David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
8/17/09 10:21 a.m.

Most people see salvage yards as the final resting place for used-up automobiles. These folks pass blithely by the dirt and gravel lots that are scattered across the country, imagining that they house only the useless remains of cars left to wither away once they’ve passed their prime, been smacked into a pole or had the good parts stripped off by thieves.

True enthusiasts, on the the other hand, see a gold mine in the salvage yard.

Sure, that Acura Integra GS-R may have hit a Jersey barrier at 70 mph, but the driveline could yield a serious boost in power for a once-pedestrian Honda Civic CX. And it’s practically a bolt-in swap, too.

Or what about that Plymouth Neon? If it’s an ACR model, it might provide all kinds of goodies for the “regular” Neon, including Koni struts, a quick-ratio steering rack, upgraded ECU and more—and all of these parts can usually be picked up for a song.

Whether they’re called salvage yards, wrecking yards, boneyards, or—heaven forbid—“junkyards,” these automotive resting places are just ripe for the picking. Where else can you score speed parts at a fraction of their retail prices?

Boneyard shopping can also provide an extra dose of originality for your hop-up projects. Thanks to the platform concept of automotive design and manufacturing, many different models within a single manufacturer (or family of manufacturers) may be built on similar or identical chassis; this means they share a number of interchangeable parts and subassemblies. Mixing and matching these parts can create high-performance option packages that the manufacturers never offered.

And if you’d rather shop without getting your hands dirty, hop online. Between auction mega-house eBay as well as the zillions of marque-specific automotive Web sites, finding used parts can be only a few keystrokes away. In fact, it took us about 1 minute to locate a Camaro 1LE aluminum drive shaft on eBay—$35, no minimum and no bids so far. Okay, so it had a broken snap-ring groove, but we didn’t lose any time driving across town to look at it.

The secret to boneyard shopping is knowing what to look for, so we have assembled a guide to some of the more popular salvage yard hop-ups. The listings are organized according to marque, so you can browse the section on your car’s manufacturer to find likely hop-up and swap items. Before getting into the specifics, however, we would like to start with some disclaimers.

First, although we used the most reliable sources we could find, we have not personally tested all of these swaps. We are therefore offering these tips with the caveat that you may find some inaccuracies. (Then again, you may find that some ideas work even better than anyone had ever hoped.) Also, don’t forget that aftermarket parts can show up in salvage yards. We once bought some Tokico shock absorbers for a Civic for $2.99 each.

Second, realize that boneyard shopping requires some work and knowledge. You will get dirty, you will get some skinned knuckles, and you will have to do some research. (Here’s a hint: Start at www.google.com.) Third, since parts in the salvage yards are generally far from new, use some common sense when installing them. For example, brake parts are vital to the safe operation of your car, so you should rebuild and replace consumable parts (rotors and pads) whenever possible. Don’t stake your personal safety on the reliability of an unrebuilt salvaged part.

Fourth, this is far from everything that is known about boneyard shopping. (And if anyone has any tips they’d like to share, forward them to us.) We’ve stuck mainly to newer models (last 20 years) here, since that’s what you’re likely to find in most salvage yards. Sadly, the advent of computerization and more sophisticated inventory controls has meant that the yards of today don’t usually have loads of older and oddball gems tucked in the corners, as was once the case. Now it’s move it or crush it.

Fifth, even if we missed your car, this little exercise should get you thinking. Was there a GT or high-output version of your car that could yield some go-fast goodies? A sibling model that was always just a bit faster or more nimble?

Finally, since many of these swaps are not legal in all racing classes, check your rulebook before proceeding. (Don’t forget the flip side of this rule: Since some of these hop-ups could be easily hidden, you might want to give your competition a better look-over next time you’re sitting on the false grid.)

Once you get hooked on boneyard shopping, we think you’ll find it to be a rewarding, and even fun, experience. Going faster is always good, but going faster by dint of your own knowledge, imagination and sweat is even better.

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