A niche hobby on the internet has been slowly growing lately as internet speeds and digital cameras become advanced enough to capture and share the joy that comes from finding rare old cars in junkyards. But rare old cars in junkyards have been part of the automobile world ever since the first cars started rolling down roads almost a century and a half ago.
The fact that cars, trucks, and SUVs constantly deteriorate, break down, and suffer from neglect and mistreatment is a reality that every enthusiast hopes to counteract—sadly, though, most gearheads have neither the time nor the resources to keep every car they own, much less keep them in roadworthy condition. An even less common occurrence, due to the serious commitment required, is the restoration of former junkyard rust-heaps.
But with vehicular transportation (still) increasingly widespread across the globe, the sheer volume of cars that will end up in junkyards is only continuing to grow. Most cars sold around the world over are economical commuters, though, and most cars left to rot and rust away in junkyards are therefore bland and boring.
Still, just about every junkyard houses a few rare and special cars that are bound to get pulses thumping when discovered by enthusiasts and photographers. Though restoration dreams may live on in the hearts of every car lover, most rare junkyard finds sadly remain beyond repair.
25 Pontiac GTO
Plenty of cars end up out in fields behind houses, in sheds, and stuck under piles of hay in barns. The sad fact is that plenty of owners don't even come close to maintaining their cars well enough to keep them roadworthy for more than five or ten years.
This Pontiac GTO has suffered plenty at the hands of the elements in the decades since it was parked and forgotten, but there's a good chance the only reason it ever got dropped off in the first place is that an early owner was simply negligent.
24 Porsche 928 Movie Car
Porsche surprised the world when they unveiled the front-mounted, water-cooled engine for their potential 911 replacement, the 928. The 928 and its lower-spec siblings, the 944 and 924, never managed to supplant the rear-engined, air-cooled dreaminess of the 911, but today, enthusiasts are starting to realize just how awesome they can be as touring cars.
The exterior design is certainly divisive, yet no other car looks anything like it—and Hollywood took notice. Like the model that featured in Risky Business with Tom Cruise, this 928 is a movie car, complete with some added makeup for a bit of flair.
23 Chevrolet Camaro RS
Back in the second half of the 1960s, car-buyers were spoiled for choice if they wanted a sweet ride with plenty of power under the hood. And though it would have been hard to go with any option package when ordering a Chevrolet Camaro, the SS was still, undoubtedly, the way to go.
With SS values skyrocketing today, the time seems ripe for the RS to float upwards, as well—unfortunately, this rusting example looks beyond salvaging. Its (former) owner probably thought no collector would ever be interested in a lower-spec Camaro.
22 Chevrolet Corvette C3
When the third generation of Chevrolet Corvette hit dealer showrooms for the 1968 model year, fans of the model must have been foaming at the mouth over the radical exterior styling that revealed a true path forward for the upcoming 1970s. Unfortunately, the C3 also received a bunch of new engine options for the new era, and just about every single one proved to be a disappointment.
A couple of super rare big block V8s could crank out respectable figures north of 300 horsepower, but the rest of the lineup that was attainable for most folks could barely crack 200 horses.
21 Acura NSX
Not every car that finds its way into junkyards around the world is an old classic. Much like vintage beauties get left to rot away when their owners stop loving them quite enough, more modern cars suffer from neglect, as well.
And that neglect can take the form of a momentary distraction while driving—and in the case of this 1990s Acura NSX, a moment of carelessness behind the wheel has led to a lifetime atop a pile of parts in a junkyard in Japan.
20 Porsche 911
Here we see a few examples of the car that set Porsche up for decades of motoring success. Yes, the 365 introduced the world to the true potential of a lightweight, rear-engined sports car that shared many qualities with that ultimate commuter, the VW Beetle, but the 911 took things a leap forward when it debuted in 1963.
In continuous production ever since as Porsche's established workhorse (if not flagship, depending on whether supercars like the Carrera GT count), owning a vintage, air-cooled 911 is a dream harbored close to the vest by even the staunchest muscle car aficionado.
19 Jaguar XK-E
Known as the E-Type for the rest of the world, this model was shipped by Jaguar badged as the XK-E for the United States market. However it's known, this used to be among the ranks of the most beautiful, wonderful cars ever built—so much so that none other than Enzo Ferrari is often quoted as saying that the E-Type is the most beautiful car ever made.
With an inline six or a V12 under that long, low hood, and available in coupe, convertible, and 2+2 layouts, the E-Type has sparked many a boyhood imagination, and plenty of life-long obsession.
18 Datsun 280Z
Few cars have enjoyed the lifespan of Datsun's (and later, Nissan's) Z-Cars. But with a recipe that combines great looks, a smooth inline-six engine, rear-wheel drive, and nimble handling, what's not to love.
Plenty of drivers still daily drive their early 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z, but this later 280Z clearly suffered from a lack of attention at the hands of its owner. Its tires may be holding air, but this poor Z looks to be cowering in fear as the parts scavengers circle ever closer.
17 Toyota Supra
The Fast and the Furious brought imports and tuning culture to the forefront of automotive life in the United States when it hit theaters in 2001, but in reality, Japan had been cranking out some awesome, powerful, and most of all, lightweight sports cars for decades—most of the models just tended to be rare in this country.
Case in point are the epic Nissan Skyline GT-R and the first few generations of the Toyota Supra. This Supra has definitely seen better days, though it doesn't look entirely beyond saving (unlike the rotary-powered Mazda RX-8 in the background).
16 Audi Coupe GT
While Audi was busy taking the rally world to task with their powerful lineup of turbocharged inline-five Quattro cars—which deservedly remain in the pantheon of most awesome cars ever made—they also released the same body style in front-wheel-drive form.
Known mostly as the Coupe GT, these cars featured a smaller engine shared with the contemporary Volkswagen Golf GTI (or a detuned inline-five, later on in the model run). Though they're not as sought after, the many shared parts with their higher-spec siblings explains why this rare Coupe GT has clearly been stripped so desperately.
15 Custom Porsche
This custom Porsche shares features of some of the classic 1970s and 80s style that Porsche's products inhabited so well. The things that pop out are the slant-nose front fenders, those enormous side scoops, and the Targa top.
What model is this? Sadly, probably not a real 911, most likely a highly-customized 914, as the most difficult thing to change would have been the B pillars and Targa top. Regardless, if the engine received the same kind of work as the rest of the car, this Porsche could have been some serious fun—perhaps too much fun for whoever was driving it.
14 BMW 700 Coupe
BMW wasn't always a brand that strictly produced performance vehicles, although to be fair, in the final year of the 1950s, their 700 model wasn't too shabby. By 1965, though, the 700 and its rear-mounted flat-twin weren't even close to the cars being produced by Detroit.
The 700 was designed and manufactured with economy and style in mind and would be the last economy car BMW ever built. Seeing one in a junkyard is about as rare as seeing one on the street, where the horsepower output would seem downright frightening.
13 MG MGB GT
An MG MGB GT should always come in racing green—MG would have done their customers a favor if that was the only color they'd ever offered the car in from the beginning.
The original color of this forlorn MGB GT, however, is hard to say for certain. Possibly white, orange, maybe yellow? Any paint scheme is unlikely to last long being baked under the hot sun while dust and dry rot start to chew away at a car from the inside out.
12 Mercedes-Benz Ponton
Mercedes-Benz has always remained committed to luxury and class, even nowadays when their sedans and wagons border on supercar performance levels. Back in the early 1950s, they were already pioneering the safety features which, along with legendary reliability stats by the 1970s and 80s, would establish the brand as one of the world's premier companies.
The Ponton debuted in 1953 as the first car ever to feature purpose-built crumple zones to absorb impacts at the front and rear, and with Benz's quality, it's surprising this Ponton ended up in a junkyard without one (or both) of those crumple zones being crumpled.
11 Nissan Pulsar GTI-R
Domestic drivers probably won't recognize this little Nissan, but the hot hatch is one of the cars that helped to spark a phenomenon that is still continuing to this day on the RoW (Rest of World) market. The Pulsar GTI-R (also known as the Sunny GTI-R in Europe) was a homologation special of a rally racing car that employed a turbocharged, 2.0-liter engine pumping 227 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels.
With a curb weight of 2,690 pounds, those figures are pretty solid, especially for a car produced from 1990 to 1994. Now legal for import to the US thanks to the 25-year rule, hopefully, any enthusiast can find a better example than this one to ship across the Pacific.
10 Jaguar XJS
There's an old saying that advises Jaguar buyers to wait until they can afford to buy two cars at once since one of them is likely going to be in the shop at any given time. Though this XJS may have been the exception to the rule (it's equally as likely that it wasn't), it still ended up in the same place that many Jags built in the 1990s have already found themselves.
While Jaguar may be in the midst of a renaissance these days, it remains to be seen whether their notorious reliability issues have gone by the wayside.
9 Dodge Rampage
There have been, perhaps, a surprising number of car-truck mashups to hit the streets over the last few decades following the success of the Chevrolet El Camino. But even few gearheads realize that Ford's Ranchero was actually released before the Chevy. Dodge got into the game, albeit much later, with the Rampage.
Sadly, though Dodge is known for beefy Hemis today, the Ranchero received a pitiful, 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that sent power to the front wheels. It certainly couldn't compete with either the El Camino or the Ranchero, and instead was left in a realm occupied by the all-wheel-drive Subaru BRAT and the hilarious Volkswagen Rabbit Sportruck.
8 Bricklin SV-1
This strange-looking car may seem like a kit built by a backyard amateur more than anything else, but the Bricklin SV-1 was actually a real car built by a real car company. Still, it's the rarest car on this list—though percentage-wise, its probably got the fewest still driving around on the roads today.
Bricklin hoped to introduce a composite body and unique impact bumpers plus gullwing doors and either an AMC or Ford V8, but a combination of poor quality control, price increases, supplier shortages, and even nepotism are credited with cutting the production run short at just under 3,000 units.
7 Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac's long and storied history is populated by massive market hits that are offset by an enormous quantity of stupendous flops. The Fiero undoubtedly belongs in the later category—though its failure could have been easily avoided. Instead of creating a lightweight, mid-engined sports car, Pontiac released the Fiero with a heavy body, a weak engine, and build quality reminiscent of a sand castle.
While Fieros have a bit of a cult following today, and are frequently used as the basis for kit-car replica builds, most have ended up like this one, falling apart in junkyards.
6 Ferrari Testarossa Replica
At first glance, this fading yellow car looks like a Ferrari Testarossa. But further inspection reveals that those side vents don't quite match the actual production vents that Testarossas left Maranello with.
All the primer, bondo, and bodywork also point to this being an ill-treated replica project, and perhaps the reason it's sitting in a junkyard is that the owner realized halfway through that nothing they could do, short of entirely starting over, was going to make this car look like a real Ferrari.
5 Alfa Romeo Spider Series 3
Alfa Romeo is having a resurgence in the United States these days, thanks largely to the impressive Giulia Quadrifoglio and its Ferrari-sourced, twin-turbocharged V6 engine that pumps out 503 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. But don't forget about Alfa's 4C coupe, a carbon-fiber two-seater that debuted in 2013.
The 4C is the nearer heir to Alfa Romeo's famous Spider model, which was in production for almost 30 years, from 1966 to 1994. Despite the long life, Spiders like this Series 3 are still rare to see today—probably because of sub-par build quality that left many in junkyards quite quickly.
4 Porsche Boxster
Probably the newest car on this list, the Porsche Boxster nonetheless remains a divisive reputation among sports car enthusiasts. Sure, it has a water-cooled engine with a crucial IMS bearing flaw to go along with styling that might seem a little dated today—but name another performance car that can match a first-gen Boxster for the price on the secondhand market.
Plenty of P-Car fans are starting to realize that Boxsters are serious steals, so it comes as no surprise that this one has clearly been gone over for parts with a fine-tooth comb.
3 Porsche 914
Before the Porsche Boxster—and even before the controversial, four-cylinder 944—the 914 continued Porsche's commitment to offering a base-package sports car with minimal amenities but plenty of smiles per gallon potential.
Porsche owners love to brag that a claimed 75% of P-Cars are still on the road today, but among that list, the 914 probably maintains the lowest percentage of survivors thanks to its notorious rust and rot issues, ultra lightweight construction, and a few VW-sourced flat-four engines that just barely cut the mustard.
2 Sunfire-based Lambo Replica
If this car looks strange to eagle-eyed readers, that's because it is a strange replica with build quality that looks perfect for a junkyard—all built on top of a car that was already perfect for a junkyard.
The Pontiac Sunfire is definitely a strange choice for a platform to start a Lamborghini replica project, and much like many unfinished backyard builds, maybe the owner realized the folly of their decision and decided that enduring through to a finished product would just be too much work.
Rolls-Royce is up there with Porsche as a couple of brands that can claim that most of the cars that they've built over their long production history are still in roadworthy condition.
With Porsche, build quality and collector enthusiasm are probably the most significant factors; with Rolls, the build quality probably isn't quite the same, but the sheer wealth of the brand's typical consumer means that paying humongous sums of money to a mechanic (probably an in-house staffer) in order to keep the chauffeur behind the wheel seems like mere chump change.
Sources: Jalopnik, Wikipedia, and Car and Driver.