Low Budget Bodywork & Tow Auction Specials


Gallery in multiple 3D, & 2D formats below the jump.

Going through my old 2X2X2 35mm stereo slide pairs for posting on Cars In Depth (I’ve been messing around with twin-film-camera 3D for about 15 years now), I came across some shots of the ever-varied fleet of late-80s/early-90s Japanese subcompacts I owned during the heyday of San Francisco’s notorious City Tow car auctions.
City Tow has since been replaced by Auto Return, whose auctions are way less fun than the Wild West madness of the circa-2000 City Tow auctions. Back in those days, you’d show up to a grimy parking lot at Pier 70, eyeball a couple hundred towed vehicles in unknown condition (would the car start? were the seats packed with dirty syringes? Who knows?) for maybe 15 minutes, then get to bidding.

Crowds of Hunter’s Point gang-bangers kept the auction proceedings lively, and 10-to-15-year-old Civics, Tercels, Corollas, and Sentras usually went for $100 to $300. I had a job not far from Pier 70, so I’d often drop by and risk a couple hundred bucks on, say, an ’86 CRX or ’90 Prizm. You’d pay your money, pay some sleazebag with a trunk full of car keys $35 to find a key that fit your new ride, then pay another dude with a car battery in a shopping cart 5 bucks for a jump start. I’d always bring starter fluid and a bare-bones toolbox, and I never once bought a Toyota, Honda, or Nissan that wouldn’t start (though I did once buy a Tercel wagon that had only third through fifth gears, which made climbing up the steep access road out of Pier 70 a real adventure.

That Tercel ended up being a keeper, after I swapped in a Pick-N-Pull transmission; I’d traded my previous Tercel wagon— that one a 4WD model— to a guy who worked at Alternative Tentacles, in exchange for a bunch of the album inserts of the controversial H.R. Giger artwork used in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. Hmmm… wonder if those are worth anything now? The other two cars in the top photo— a ’90 Tercel hatchback and a ’91 Nissan Sentra coupe— didn’t stick around quite as long. Still, I think the early 90s era was really the golden age of Japanese subcompacts; they all had fuel injection, got great gas mileage, and were still small.


Click on the image gallery below to launch the Stereo Photo Viewer applet to view in optimal 3D (or 2D if you don’t have 3D glasses or a 3D display).

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