[Paleopsych] NYT: A New Fin for a '59 Cadillac? It's Online
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Fri Jan 28 16:09:28 UTC 2005
A New Fin for a '59 Cadillac? It's Online
January 28, 2005
By TIM SULTAN
YOU still see them from time to time on the streets, these diners on
wheels: Skylarks, Meteors, Fairlanes and Falcons with their gleaming
chrome and their vinyl interiors. If there is one thing to know about
the owners of these vintage cars, it is that they are people of faith
faith that truck drivers will give those side mirrors a wide berth,
that messengers will slip their bicycles past those precious
taillights with care, that window-smashing vandals will let out an
appreciative whistle and walk on.
The owners must have faith, because finding replacement parts can be
murder. Hours of trawling a salvage yard can turn up nothing, and
ordering parts sight-unseen through an ad is a gamble: chrome hood
ornaments can turn out to be heavily pitted, interior lamp bezels
But now the guesswork is being taken out of parts-hunting, thanks to
the greatest salvage yard of all: the Internet. Junkyards across the
country are putting together photographic databases of their wrecks,
making it easy to find all kinds of arcane auto parts.
All American Classics in Vancouver, Wash., runs one such virtual
junkyard. It has begun photographing its 3,000 cars for its site,
allamericanclassics.com. "Although we have had the most success
through car-part.com, a search engine that allows buyers to scan
our inventory for parts, putting up pictures of our cars has attracted
buyers, for sure," said Todd Toedtli, the manager of All American.
Other well-known junkyards like Desert Valley Auto Parts in Phoenix
(azclassics .com) and CTC's Autoranch (ctcautoranch .com) in Denton,
Tex., also have limited virtual tours of their wrecks.
And Anna McCormick, the manager of Classic Ford (classicford.com)
in East Dixfield, Me., said that her salvage yard had an even more
ambitious plan. "We sent about 800 cars to the crusher this fall, and
we are now in the process of photographing the millions of parts that
we'd stripped," she said. "We'll have our entire stock available on
our Web site by June."
Perhaps the most absorbing of the salvage Web sites belongs to Sunman
Classic Ford (sunmanford.net) in Seminole, Okla. Sunman's
individual portraits of wrecked 50's, 60's and 70's cars sitting in a
barren landscape are not just useful; they can be mesmerizing. A 1965
Ford Ranch Wagon, for example, with a good-size tree growing through
the engine block. A 1964 Mercury Monterey, ready for its close-up, its
headlights painted jungle red. A 1960 Dodge Pioneer, brown with
surface rust, being admired by a herd of brown cows. A 1963 Cadillac
Fleetwood sitting in high prairie grass capable of inspiring a Walker
The archivist and founder of Sunman Ford is Sam Arrington, a salvage
lifer who named his yard after an imaginary personage from his
boyhood. "The Sunman was a guardian figure that appeared in my
childhood dreams," he said. "And I feel that he's still either keeping
me out of trouble or retrieving me from it."
Though Mr. Arrington opened his 40-acre lot only five years ago, he
had been stockpiling old cars for years. "I started buying up cars
during scavenging trips," he said. "They were considered nothing but
crush meal. I knew the area from being a fender and bumper man in
Buffalo. This had involved driving out to Oklahoma, New Mexico and
Texas in my International Harvester and buying up rust-free bumpers,
fenders and gas tanks for $5 to $10 and reselling them back in Buffalo
MR. ARRINGTON set up his business in rural south-central Oklahoma.
"When I arrived in this part of the country," he said, "the oil fields
had collapsed, and Seminole was a ghost town. It still is like the
Twilight Zone around here."
The drawback to starting a business in a ghost town is that there is
not exactly a lot of drive-through traffic. (The nearest town is
Bowlegs, Okla., population 372.) So Mr. Arrington, who now runs the
business with his wife, Cynthia, turned to the Web. "Even back in the
1980's when I started buying up Fords, I dreamed of the Internet, or
at least something like a satellite connection that'd make a
specialized business like mine possible."
What began as a modest yard now has an international reach. Requests
for parts come from as far away as Sweden and Australia, thanks to a
link on the Ford Galaxie Club of Australia's Web site.
"The Swedes are stateside now, driving around, collecting Mercury
parts," Mr. Arrington said. "They're into Park Lanes pretty heavily.
Pretty soon you'll have to go to Sweden for Mercury parts."
Mr. Arrington confirmed what other salvage yards with Web sites also
say they are experiencing: the great expansion of a business that was
once fairly localized.
"All of our cars are Arizona cars," said Shea Larimer at Desert
Valley, "but our customers are nearly all out-of-state, often from
places like Minnesota, where they use a lot of salt in the winter.
Only place I can think of we haven't had any calls from yet is Iraq."
Mr. Toedtli of All American said: "We get collectors all the time from
far-off places who otherwise would never have heard of us. We just
sold a '63 S.S. Impala 409 to a buyer in Scandinavia who found us on
the Web. He sent someone over to pick it up. This guy was driving
across the country, collecting salvage cars and shipping them back to
Europe. When he got here and was standing in our office, we had
another call from over there, and it turned out the two knew each
other. It's either a small world, or old American cars are big in
Another auto restorer who found Mr. Toedtli's yard through the Web is
Michael Golter of Scotland, S.D. "You know the Johnny Cash song `One
Piece at a Time'?" Mr. Golter said. "That's the story of my life. I
had picked up a '51 Cadillac Coupe de Ville shell at a local junkyard,
and the grille, bumpers and hood ornament in St. Paul. This is a rare
car, and you have to get the parts when you can. I searched the Web,
and within a day found out that All American had the fender skirt,
rear window glass and deck lid I needed."
After All American sent Mr. Golter multiple close-up photos of the
Caddy parts, "it made my week," he said. "It's a little like creating
Frankenstein's monster finding a part here, a part there but I have to
say that there is nothing like taking a dead thing and bringing it
back to life."
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