Project Hunting The Southwest Stash
An Ideal Location

If you and I have anything in common, then I bet you’ve spent an excessive amount of time daydreaming about your next build. Do you scour Craigslist and eBay with terms like ‘project,’ ‘bagged’ and ‘vintage’ too? It’s a huge time-suck for sure, but it also lets us stretch our imaginations, come up with new ideas and discover obscure models we never knew existed.

It might be hot, but living in the arid climate of the Southwest desert has its advantages, including the fact that cars just seem to last forever here. To be honest, I feel sorry for those who live in a climate that eats cars. I just can’t relate to the idea of my car rotting away in moisture and salt.


There’s a reason the United States military keeps its warbirds and other equipment stored just a couple hours south of Phoenix in the smallish town of Tucson, Arizona. It’s dry and there’s lots of open space, so it’s the perfect spot to mothball a bunch of planes for long term storage.


Now, I’m not trying to say it’s intentional that there are so many old cars in Tucson, it’s just that they never went away. A lot of locals have no need to leave town and the speed limits are (annoyingly) low, so stuff just lasts and lasts. I’ve been coming down here to visit friends and family for years, and the ridiculous number of old cars sitting around has always intrigued me.


I guess I’ve always been a Speedhunter at heart, because these are the things I notice when driving through a neighborhood. Happily, I now have a soapbox to stand on and share them with the world. Before I would have just enjoyed a pre-war ’42 Ford in my own mind, but now I come armed with a camera, weaving storylines in my head as I shoot away.


To prove to you that this is the ultimate stash of old cars, I limited myself to one square mile and one hour. I simply drove around a Tucson neighborhood looking for cool old tin, and I took most of these pictures right from the driver’s seat. As you can see from this early Suburban, some of these cars are still roadworthy and wear current tags.


Others have been left to waste away. Sadly this hot rodded ’54 is slowly being smothered by tree branches. Funny thing though, I bet if you rang the doorbell the owner would say it’s a prized possession and they plan to rebuild it one day.


Most of what I found was pretty stock, proof that these old cars simply never rotted away or got sold. Maybe a transmission went out or a timing chain broke so they were parked and forgotten about.


There are some modded gems too though. Can’t you just picture this ’51 Chevy tearing up the strip? I wonder if there’s a Big Block sitting under the hood? I can’t make out any suspension under the front, so maybe this was a straight-axle gasser project that never saw completion.

How To Spot A Car Guy

When I set the rules for my little project-hunting challenge, I told myself I would just stay in the car and try not to bother anyone. Of course, when people see you zooming in on their driveway, they usually wonder what you’re up to. As I scoped out this Grand National a mother and daughter came walking up and asked if I needed anything. Within 10 seconds we were talking cars, and she mentioned that her husband loved his turbo six, but he had been entertaining the idea of selling it lately.


Just a few houses down from the GN, I stopped to not only get a shot of this early Ford, but also to have a bit of garage envy. Inside the lights were on, both doors were up and someone was running a grinder. As badly as I wanted to see what was going on in there, I assumed he had work to get done and come to think of it, I did too.


I was on the hunt for any evidence that an old car might be hanging around, keeping my eyes sharp and my head on a swivel. As I rounded the corner and saw this mega backyard shop, I just laughed to myself. It was pretty obvious this was where the cars would be found.


I’m sure there was some good stuff inside that garage, and there were some potential projects in the driveway too.


Of course, most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have a giant shop in our backyards – not yet anyways. Still, we make do with what we have, even if it means organizing a parted out Ford truck in the driveway, like this guy.


I had made it this far shooting from my car, but the owner of this Fairlane was sitting in front of his house and I couldn’t resist asking him about it. I really wanted to know if people planned to keep their old cars or if they were for sale. This guy has owned his project for 12 years, and he still plans on restoring it some day.


I had broken my own rule, and now I was enjoying talking cars with the neighbors. These guys were working on a shortbed Chevy in the driveway and invited me up to take pictures. Immediately, hoods were popped and doors swung open for the camera. This was also a good chance to inquire about some of the cars I had already seen. They were able to tell me specifically which ones I might have a chance at, and also which ones I would never get my hands on.


What a great way to spend a Saturday, wrenching with your friends and talking cars. It’s always good to have a shop dog around too.


I didn’t have to meet the owner of each car I saw to tell who was a legit car guy and who wasn’t. I was first drawn to this Plymouth Suburban station wagon because they’re pretty rare, but seeing the massive A-frame hoist above the car I instantly knew this guy meant business.

Paired Up

Most of the cars I was finding were chalky and dull from sitting so long, so when I spotted this shiny Mach 1 Mustang I had to take a closer look.


I was shocked to see that it was part of a matching pair. I broke my rule again and got a little closer so I could photograph the two cars together.


As I drove around I started to notice more and more of these paired projects.


I suspect one of them may be the keeper, while the other is a parts car.


Or maybe some of these guys just can’t get enough of their favorite body style.


’36 Chevys are probably worth collecting, regardless of what this guy’s plans might be.


This double-decker bus was by far the most interesting thing I found all day. I wonder what the neighbors think about this oddity?


Old Chevy trucks with a good patina have become popular because you can buy all the parts to update the engine and chassis, then just leave the body alone. I think I would leave the creepy camper on this one and slam it.

Up In The Air

Some of these cars are always in the same spot when I visit Tucson. They never move, yet the tires hold air and it seems like they could run if someone would just twist the key and pump the gas pedal a few times.


Others have been relegated to a set of jack stands, so you know they aren’t moving any time soon.


I wonder if the owner of the Z on jack stands drives by this guy’s house and dreams of the day his car is done.


Despite the nice paintjob this Buick has been on stands for awhile. Judging by the transmission lines and exhaust hanging down, I’m guessing the trans is at the rebuild shop.


I still have hope that some of these might be for sale if I came knocking on the right day with the enough cash in my pocket. Maybe this guy got so frustrated trying to put the drum brakes back together that he would be glad to see it leave on a flatbed.


On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that some things aren’t for sale, this just happens to be the perfect place to keep an old car.

So did you spot your dream project somewhere in this story? Are you searching ‘project’ on Tucson Craigslist yet? As for me, my dream project is the ’59 Ford wagon that was the lead image for this story. I’ve been told it’s not for sale, but I’m not done knocking on the door and leaving notes just yet.

Keith Charvonia
Instagram: SpeedhuntersKeith

Cutting Room Floor


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what is the first car in the bonus images?


Love this kind of stuff. Nice work Keith!


I just bought my dream car that wasn't for sale. Just kept asking every couple months and showed him cash until he said yes


what is it


Cool finds!  Neighborhoods are defined by what projects are parked in view.  Cool post!


That double decker bus would make an awesome RV or party bus project.


Please tell me you did all this from the window of the Kaiser...


MrSOLOMON85 1968 Porsche 912

Chris 'Haffy' Hafner

Great stuff! It's good to see the project stage in so many ways in such a small area, so many different cars. One little niggle but, those '39 chevs are actually '36's. Apart from that awesome work Keith! And yes did you take these pics form the Kaiser? Would be a little hard to hide a quick shot in that. :-)


Chris 'Haffy' Hafner Not to mention swinging a zoom lens around through the chopped windows. :)

Good call on the Chevys. I took the neighbor's word for it and didn't give it a second thought.


AZ the best, that said, I must own the only rusty car in history that spent its entire life in arizona :-/


nickmmele i think its an Amc Rambler


this article makes want to pick up an old Toyota from the garage near my home. And restore it.


Awesome finds and brilliant photography, Keith Charvonia. Dry climates are the best :-)

If anybody is interested in this kind of next-to-the-road finds, please visit the Drive-by Snapshots blog and check all the cool vehicles found alongside the roads in Europe. 
You can either read the blog, or click "Filter" to search by brand or country. Have fun!


Hello Keith, I really like your article and the pictures. Strongly reminds me about a blog I frequently read:


Sick on, Keith!! I just may have to do a southern take on this story ;)


These are the reasons I just moved to Tucson from New England.


Mason Karle It was intentional?

-Couldn't help myself, ASU grad here :-p


robzor Makes it rarer right? Which is better? Yeah? ;)


robzor Mason Karle Yep, all done with the salt dripping in my eyes and slush falling down my back when I work. Now I can drive a nice car all year and not worry about it rotting away. The question is, what car should I get for my self?


I'm blown away that all this was in one square mile.  Of course I live in Toronto so space is at a premium here, plus all the old stuff has rotted away.


I love project hunting, did so just yesterday with my older brother, we found a garden with an assortment of 80's fords, around the corner a 72 Nissan patrol. I've seen plenty on my travels that haven't moved for years and are still there now, a beetle, two triumph spitfires, a vw type 3 fastback. When I was younger the guy who lived behind us had about 4 lancia deltas, one of which the paintwork was graffiti. I wonder if he still has them now.


I do the same thing in scrapyards, I don't go to get spare parts, I just go to sit in a car that I've always wanted without a salesman breathing down my throat.


Steve Hayward Crazy isn't it? It really makes me want to keep exploring in a systematic way like this.


robzor Mason Karle Haha, ASU here too.


Matt Jones Regional project hunts could make for some great stories!


RolandPregler Thanks!


robzor Or the seller lied....


hechtspeed Thanks Chris!


Mike Garrett Thx Mike!


@KeithCharvonia @Speedhunters_Bryn
Haha well the "seller" is my grandpa and he gave it to me for free so I shouldn't complain really lol. It's been in his backyard for 30 years. It will be there a little while longer until I buy a house and have a garage to put it in, that's when I'll get serious about working on it. The floor pans are rotted out and the entire interior is scrap more or less. It will be a bit of a blank canvas because the engine is toast as well. I've had lots of ideas what to do with it but we will see what I end up with :-)


more posts like this!  A monthly post would be great.


robzor What kind of car is it? It must have not had glass then? I've seen floors rot from leaves and debris gathering inside on the floor along the doors.


1973 240z. Had all the glass but the weather strip had tired out. The tires were flat and it kinda sunk into the dirt and was sitting on the chassis when I got it.


JakWhite i thought i was the only person that did that.....


Great post! Keith I hope you have another opportunity to do another post like this and meet/tell the stories of some of the owners and the stories behind the cars.


robzor Ah, yep that will do it too. Gut it!


Great article! 8 years ago when I moved from Europe to Thailand, I realized there is actually a climate where cars don't rust away...what a pleasant surprise. :)


Love the post Kieth I do exactly the same here is Australia always looking for projects and hidden gems.. just need a big shed to putt hem all in :)
Glad I am not alone


I really enjoyed this piece Mr Charvonia, thank you. Because I'm an ignorant Brit, please could you tell me what are the whorl-spoked wheels that seem to be on a lot of these cars?

Second-to-last car, the blue Plymouth, was my favourite.

'Course, for a true abundance of project cars the place to go is anywhere in Latin America. But not if you need 'em to be straight ;)


This has got to be one of my favorite articles on Speedhunters ever. I can't believe that's just a mile or so, the ammount and variety of stuff is incredible, and so is the photography when you had the chance. 

I've been doing the street-searching dance here in Mexico City for about 15 years now, found my share of stuff and I still do it from time to time, but big cities like this one get cleaned up of old cars fast. That place, though, looks like heavn.


That is pretty awesome those cars are so close. Really like the article too, nice to see everyday people and their cars. Since I am Buick man I would like to friendly point out that the black regal is not a GN (at least it doesn't appear to be one). It has TurboT wheels, no wing and the 3.8 SFI badge (instead of the GN one) on the trunk. But if you look closely it does seem to have the GN 2 tone rear seat in it. Nice job!


these are some pretty inspiring images. i need a muscle car