I’m certain the fine citizens of Las Vegas, N.M., get tired of having their city compared to the much larger, neon-outlined, casino-based city located due west in Nevada.
The pace of life’s a bit slower in New Mexico’s version of Vegas, revolving around its colleges, multiple state championship-winning high school football team and its historical artifacts such as Fort Union National Monument, which acted as a supply depot and military outpost for the famed Santa Fe Trail beginning in 1851.
I, too, succumbed to the tired joke, calling my wife, who thought I was spending a week in New Mexico surveying salvage yards, to tell her that I decided to spend a night in “Las Vegas.” She didn’t find the humor in it, and after I explained about there being a Las Vegas in New Mexico, she explained that she really enjoyed when I took these week-long vacations far from home. Ouch!
Because I only had one week to traverse a good portion of New Mexico in search of automotive treasure, I had to keep moving. My initial plan was that Las Vegas was going to be just an overnight stop en route to a salvage yard further east. That all changed when I pulled into the city at dusk.
Just off the main street, hidden behind a beauty fence, was Ulibarri’s Used Parts & Towing. A quick peek over the fence revealed lots of vintage iron, and much of it complete and rust-free. At that point, I felt better than hitting triple cherries on a quarter slot machine.
Returning first thing the following morning, I was greeted by the yard’s owners, David Jr. and David Ulibarri III. The father and son duo run a tidy business, with David Jr. having purchased the already existing yard 18 years ago and David III signing on 3 years later.
David III said he believes the yard orginated in the late 1930s or early ’40s, and was previously operated by a man named Max Alitas. It’s currently comprised of 10 acres on which reside 400 vehicles. According to David III, 30 percent of that total is vintage, but in my tour of the yard that number seems too conservative. My guess is closer to 40 percent is older iron, with the heaviest concentration being 1940s- and ’50s-era vehicles. Well represented are 1950s and ’60s pickups and same-decade domestic cars.
A search of the yard’s north fenceline turned up lots of loose parts for 1920s and ’30s cars, and several more complete early cars can be found within the rows in the yard, although some of these examples have been picked over.
David III told Old Cars Weekly that discovering new old inventory is still a priority for he and his father.
“We still find old cars in the hills. We ride around to the ranches and stop and ask if they want to sell.”
Also always on the Ulibarri’s list of cars to acquire are the muscle cars of the 1960s. “We’ve sold lots of Camaros, Novas and Chevelles and had a couple of early Mustangs,” David III explained. Another model that’s hard to keep in inventory, according to David III, is the coupe. In this case, the demand for coupes comes from both customers and David Jr., who is currently restoring a 1934 Buick coupe to display with his finished Ford T-bucket roadster.
The occasional Camaro or coupe remain among the rows of vehicles that are neatly organized by make. The majority of the vintage iron is stored “upstairs” on a rise at the north end of the yard. The ground is mainly gravel or dirt, and some climbing is necessary. David III said that July and August tend to be the “rainy season” in northern New Mexico so the yard can get muddy at that time, otherwise it’s accessible year-round. He added that customers need to be aware that the area contains Black Widow and other poisonous spiders, but normal precautions such as not reaching into blind holes will keep them safe. David III also said that while rattlesnakes are part of the New Mexico landscape, they’re not a problem in the yard because “Bull snakes take care of the rattlers!” I know I took lots of comfort in that statement while I toured the yard.
As for rules customers must follow, David III said no parts are allowed to removed from complete vehicles. Customers can bring tools in to the yard and remove small parts from cars, but it’s best to check first with either father or son. Whole cars can be purchased, and David III said the New Mexico Department of Motor Vehicles can issue a “duplicate title” from a vehicle’s VIN.
Part shipping is available at the yard, and car club touring of the business is welcome, but call first for an appointment. The fact that the “Mother Road” Route 66 is located approximately 90 miles to the south generates lots of traffic to the yard, according to David III, who added, “We get lots of people from different countries.”
The yard’s hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
To contact Ulibarri’s Used Parts & Towing, call 1-866-654-1964 or use postal mailing address: 601 South Grand, Las Vegas NM 87701.