The Place They Don’t Want You To Go…
Going For Broke

You’re probably quite comfortable right now. Sure, I may be assuming a few things, but an indicator of that is you’re reading this, which is only available electronically. So chances are you have an expensive, internet-enabled device in your hand or you’re sat looking at a computer screen. That already puts you in a minority on a global scale, so I’m happy to go with my assumption. I also know from looking at the wonderfully insightful statistics we have access to that you’re more than likely to be in a first-world country. By no means does that apply to all of you, but again it’s the majority. So what’s the point of my analysis? Well, the chances are you wouldn’t want to go where I went to take these pictures. Willets Point, Queens, New York City.

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But don’t worry, even if you wanted to, you soon won’t be able to. The city has rumbled on for decades about wiping this particular corner of New York clean, erasing the ramshackle buildings and smoothing over the land with a big city planners cloth.

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Somewhere nearby in a shiny office there will be a model of what Willets Point will look like in the future and it doesn’t look anything like this.

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But is that such a bad thing? Am I getting carried away with an overinflated sense of romantism? What is it that I’m getting so theatrical about anyway? Maybe the people who work here on an hourly basis would like my life and I’m more than welcome to theirs.

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If I feel so strongly about this place, why not stay?

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Willets Point, also known as the ‘Iron Triangle’, sits alongside the New York Mets baseball team’s Citi Field home – a 610 million dollar younger step brother that you can see standing tall across the ramshackle rooflines. It sadly amuses me that this area is called ‘Flushing Meadows’, which itself is within the Corona district of Queens. Because it’s been a long time since this was a meadow…

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But that’s all geography. What it is, is roughly 80 acres of bodyshops, car breakers, workshops and small businesses who operate on the very edge of being called a business.

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If you look at the Wikipedia page for Willets Point it says there’s no sewerage here, or sidewalks. Now the first is a shame, but the second? Well that’s somebody writing from a particular point of view that I don’t adhere to. Ironically, the introduction of horse-drawn traffic (which gave way to cars) into society meant we needed sidewalks, or pavements as well call them in the UK.

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But in truth they’re really there to keep people in line. In many developing countries, people, cars, bikes and even animals all move freely in the same space – they’re just more aware and switched on. Which is how I felt while I walked around here, and I liked it.

Get Out
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Willets Point is already being deserted by its inhabitants. Shops are shutting up and moving on in readiness for the approved development. The authorities have been trying since the early ’60s to wipe the area clean, but this place has an energy about it that has endured. After 80 years of being here, it’s going to take a while to pack it all up.

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Roughly 250 businesses and an estimated 2500-plus people work here, so that’s a whole lot of vested interest. A whole lot of history, both good and bad.

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It strikes me they work hard too, as for a start it’s a largely lawless culture that pervades. With many people working off the books, I’ll not dance around the subject because it’s pretty obvious how it works and many people confirm it when you talk to them. There are a lot of people here who aren’t legally allowed to stay in America, and there are a lot of things that go on in Willets Point that the law might not like.

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People talk about what will be left when everyone is gone and what will be found when the bulldozers come in.

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I guess only time will tell how true those rumours turn out to be, but to be honest, the drama and intrigue of it all is a bit wasted on me. I used to love exploring empty buildings, old air fields and factories or anywhere I could squeeze myself into, and I get the same sense of edgy anticipation walking around here. But I also know I can walk away, which makes me consider things in a more realistic manner.

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To a lot of people Willets Point is a lawless sh*thole, and no amount of artsy photography and first-world musing will change their opinion. I get that, and to be fair that’s kind of what it is.

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But to me it’s something else – it’s more than that and so are the people who have worked here in the past and those that are staying on until the end. If it’s broken, you can get it fixed at Willets Point. Somebody will have a part, or get a part, or make a part that will fit and get you going again.

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The car is a universally recognised sign of freedom and independence, and getting behind the wheel is becoming the master of your own destiny and when you taste that freedom it becomes addictive. So when somebody comes along and says you can’t do this or that, then wants to get rid of your community and erase all traces of the way you live your life, it leaves me feeling slightly uneasy. The irony that this community (because good and bad that’s what it is) was built around the car isn’t lost on me.

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Again, I’m thinking too much about it, but in the absence of sanitation, health and safety or any other kind of regulation, this place thrived and people made a living here.

Flattened Out
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Take a look at the list of services H&S Brianna provide, there’s not much missing there, right? The way it works around here is that you drive in to Willets Point, dodge the potholes, stray dogs and anything else that could slow your day down, and you get approached by ‘arrangers’.

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These guys will then direct you to their preferred garage and if the job gets done they get a cut of the profit. In anyone’s book that’s a hard way to make a living – you’re competing with a whole line of other similarly motivated people all doing the same thing. No job security, no sick pay, and if the authorities drive by there’s a strong chance you’ll have to walk the other way pretty quickly.

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Let’s not forget this is 2014 and this is America. These chop shops and garages all have something at common at their core: pride – another thing I have admiration for.

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So as these units become vacant and the workers and owners move away, nobody is coming in to replace them and the world is losing another interesting, vibrant and yes, slightly dangerous part of its fabric.

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Now, I’m not arguing for a place like Willets Point to be left alone – it simply can’t be left alone and should be pulled down. Many people would argue that the unlicensed side of what happens here needs stopping, and in many circles they’d be heartily agreed with and slapped on the back for their hard work.

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More legitimate garages in the area will no doubt say that you should go to them for your repairs, and get a proper job done – know where your parts are coming from, not get ripped off and have parts stolen from your car whilst it’s being worked on.

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But that misses the point of this place. The pride, determination and dedication of the people who lived their lives here is what I think is the greatest loss.

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I don’t think anybody ever wandered in to Willets Point by accident, or was under any pretension as to the sort of service you’d get here. Or that you’d better take your street-smart pills before you come in, or beware.

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As places like this get wiped from the face of the earth, we get closer to being too comfortable, too cosy and too protected. That’s what our car culture doesn’t need. It shouldn’t be something that sits quietly in a box whilst we do the cleaning – it should be raw, challenge us and make us have eyes in the back of our heads. It should scare you a little bit because you’re in awe of it.

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If Willets Point was a car it would probably be a big old Cadillac, all faded grandeur with a homebrew supercharger setup and a cobbled together nitrous system there to surprise unsuspecting road users. It would sit low, riding on mismatched shocks and black steel wheels with hand-carved red band tyres. The bodywork would be rough but loved, the interior dark and loaded with character and warning signs.

It would be thirsty, loud and anti-social… And I’d want to drive it. How about you?

Bryn Musselwhite
Instagram: Speedhunterbryn

Thank you to Rob for the original reason to go to Willets Point, and Ben Chandler for holding my camera

Cutting Room Floor
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This is like the Kowloon Walled City of cars. Well done Mr. Musselwhite.


ohyeahthatguy Local graffiti guy?


KeithCharvonia Thanks man! Yeah it kinda is, it wasn't as bad in there as I was told previously. Mixed emotions about this one.


Articles like this is why I love speedhunters, you never know what you are going to get! whichever side of the story you reside on, it's awesome how diverse of a selection of reading material you get on this site :) Nice work Mr. Musselwhite.


When I was younger I had some cheap bolt on exhaust work done and paid the guy in a used ipod shuffle (1st gen), instead of $40.
They can sense if youre not from around there because those handlers will come at you from every direction.


They would also re-dip their used tires in some kinda black paint tar to make them appear newer. Chemical waste would just stream like a small river in that area, basically just pouring it into the ground they work on.


Awesome write up Bryn. Theres something about the "under dog" shops that I've always found intriguing. Being a NYC native alot of these type of places are where most of us current car enthusiast were able to first wrench on cars or watch cars being worked on. I myself got my first job at a local shop in Brooklyn at 14. The owner knew my mother and offered to let me work, no paperwork, no W-2's. Just labor (cheap labor for the owner), dirt, good times, cash in my pocket and a good sense of pride. These shops are the true blue collar working class in the realm of modern day big name shops and I tip my hat to them for sure.


Noel DeJesus Thanks for commenting Noel, I appreciate it! Coming from somebody who is relatively local it'd good to hear. I worked in a back street garage for five years on and off helping to pay my way through college. It was great because I wasn't made to do just one thing, I got try my hand at everything! It taught me a lot.


@ko It's like going back to the barter system eh? There's always a deal to be done, and they're often the best!


@ko Yup, I can imagine this is an unfortunate side effect of no proper services and the ground must be in pretty bad shape after all these decades.


all the shops are closed tho?


RyanThomas1 Thanks Ryan, our collective taste and interest spans a whole world of car culture, I know a story like this won't be as popular as some, but if a few people appreciate it then it's justified in my eyes!


What a fucking shithole


Based on these (lovely) photographs, I'm not sure I can share your enthusiasm, Bryn :'(


That Buick... Bryn ship it to me in Australia please, it needs a new life.


Worked at the pier right by there. Been there before need something very off roadish to even travese the road.


You'll excuse me if I don't share your enthusiasm for a place that basically depends on car theft for its survival.


@Jake Laird It's a bit unfair to tar everyone with the theft brush - surely there were some worthwhile traders there.  Not everyone can start out with a swanky little shop in the 'burbs.


youtube dot com/watch?v=MLXrGJg-LBQ

came up in shuffle when reading +_+


Bryn - Wonderful images full of character that make you feel like something that was once really wonderful is about to be lost forever. Let's hope the skills that are put to use here can continue on.


Ben Sutherland No, ship it to me in the UK please, I don't need my wife...


Nice work Bryn - proper sentence construction, proper subbing, proper english. Top marks!

Reminds me of some of the arches around Tower Bridge and Borough. Very real...


abandonedhatchback My 61 needs a sister car and my Girlfriend wont even complain hahaha.


Hmmm... I live just out of willets point. I've never thought of it as being so bad, it just is the way it is. To call it a third world country... I'm a bit offended. It's honest people who work hard for the most part. If NYC decided to rebuild I couldn't afford to live


Ben Sutherland abandonedhatchback Marry that girl.


Respectfully have to say ur mistaken. I dont think he called it a 3rd world country. I feel Bryn was just trying to illustrate the vibe/atmosphere of a place like this. Being its in NY, USA (obviously a 1st world country) that fact alone means there are still more options available than in a 3rd world area of similar character.
Futhermore, being from or LIVING in a 3rd world country is nothing to be ashamed of. This wonderful article mentions pride at least twice, determination and admiration. This seems to be more about the people than the place.
Bryn, this was the most left field post Ive ever read on Speedhunters and I really liked it!


I have an 87 300zx, i got a full exhaust with a Mangaflow and a cherry bomb in place of the cat for around $200 with pretty damn good welding and pipe bending...

Willets point is great for somthings. Need an exhaust? Need something fixed for cheap?

I'm not saying that it's quailty work, but if you just to get your car on the road, it's the place to go.

There's a sense of character to this place that is worth something to be seen if you're a car guy. It's old school and plenty of engineers and great mechanics grew up there and learned much of what they know.


Had no idea this place existed, thanks for a great article.  Did you have lunch at the "Master Express"?


Enjoyed every bit of it...great photography! Still lots of places like this here in Thailand, one of the reasons I live here.

Gianluca FairladyZ

Bryn, very good article! Enjoyed reading it! Good capture of the vibe!


That MG is a long way from home! I am not sure that is how it left Abingdon!


Bryn and Speedhunters team,

This is an interesting direction to take the website, and I like it. Great job finding the emotion and the PRIDE that all of New York City has to offer. There is this overwhelming "can-do" attitude in the greater metro. I beat cancer this year because of a famous New York cancer center and the doctors and nurses and everyone else with that same get-the-job-done-no-matter-what-it-takes attitude!


Love willets point, my wife and i drove in one winter when we picked her up an accord coupe an the center brake light wasnt workin. ended up being bad wiring and a busted connector. a guy came up as we were idling through and asked us what we needed. he then guided us on foot with us keepin warm in the car to the shop he works for. 12 minutes and 7 bucks later we took off with a functional third brake light in the spoiler. never left the comfort of the car in the middle of a new york winter. ive got prolly 50 more "this place is awesome" stories.
too bad its goin away... alot of cool oldschool places are gone from nyc that were really historic to its evolution. such is life..


Speedhunters_Bryn ohyeahthatguy He was from NY. He died in 08 and is to be a huge legend. KERSE BTM 3A TKO.


I love these kinds of articles and I hope you guys keep it up.The down and dirty,old school,an labor of love type is what most of car guys can relate to.It's hard to find people take pride in their work anymore and have that old school blue collar work ethic anymore.My grandparents on both sides came as political refugees from Cubanot knowing the language and starting from nothing.they worked hard and always put family first.My grandfather learned how to weld and worked in New Orleans welding Navy ships in their baking hull bound for Vietnam.My other grandpa worked 3 jobs and Grandma worked in what was essentially a sweatshop in Miami.Their example led both my parents to be the first to be the first graduate college.I think a lot of people can relate to that and this kind of story really hits home for me and a lot of people too.I hope you guys keep writing about guys who have been in the business and may not have the nicest equipment or shops but are who basically drive our car culture.


There are similar neighborhoods in Toronto and I've always felt it has a bit of the "lawless west" that Europeans typically think of in the Colonies. =)
It's always romantic until you've had your Honda broken into for the 5th time for the airbag / stereo / passenger seatbelt (I wish I was kidding!). Needless to say, I ditched the parts organ donor car, and moved farther from there. My insurance and wallet appreciated that.


YES Speedhunters_Bryn !! So happy to finally see this story get air


We have places like this in Monterrey, Mexico... places that if you need anything about any car... you go there and get it for a good deal... you have to dribble a little bit... but you get what you need.... brand new, used... you name it.. 

Reading this kinda feels like home... 

Great article! keep up with the good work! Speedhunters_Bryn


The article would have been better if you showed that good things can come from the wrong side of the track..


Talent can shine brightly through rust...


roninrs211 Yes it can Frank! That's some pretty cool rust you got lying around there ;)


Mr Mnchk Thanks for the kind words, sounds like a cool place. I've always wanted to go to Mexico, one day I'll find myself there for sure.


RBJKT Haha, you saw the thanks at the end? It was a while coming!


Kirk_B Oh for sure there is a downside to this kind of community, good on you for moving!


64C10 Thanks for the background, I was born and raised in the UK, in a comfortable environment so it's always good to remind yourself of people who are less fortunate. I look around sometimes at what people moan about and really do wonder when we all went soft!


TrickyTSX Such is life indeed, it's good to have had the experience though :)


AndrewTaylor Congratutions Andrew! Glad to hear your news, New York has always had that buzz of energy about it when I've visited. It gets inside you, one of my favourite cities, genuinely.


JNJP Ahh yes, that's not actually an MG, it's one of those VW based kit cars made to resemble a TF! I'm a bit of an old school MG fan after Father Bryn raced them for many decades so naturally had a closer look when I was there but didn't think many people would be interested!


Gianluca FairladyZ Thank you! It was a cool place :)


koko san Thailand? Another 'can do' place, I've often wondered about the melting pot of car culture there, a little bit European, a little bit local etc. Hmm, another one that's always been on the radar!


AceAndrew2 No lunch at the 'Master Express', but I did get a soda from another small shop that was there. Five or six guys inside and music blaring so loud you couldn't talk or hear anything else.


dem00n Ahh thanks for that, it's what I hoped is the true nature of Willets Point. There might be some bad doing but on the whole just a working place for working people.


Crankbear I'm sure they will be and a whole generation will spread out, knowing that they came from here. I think it's just a huge shame that the density of population here just isn't seen elsewhere.


abandonedhatchback Why thank you, I appreciate your kind words. There are some wonderful places in central London that I could go and see. It would certainly be closer to home.


@Jake Laird As Slappy Pistons has said I think it's a little hasty to come to that conclusion, if it was truly based on that it would have been closed down a long, long time ago.


HarveyTan Haha, yes I can imagine. We were on foot so no problem!.


apieceobacon Ben Sutherland Trust me it was dead, the screen price of $1500 was very optimistic. I've bought a few cars in the US and there is better for the same money elsewhere... Or at least that's what I kept repeating to myself as I walked by!


Slappy Pistons It's the sort of place you have to go for yourself :)


HSSLTYO Not all, we passed through on a Sunday afternoon, they were certainly thinning out though with plenty of empty lots.


ohyeahthatguy Thanks for the information, a little piece of history right there. It always amazes me what a picture can mean to different people.


vroomtothetomb prazzi You totally got where I was coming from there, glad you liked the article! Prazzi there was no offence meant at all. I have spent a good while in third world countries and they have a charm all of their own that we in first world countries are often lacking, much to our detriment.


Yea it is. Maybe u guys should put out the call for more places like this... Never know what you may find. Definitely make a good story.


Haha this place is a $hithole alright! When I was growing up, all of Flushing was a $hithole with polluted waters, smelly fish and toilets that spew out crap when it rains. I'm sad and happy that Willets Point is disappearing but I guess it is the inevitable continued Disney-fication of NYC.  

Also, I'm a little sad that there was a Speedhunter in Flushing and I didn't know. Would love to show you all the good food places and interesting roads next time you're in Queens!


Speedhunters_Bryn koko san Mostly i'ts home produced Japanese cars and some antique imports here and there, sadly there is huge import taxes for cars produced outside, 100% or more of the cars value is added to the normal price. There is a lot of ceativity in keeping the old imports running, so it is not strange to see a Japanese powerplant in an old Benz or BMW.


miksfield Good to get that local perspective! We were in NYC for two days shooting and this happened on the way back to the airport! I couldn't pass by and not stop. I'd love to have more time in Brooklyn and Queens, next time :)


An amazing article Bryn, prob my favourite and I've been here since day one.

protouring potato

Just be careful not to stay there "permanently". In Mexico, there definitely are don't crazy hodgepodge cars and vehicles in general if you look around but also some really nice cars (mainly trucks for obvious reasons)


Speedhunters_Bryn ohyeahthatguy *Seattle actually. He got around, though. Worldwide at a time. And the graffiti subculture is just as deep as car culture. For sure worth looking into sometime, especially when in New York.


Speedhunters_Bryn JNJP Thanks for the info! I didn't think it looked right! I'm a big MG fan myself, got a B GT. When is the next update on the MG GT3 car!


Speedhunters_Bryn miksfield nice to see and hear that you guys are doing shoots in the NYC area...what I like about is that I get to see and read about car cultures across the globe through the camera lens of "speedhunters".... but its nice to read about what you guys think of the car culture in the city I reside in (Im in brooklyn btw)


There was a movie called "chop shop" which depicted the life of an orphaned kid working the streets of Willets Point. It seemed to be an accurate portrayal of life in the area according to the description in this article. It puts a bit of life  into the pictures of this article.