Abandoned Cars & Trucks – The Unusual Beauty of Decay

There is something both beautiful and tragic about abandoned vehicles. Much like abandoned houses, a subject that has piqued my interest in the past, abandoned cars and trucks frequently leave one wondering… Why?

Why was this car or truck simply abandoned to rust and rot?

Why has it been sitting there for so long that nature has begun to reclaim it?

Why wouldn’t someone have taken this away for the scrap metal it contains?

Although not as sentimental as abandoned homes, these discarded and forgotten vehicles are still a little sad. The combination of metal, glass, and decay results in some visually stunning images.

Why are we fascinated with abandoned cars?

Perhaps it stems from how important my first car was to me. The freedom that a car represented, allowing me to go places and do things on my own for the first time in my life. That’s why, regardless of how bad a beat-up lemon it is, owning your first car has become part of the ritual of entering adulthood. It’s a sense of freedom that we should never lose.

Maybe it’s because I grew up watching classic movies. Who can forget the films Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Herbie the Love Bug? Both of these films revolved around abandoned cars that were resurrected and displayed a sense of magic. A sort of magic that made every child – or maybe just me – want to find, rescue, and befriend an abandoned car.

Perhaps it’s memories from a simpler time, when I’d spend hours in the backseat of the family station wagon on road trips that seemed to last forever.

True, cars are far more functional than houses. They are typically used to get us from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Alternatively, depending on how fancy the car is or how much it costs, they can be used as a status symbol.

And we rarely form emotional attachments to our vehicles. Do we, or don’t we?

Even today, some of us name them. Betsy was the name of the car my mother had when I was a child. Age eventually took its toll on her, as it does on all of us, and she became known as Old Betsy.

The Car I Grew Up In

Betsy wasn’t particularly attractive. She wasn’t even the most dependable vehicle on the planet. But she was our gateway to the outside world. She brought the groceries home. She took us to school. She took us on family outings to fun places. She even drove us all the way to Florida and back.

Besty was your run-of-the-mill suburban station wagon. The kind with the very far back seat that pointed backward so you could see the cars coming at you. You occasionally waved to other drivers. You used to play games with license plate numbers. You used to make silly faces at people driving by.

Old Betsy was a vintage station wagon like this one from Reddit

Old Betsy was eventually replaced by a new vehicle as we grew. And I’m pretty sure my mother also named that one. But, for some reason, I don’t remember what she named it. I only remember Betsy and will always remember her.

I’d probably find and rescue Old Betty from the scrap heap where she eventually ended up. Not because I need a beat-up old station wagon from the 1970s, but because that car meant everything to us when we were younger.

Vintage station wagon that was uncovered by winter storms in Morro Bay, CA Sand Spit. Reported to have been stalled & been abandoned in 1973. Photo by Mike Baird on Flickr.

Winter storms uncovered this abandoned and decaying version of what Old Betsy might have looked like on the beach in Morro Bay, California.

My Very First Car

I had the same reaction to my first car. That car, a 1975 Plymouth Gran Fury, was a big, beautiful machine. I recall rolling down all of the windows with a hand crank, cranking up the music, and driving down the highway. There were days when I felt like I could go anywhere and do anything in that car. I was liberated. I was in my early twenties. I was unbeatable.

My first car was a 1975 Plymouth Gran Fury, similar to this one from Flickr but mine was white with a burgundy roof.

I never gave her a name. It simply wasn’t the cool thing to do at the time. But she was a fantastic vehicle.

She had her eccentricities, no doubt. Something had gone wrong with the ignition’s locking mechanism, so I had the option of replacing it – a cost my young self could not afford – or simply removing the locking mechanism. This meant that the vehicle could be started without the use of a key.

To keep everyone from noticing this peculiarity, whenever I was driving someone else around (which I did quite frequently because I was one of the few people in my group of friends who had a car), I would put the keys in the ignition and pretend that I needed them. Unfortunately, because there was nothing inside to hold the keys in place, they would fly out every time I turned a sharp corner.

I was 16 years old at the time, so I took a LOT of sharp turns.

Although not the same year, this gives us an idea of what my ’75 Plymouth Gran Fury could look like today if it had been left to decay. Photo source: copart.com

Even as I grew older, I still have fond memories of the cars I’ve owned, both good and bad. And, whether we liked or disliked them, they all provided us with entertaining stories to tell.

The Worst Car… EVER!

An ’85 Dodge Caravan was one of the worst cars I ever owned. It was gold in color, but not in style, dependability, comfort, fuel economy, or environmental friendliness. The minivan quickly became a necessity of parenthood, but the good ones were out of our price range. So we went with The Beast.

The Beast was an ’85 Dodge Caravan and looked a lot like this one from Allpar.com, only this one appears to be in better shape.

The Beast did not like to waste time. That meant you had to shift into neutral at every red light and maintain a higher RPM until the light turned green. The Beast also disliked running cold, so keeping it warm in the winter was essential. And the beast enjoyed blowing huge clouds of dark smoke when it warmed up, making the morning ritual anything but enjoyable.

Every morning, I had to play the game of starting the beast, quickly driving the beast out of the underground while the engine was still cold and before the entire car park filled with exhaust fumes, parking the best outside, and idling the beast until the engine warmed up enough so it wouldn’t chug out and die on the road. Once this ritual was finished, the family could enter the beast safely and we’d be on our way.

The beast’s sliding door didn’t always like to latch shut, so it would occasionally fly open on us while we were in transit.

And The Beast detested turning left. It was a minor “don’t make me do that” at first. It eventually became a major “if you try to turn left, I will break down, and you will be stuck in the middle of the intersection in front of oncoming traffic” warning.

As a result, for about a year, every left turn required three right turns to complete.

The Beast eventually died. A complete, total, and utter death. I can’t say I was sad when it died, but I can say that I still enjoy telling stories about The Beast and what we had to do as a family to get by when we were young and broke.

Unfortunately, the abandoned junkyard versions look about the same as I remember the van looking when I drove it, so there’s no reason to go back there. While some abandoned cars are beautiful, there are times when they pose an environmental or safety risk. In these cases, it is usually best to simply contact a service that removes non-functional vehicles and have it removed.

But, in the end, I believe we become emotionally attached to our cars.

Perhaps this is why some of these abandoned cars aren’t really “abandoned,” but rather planted somewhere where they can “Rust in Peace,” as the sign says.

Abandoned & Decaying Cars Create a Visual Spectacle

When I think of abandoned cars, those that have been lost and forgotten by time, I don’t envision a 2002 Buick parked by the side of the road. I can’t imagine the ’85 Dodge Caravan sitting around rusting even more than it was when we drove it.

I’m referring to vintage car relics that have rusted and decayed to the point where it’s difficult to imagine what it looked like when it was still in use.

They can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places. A wide open field. A quarry’s floor. In the middle of a river. And sometimes they can be found sitting where they belong but have been forgotten about, such as those left inside an equally abandoned garage.

Not long ago, I read about a family who inherited an old farm, only to discover a treasure trove of vintage cars that had been sitting on the property, forgotten about, for nearly 50 years.

A collection of vintage cars worth more than $15 million was left on Roger Billon’s farm in France for 50 years, only to be discovered by his grandchildren years after his death.
Although the majority of those vehicles were salvageable, the majority of the ones that struck a photographic nerve – the ones that created the most intriguing images – are far beyond repair.

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