These Are the Weirdest, Coolest, and Most Fun Cars Killed in Cash for Clunkers

Staffers at The Drive picked the cars we want back from the 677,081 crushed in Cash for Clunkers.

byJames GilboyAug 4, 2022 1:30 PM
These Are the Weirdest, Coolest, and Most Fun Cars Killed in Cash for Clunkers
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As we pored over the final, audited, and complete list of cars crushed by the 2008 Cash for Clunkers program, staffers at The Drive couldn't help but shake their heads. Among writers and editors, more than a few four-letter words appeared in our chats. We poured out a little for the Plymouth Colt Vista Wagon, a little more for 18 Merkur XR4TIs, and there wasn't enough we could pour out (or into our faces) to forget that a B5 Audi S4 Avant was lost.

Sigh.

Nonetheless, we wanted to share with you the obits for the ones we lost that we wish we didn't. Take a look at our picks, then take a look at the list. Chime in with yours in the comments below.

Really, though. Who crushes a B5 Audi S4 Avant?

1995 Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG — Kristen Lee, Deputy Editor

I’m not usually one to get morally offended by the things I read. But seeing as there’s a 1995 Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG on that list of Cash for Clunkers crushed cars, I’m pissed, yo.

The C36 AMG isn’t just another C-Class AMG, today a dime a dozen. It was the first C-Class AMG and the first car Mercedes-Benz built in conjunction with AMG, thus kicking off a subsequent era of luxury performance that we still enjoy today. With its six-cylinder engine, it’s also a very spiritual successor to my own C32 AMG, although mine’s got a supercharged V6. Regardless, the C36 was iconic in what it stood for, as well as its looks: clean lines with hardly any visual hints as to what sort of performance parts lurked underneath. A true sleeper.

To be clear, I don’t know the condition of this particular C36 when it was donated. Perhaps it had been declared totaled. Even then, though, any C36 deserves a fate better than this. – KL

1986-1993 Toyota Supra — Victoria Scott, Staff Writer

I will be the first to admit: the third-generation Supra wasn’t the best car. It’s known first for its head gasket issues, and second for being a bit heavy, both of which are true. But more importantly, it boasted a straight-six with a tone that sounded like it could have originated from a biblical angel heralding the arrival of God, won the 1987 Hong Kong to Beijing rally, and was the car that made me both an auto enthusiast and a writer. The fixes for its issues are relatively straightforward, and for a long time the MK3 Supra was one of the cheapest entry points into a rear-wheel-drive turbocharged car on the market. For 225 people to decide theirs were only worthy of being a cube? That hurts a bit. —VS

2001-2004 Lexus IS300 — Chris Tsui, Deputy Reviews Editor

Lexus

Upsettingly for fans of sporty Japanese sedans, Cash for Clunkers also saw the unnecessary death of six first-generation Lexus IS300s: four from the 2001 model year, one from 2002, and another from 2004. The IS300 was Lexus’s first real crack at the BMW 3 Series but arguably made an even bigger mark on automotive culture being the car that popularized clear taillights—nicknamed “Altezzas” after the IS’s Japanese-market moniker. Its under-the-skin hardware would likely send Car Internet into a frenzy today. A 217-hp, naturally-aspirated version of Toyota’s 3.0-liter 2JZ straight-six funnels power to the rear axle (and only to the rear axle) through an available five-speed manual transmission. Other highlights include chronograph-inspired gauges, a perfectly spherical chrome manual shift knob, and a Sport Cross wagon variant in later model years. —CT

1989 LaForza — Aaron Cole, Senior Editor

Wikimedia commons

LaForza isn't just another odd automaker from the past, it's perhaps "the odd automaker" from the past. LaForza was the marque used in the States by Italian automaker Rayton Fissore that had very loose ties to Carrozzeria Fissore, the bodymaker for Monteverdi. (Monteverdi is otherwise known to the world as the only Swiss automaker well, probably ever.) Aside from trivial namedropping, LaForza, which loosely translates to "The Power," was a Grand-Cherokee-meets-Dodge-Caravan looking, luxury SUV in the late 1980s and early 1990s sold in very small quantities. Only about 1,200 were sold new, fewer survive, and thanks to Cash for Clunkers, three fewer are left. When new, the trucks were sold for $43,900 (adjusted for inflation, nearly $100,000 today) and summoned just 185 hp from a 5.0-liter Ford engine. It wasn't fast, wasn't particularly good-looking, and depreciation hit them really hard. But, the body was made from thick, 18-gauge steel and hopefully gave the crushers a helluva time on their way out. RIP. —AC

1987 Excalibur Phaeton — Stef Schrader, Senior Staff Writer

Excalibur

It's both fitting and sad that three 1987 Excalibur Phaetons met their end during Cash for Clunkers. The Excalibur Phaeton was a wacky neoclassical automobile modeled on the 1920s Mercedes-Benz SSK and penned by renowned American designer Brooks Stevens, whose career spanned everything from the Miller beer logo and the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile to the Jeep Wagoneer and even the 412-era redesign of the Volkswagen Type 4. 

Yet, the Excalibur was no blue-chip concours-bait. Underneath it sat a contemporary Studebaker from the time of its design, and under the hood of these ill-fated 1987s sat an unexotic Chevrolet V8. I love them because they're the brougham era distilled to its purest, most ridiculous, retro-glam essence, but let's be real: the Excalibur is the epitome of a car that exists solely for its appearance. 
It's the perfect metaphor for Cash for Clunkers, a program that appeared green on the surface, but ultimately sent tons of used cars that still had life in them prematurely to the junkyard, forcing working-class or lower-income folks who couldn't afford the new cars the government was pushing into less reliable or more expensive rides. It was a feel-good measure for the kind of out-of-touch politicians who couldn't tell you the price of a banana—you know, the kind who'd unironically fit right in with the Excalibur Phaeton's whole schtick. —SS

1990 Volvo 940 Wagon — Maddox Kay, Social Media Editor

Volvo

I’ll spit it out: Cash for Clunkers crushed 31 Volvo 940 Turbo wagons, 24 940 16-valve wagons, and 66 740 16-valve wagons. The database doesn’t break out 740 and 240 Turbo models from their naturally aspirated siblings, but with several hundred of those crushed, it’s safe to assume we lost a handful. Volvo wagons of the ‘80s and ‘90s are steadfast family cars that seldom rust and the Turbo models added a sporting flair to Volvo’s pocket-protector image. Sure, they didn’t get the best fuel economy, but neither did the crossovers that replaced them—and these turbo bricks might well have outlasted anything built in 2009. Clunker, my ass. —MK