Bob’s Auto Parts: Michigan Yard Closes After 70 Years

Bob’s Auto Parts, of Fostoria Mich., was one of the last salvage yards that handled cars from the 1930s to ’70s operating in the southeast Michigan area.

    Located among scenic farmlands about an hour north of Detroit, the yard had been in continuous operation since 1938. Bob Zimmerman and his wife Chris owned and operated the facility since 1957.

This solid 1946 Mercury “coupe-sedan” would make a great street rod project.

    Due to Bob’s death last year, the entire inventory of over 1,800 cars was auctioned during the weekend of May 17-18, by Rowley Auctioneers of Attica, Mich. An open-house preview was held prior to the auction, which gave this writer an opportunity to view a vanishing piece of history – the “Great American Auto Salvage Yard.” Spectators and potential buyers came from all around Michigan as well as nearby states Ohio and Pennsylvania. In fact, the interest level in Bob’s collection was so great that the auction company provided a remote parking lot a mile away, with shuttle bus service to the salvage yard. Because of record high scrap metal prices, a minimum bid of $400 was required on all vehicles, regardless of condition. Sadly, much of the inventory was so badly deteriorated, it was a certainty it would be sold as scrap.

    Some of the tire kickers at the auction preview were past customers of Bob’s Auto Parts, and had fond and humorous stories to share about their experiences. One anecdote that we heard quite often was that when Bob was not interested in selling a car or a part, he would quote a ridiculously high price rather than simply stating it was not for sale. No doubt it was this posture that contributed to the incredible size of his collection!

A portion of the lettering on the door of this International pickup reads: “DuPont Explosives.”

    It had been nearly 20 years since I had been to Bob’s Auto Parts as a paying customer, and as I entered the yard, it was clear that time had taken a heavy toll on much of the vintage iron. Many of the rougher cars were stacked two and three high. Some, like a poor ’55 Cadillac convertible, were literally melting into the damp ground and could not have been removed in less than two or three large rusty pieces! Most cars had been in the yard for decades, as evidenced by their license plates. A rare 1960 Edsel, for example, was found still sporting 1966 Michigan plates. On the other hand, a number of vehicles displayed the state’s “blue” plates, which were not introduced until the mid-1980s.

    In spite of the ravages of time and weather, there were still several treasures within Bob’s yard that were worth saving for restoration. A greater number were simply candidates for parts cars. Sadly, the great majority were likely to be of little use to anyone. Perhaps many of the solid, but incomplete, 1940s cars would escape the crusher to become fodder for street rodders.

This pair of Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner retractables, one a 1957 and the other a ’58 (background), await a new home.

    Zimmerman gets an “A” for organization, since – except for a few of his more recent acquisitions – everything in the yard was grouped in sections, based on make. For the more common makes, there were even sub-groupings by year and/or model. For example, there was a full row of nothing but 1958 Chevys. Other dedicated clusters included Buicks of all years, a veritable mountain of Corvairs, a dozen Edsels, and rows of Cadillacs and Lincolns sorted by decade. One section of the yard catered to orphans and was filled with Packards (including a 1947 hearse), some stray British sports cars and even a surprisingly solid Renault Dauphine.

    Trucks had excellent representation too, as there were hundreds from the 1940s through the ’60s. This included several rows of Dodge pickups, and many medium-duty commercial trucks, such as an early ’60s Ford COE. Even a few fire engines were scattered around the property. Many of the commercial trucks still wore their faded business names, creating some great mental imagery. One memorable example was a ’50s International pickup with doors that read: “John L. Prueter, Distributor, DuPont Explosives.”

One of the few performance cars in Zimmerman’s yard was this 1969 AMC AMX fastback.

    Bob was wise enough to try to protect some of the nicer convertibles. He did this by piling a pickup camper shell on top of each convertible to keep out moisture. Convertibles sighted wearing this home-grown treatment included a rare ’61 Chrysler Windsor, a pair of 1958-’60 Lincolns, and several Thunderbirds. A pair of Ford Skyliner retractables were also spotted, which retained their own original metal tops for protection.

Zimmerman protected many convertibles, such as this pair of rare late-1950s Lincolns, by shielding them with pickup camper shells.

    How about a 1959 Edsel wagon? Or a 1970 Wildcat convertible (one of only 1,244 built)? An early-’50s Pontiac sedan delivery? A late-’30s Nash? That’s just a few of the rare, odd and just plain interesting cars at Bob’s. Others included a salvageable ’76 Vega GT Estate Wagon (when did you last see one?); the remnants of a ’20s-era Pontiac; a rusty ’69 AMX; a decent ’60 Dodge Seneca sedan; and several early-’60s Dodge Custom 880 two-door hardtops.

A rare 1960 Edsel Ranger sedan still wears 1966 license plates.

    I wasn’t able to attend the actual auction event at Bob’s Auto Parts, and the auction company would not provide the final sales results for this story. But regardless of what becomes of the cars, I’m glad I made the effort to visit the place one last time. As old cars are scrapped and salvage yards eliminated, we lose one more dimension of the traditional American automotive experience.

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