An auto tragedy: Cash for clunkers junked some classic cars

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As the CARS program -- a.k.a. "cash for clunkers" -- helped an estimated 700,000 cars find new homes, it was sometimes easy to forget the opposite end of the process. For every car that was purchased, another car was traded in, and these unwanted heaps were, allegedly, put to death with a nasty process that involved shredding the engine with liquid glass. Even when it only involves a car, capital punishment is never an attractive situation, and many of us reassured ourselves with the notion that the cars being destroyed were unattractive gas-guzzlers, like Ford (F) Explorers, Jeep Grand Cherokees, and Chevy Blazers.

This was largely true: as the final listing of destroyed vehicles demonstrates, six of the top ten trade-ins were "Fraud Exploders" from the late 1990's, and most of the cars that met their ends were the sorts of generic models that tend to give Detroit a bad name. Still, numerous beautiful or exceedingly valuable cars managed to find their way onto automobile death row. Some of these, like the 1990 LaForza SUV were valuable because they were rare. The same goes for the GMC Typhoon, which originally numbered only 4,697 cars, and is now down to 4,696, at most. Others, like the Bentley Continental-R and the Maserati Quattroporte that found their way to the wrecking yard were not particularly beautiful, but represented the output of super-premium brands.
On the other hand, some of the cars that were destroyed were simply masterpieces. For example, the 1987 Excalibur Phaeton is a classically-styled convertible that hearkens back to the most luxurious rides of the 1920's. Only 3500 Excaliburs were built, and three Phaetons were exchanged in the CARS program. Similarly, the Aston-Martin DB7 Volante, a sleek pairing of a Jaguar body and a six-cylinder 3.2 liter engine, managed to combine classy looks and impressive performance. Seven thousand were built in 1997, and one of the stunning convertibles was destroyed as part of CARS.

Even beyond this, there were numerous gorgeous -- if common -- models that managed to shrug off the mortal coil as part of the program. For example, while the 1988 Alfa Romeo Spider that met its demise wasn't particularly rare, the destruction of even one of the gorgeous convertibles makes one think about the dwindling supply of beauty in the world. Similarly, the demolition of 97 Corvettes, six Porsche 928s and more than 1,000 Jaguars are enough to make anyone think twice.

Still, as Ecclesiastes (and the Byrds) remind us, while there is a time to cry, there is also a time to laugh. In its favor, the CARS program also managed to rid the world of 87 Pontiac Azteks, which is undeniably a victory in the name of beauty and aesthetics.

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