted to and look really good while doing it.
5 Dodge Sprinter
This is a Mercedes, but don’t tell anyone you know that. These sold for a few years in North America, with most models being purchased with the more expensive Mercedes emblem and trim package. All of these vans were started in Mercedes’s German factory before being shipped for final assembly in South Carolina. Then, a coin was probably tossed to decide between putting a ram or a three-pointed star on the hood.
These are some of the most versatile vans ever produced, with an Ikea-sized catalog of options and configurations.
Extended roof caps to allow standing room are one of the most clever features available to add, as is a 3L turbo-diesel engine—because turbos are cool, especially in vans you can stand up in.
4 Pontiac Firebird
This picture came off a website called “Barn Finds,” and yes, this was found in a barn. Dreams do come true apparently. The Firebird or "Fire Chicken," as some have come to call it, is one of the less sensational muscle cars. You probably have an uncle who owns one from the mid-'90s (yikes), but you should be the cool relative who finds one from the '70s at the scrapyard.
The Firebird was part of GM’s two-pronged attack on the Pony-car market, the Flaming Chicken offering more aggressive styling than the Camaro and, in later years, endless numbers of special-trim editions.
Beneath the speedy-looking bonnet, this car is largely identical to a Camaro, meaning you can expect a giant aftermarket and dead-nuts reliability from this fowl roadster.
3 Toyota Cressida
The last JDM dreamer on this list, the Cressida, perhaps doesn’t come to mind as a junkyard dream. Take a closer look, and the horizon opens up. First off, it’s rear-wheel drive, essential for any dream car. Secondly, it’s a Toyota, so you have an absolute wonderland of an aftermarket to pick from. The biggest bummer is that North American Cressidas came exclusively with automatic transmissions, a true crime against Western motorists. It’s unlikely you're going to find a JDM spec Cressida in a junkyard; it’s probably having its neck wrung as a drift car somewhere in the world. Don’t let an auto tranny get in the way of this JDM sedan dream because it's stopped plenty of other people, meaning, you should be the smart one to scoop this deal up.
2 Jaguar XJ6
It’s true—Jaguars go the junkyard as well. In particular, a lot of the late '80s to the early 2000s XJ6s. Why? Well, they aren’t the most stylish vehicle. Nor are they particularly quick, not to talk down a 300 hp supercharged V12. The thing is, most of us will never own a Jag. A junkyard is a great backdrop to appraise a Jaguar in; everything looks cheaper when it's surrounded by garbage. Yeah, parts may be pricey, and yeah, it's probably going to need a lot of them, but it’s a Jaguar. In a junkyard. You’re dreaming. But don’t pinch yourself. A little bit of elbow grease, some internet education, and a bunch of free weekends is a great recipe for a make-your-own-Jaguar. Now, go find the XJ6 to start with.
1 Mercury Bobcat
If it hasn’t exploded yet, you probably aren’t going to die. Besides, it’s technically not a Ford anyway, so you should be a little safer.
The Mercury Bobcat is the rebadged and much better-named cousin of the explosive Ford Pinto, the ones that also had sticky accelerators in the first year.
Yeah, those ones. The Bobcat didn’t come about until Ford had dealt with most of the car's fatal errors, and customers were delivered a sporty V6 subcompact coupe with unique styling and enough power to have a good time. It’s a scaled-down muscle car, which keeps the weight and the handling more manageable than most V8 bobsleds. The Bobcat never gained the notoriety of the Pinto, meaning plenty were shipped off to the junkyard when the even cooler-named Mercury Lynx debuted in 1981.
Sources: thetruthaboutcars.com; barnfinds.com; bringatrailer.com