Perry County might be described as the Rodney Dangerfield of Pennsylvania. It gets no respect. It’s not uncommon to hear people in the nearby state capital of Harrisburg talking down about the rural nature of the countryside upriver. It’s hardly the first place we’d expect to find a thriving German-car dismantling business; however, such a place exists, and the discovery had us doing a spit-take of our Starbucks when we found it advertised in the local newspaper.
In fairness, Central Pennsylvania is actually an area with a lot of German roots. Many Teutonic transplants set up homes here generations ago and the nearby Autohaus Audi, VW and Porsche dealer in Lancaster, PA was one of the original VW franchises when the brand officially went on sale in the States. This is why you’ll see a VW enthusiast show on any given weekend in the central and eastern regions of PA or find little stand-alone independent repair shops like Harrisburg’s Wolfe’s VW and marque-focused parts yards like Allentown’s L&T Enterprises.
Perry County, though? That’s even off the map for VW fanatics. VWvortex maintains an East Coast office within 40 miles of the parts yard in question, and yet we were, as you now know, surprised. We generally know who’s who in the VW business community and had never heard of the place – specifically, Arrow Auto in Liverpool.
Even worse, this wasn’t a new marketing onslaught from the little German car parts yard overlooking the Susquehanna River. It seems the proprietor had passed and the entire business was part of an estate auction. Sixteen acres of property, random machinery, and thousands of parts cars all with salvage titles were to be auctioned off. And, with such a big number of wrecks, it was advertised that all cars would go in lots of five vehicles.
Like many who heard about the auction or are reading this, we were especially curious. Unless you’re in the business (and likely even if you are) relocating five parts cars that are likely picked over and probably aren’t even rollers would be no simple task, even if someone was giving them away. Nevertheless, it was only a 40-mile drive. We were drawn to the event like a moth to a flame.
Making the trek north along the Susquehanna, we began to understand some of the cliché jokes. Roadside businesses along the highway there were mostly truck stops, along with one trading post and a collection of porn stores sporting signs that boasted ‘comfortable viewing booths’ and specials on things like the ‘Flesh Light’.
The address plugged into our Audi’s navigation system was not exactly the place where there would have appeared to be any parts yard or auction. However, with little place to turn around, we kept heading north and quickly found a spot where the highway was packed on one side with pickups, rollbacks, and a mix of VWs owned by spectators and participants in the auction. This was the place, clearly.
After parking precariously on the same side of the road as so many others had, we dodged jake-braking truckers snarling by as we made our way to the yard’s main gate.
A crowd of people was massed around the auctioneer who began with the sale of the property and buildings – a garage here or there and a swell looking double-wide. Bidding had stalled around $100,000 – not a bad deal for 16 hillside acres that would be riverfront were it not for a highway in between. We weren’t here for land though, so we made our way out into the yard and began snapping photos, keeping our eyes peeled for the random rare finds.
We’ve always felt there’s something macabre about looking at wrecked cars. Sure, there’s the opportunity they provide in the many parts they might offer for the current project or restoration du jour, but seeing a mangled vintage car can also be very depressing, Cash for Clunkers be damned.
On this hillside there was no shortage of the promise of parts or the wasted potential of a few mangled classics. Some, like a Type III Karmann-Ghia shell were ready to be towed away, displaying the promise that they might live to see another day. Others, like a Porsche 914 with its spine massively bent and broken in two locations, just made us want to weep.
An Audi 80 with rare single piece 4×108 BBS wheels in bad need of refinishing made us wish we’d found the yard before it had closed. Interesting yes, but it was not worth buying five parts cars for a set of wheels.
Cars like the 80 made us wonder how many of the carcasses were enthusiast-owned at one time. One GTI still had a peeling ‘Driver Found’ decal on the window. More like driver lost. Another oddball Mk 2 had a rare European single round grille – cracked, explaining why it hadn’t been snagged long ago.
The grounds were filled with others visitors surveying the hundreds of cars. Even at five to a lot, bidders might very well have remained here into the evening. And as you might expect on any given day at any given parts yard, we found the crowd more diverse than the cars. There was the young dad and his boy surveying for parts, an old hippie seeking any VW Things in the yard. There were the guys with Russian accents and another guy who, after seeing we had a camera, insisted we get a shot of a bumper sticker on the back of an old Jetta that said “Show Me Your Tits, Win a Balloon”. We didn’t want to argue with him. It was easier to just take the shot.
A few rows over from the ‘Win a Balloon’ Jetta, we found a relatively rust free and straight ’64 Beetle convertible shell where we were snapping some shots when another old hippie, rather biblically, came down from the mountain. He leaned his walking stick against the ’64 and proclaimed that someone had bought the entire kit and caboodle. Seems a man in a newfangled white Tahoe had bought it all- lock, stock and barrel. He supposedly nabbed the salvage license, the land, the cars and yes, even the double wide, for $270,000 according to the proclamation of this junkyard Moses.
If this was indeed the case, we didn’t want our Audi to be the lone car on the side of the highway, so we made a hasty retreat back to the main entrance. Turns out the hippie was right. To the chagrin of all of the deal-seekers combing the yard for parts cars, the hulks would not be sold in lots of five today. We never were able to confirm the sale price, but heard that the new owner bought it as an investment and was looking for a tenant. With luck, maybe the yard will reopen. If it does, we’ll likely go buy those BBS wheels and will certainly pass on the word. Who knows, you might find that rare obsolete part you’ve been seeking and, at the very least, we hear you can get a great deal on a Flesh Light up that way.
Check out more photos of the many parts cars that were set to be auctioned via the gallery button below.
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