We’re finally past Tax Day, and we wanted to take a look at some of the ways people lowered their tax obligation. One popular tax deduction is to donate your old car to a non-profit of your choice. National Public Radio has an excellent vehicle donation program that benefits member stations, and our friends at Car Talk do a lot of work to keep the flow of cars coming.
We got thinking, though, what kinds of cars do people donate to to the Vehicle Donation Program? We got a few spreadsheets of cars donated the last few months to find out.
Note: The photos below are just representative of the cars donated, not the actual cars. The links next to the cars go directly to the vehicle donation programs at these radio stations, if you’d care to donate one of your old vehicles. We’ve also got a link to Car Talk’s Vehicle Donation Program at the end of the story.
1962 Buick Special: KNAU, Arizona Public Radio
Buick started building Specials in 1936, as a low-priced version of its more…well…”special” cars like the Roadmaster. They went away for a bit in the late 1950s, and returned in the 1961 model year as a thoroughly new compact car.
They really were ahead of their time. Built on GM’s Y-Platform, the Special was unibody construction without a full frame underneath, making it more structurally solid than a body-on-frame car.
Mechanically, though, the Special was even more noteworthy. In 1962, you had your choice of two engines. The first was the incredibly innovative, all-aluminum 215-cu.in. V-8. Buick dropped the engine after 1963, but the British manufacturer Rover purchased the rights to build it, and did so to power many of its cars for the next 39 years.
The second engine in 1962 was the all-new 198-cu.in. “Fireball” V-6, making the Special the first American car to use a V-6 engine in widespread production. The ’62 Special with the V-6 was good enough to earn it Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year award.
That engine was the basis of every Buick V-6 build until 2008.
1976 BMW 2002: KCUR, Kansas City Public Radio
BMW built ’02s from 1966 to 1977, and for a long, long time, the late cars like the 1976 BMW 2002 donated to KCUR were considered the least desirable. They still don’t have the cache of the earlier round taillamp cars, but they’re becoming more valuable by the day.
The only real major facelift the car received was in 1974 when the taillamps became giant rectangles, and the energy absorbing bumpers arrived. Beyond that, the car’s basic structure was essentially identical to the one that debuted in 1966.
BMW built 320,000 of these things over the years, but rust has definitely claimed a lot of them. They were notorious for rusting in the shock towers, rendering decent cars undriveable without serious, expensive rust repair. They’re still worth saving, though. Among 1960s and 1970s cars, they’re some of the most engaging vehicles ever built.
1947 Pontiac Torpedo: WNYC, New York Public Radio
The image we selected here is from a magazine advertisement for the 1941 Pontiac Torpedo, that probably hit newsstands six months before the Pearl Harbor invasion. Over the next eight years, American vehicles would be essentially unchanged as production shifted from cars to armament.
After December 15, 1941, all Pontiacs had their chrome trim essentially “blacked out,” skipping the chroming process in favor of paint in Duco Gun-Metal Gray.
By far, the bulk of Pontiac Torpedos were purchased with a 239-cu.in. flathead inline six-cylinder engine. But a handful came through with the 249-cu.in. straight eight. The Torpedo — along with the Oldsmobile Special 88 — were the only GM A-body cars available with an eight-cylinder engine.
1965 International Loadstar: WMRA, Public Radio of the Shenandoah Valley
If you looked up the definition of “Truck” in the dictionary circa 1975, there’d probably be a picture of the International-Harvester Loadstar next to it. I-H built these medium- and heavy-duty beasts from 1962 to 1979, and there are still tons of them in service, as everything from bucket trucks to school buses to fire engines.
A business could order up a Loadstar in all kinds of configurations. Most were rear-wheel drive, but you could easily choose a four-wheel drive, or a six-wheeled version with four-wheels driving the truck down the road.
A 1700 Series like the one donated to WMRA had a maximum GVWR of 27,500 pounds, and were powered by International’s own gasoline engine, the LV-401 V-8.
1980 Triumph TR7: Wisconsin Public Radio
Is it a car, or is it a doorstop? That’s the question you’ll be asked approximately eleventy-billion times when you drive a TR7, and that’s what probably convinced this owner to send this Malaise Era British car down the road for the benefit of Wisconsin Public Radio.
The TR7 was the replacement for the brutish TR6, a six-cylinder powered, brawny, timeless roadster that’s still wildly popular today, even among people who don’t like British cars. The TR7 is the opposite, with styling that dates it precisely to the week of June 28th, 1974.
Nevertheless, TR7s have a lot going for them. They’re cheap to buy now, and with the common 1,998cc four-cylinder, they’re pretty easy to find mechanical parts for. The four- and optional five-speed gearboxes make them fun to drive, and they had both coupe and roadster versions if you prefer not to get your combover mussed in the wind.
There was a V-8-powered TR known as the TR8. Rally legend John Buffum won the SCCA PRO Rally series for three straight years driving TR7s and TR8s.
1984 Volkswagen Vanagon: KNKX, Tacoma Washington Public Radio
If there’s an official car of the NPR listener, it has to be the VW Vanagon, at least among Baby Boomers. Later listeners have surely moved on to Subaru products by now.
The Vanagon was the successor to the more iconic Type 2 Transporter — what we know more commonly as the VW Bus. The Vanagon originally arrived with an air-cooled, flat four-cylinder engine just like the old Bus had, but by 1983, production shifted to a water-cooled version of the flat four-cylinder instead.
While they’re not as popular as the earlier Bus, the Vanagon has a pretty huge following these days. The most popular Vanagons have Westfalia camper conversions, and some even have Syncro all-wheel drive, supplied by Daimler-Steyr-Puch, making them a favorite among overland builders.
1992 Subaru SVX: KRCC Colorado Springs
You say you like the Triumph TR7’s cheese-like profile, but it just isn’t weird enough? Then do we have the car for you.
The Subaru SVX was a still-futuristic design by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign when it was shown as a concept at the 1989 Toyota Motor Show. Most concepts never see the light of day. This was really the first concept that was executed almost as shown by the designer. Its most remarkable design feature was the “aircraft-inspired, glass-to-glass canopy” side windows, which were required because the glass in the door was so large it couldn’t roll down inside.
The SVX’s powertrain was almost as outlandish as the car itself. It was a 3.3-liter flat six cylinder with 231 horsepower. You have to remember that at the time it was introduced, the 1989 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 with the optional 350-cu.in. V-8 was only good for 240hp. And to make it even more of a driver’s car, the SVX drove all four wheels, via Subaru’s legendary all-wheel drive system. There were actually two systems available: the US, Canada, Germany, France and Switzerland got the Active Torque Split system, which was employed on a lot of other Subarus at the time. During most driving conditions, traction was biased 90/10 toward the front wheels, and a maximum of 50 percent of available torque could transfer to the rear wheels. The VTD system sold in Japan, the UK and several other counties was a permanent AWD system, splitting torque 36/64, biased toward the rear wheels.
Subaru sold about 15,000 SVXs in the USA, charging between $8,000 and $11,000 more than any Subaru previously sold. Even at that price, Subaru lost about $3,000 on every one it sold.
1989 Chrysler TC: WHYY, Philadelphia Public Radio
Officially known as “Chrysler’s TC Built by Maserati,” the Chrysler TC was a joint venture that blended Italian styling with the blistering performance only a Chrysler K-Car could provide.
The whole project was a Lee Iaccoca pipe dream. He’d become friendly with Alejandro De Tomaso while he was at Ford, and was involved in the Ford-powered De Tomaso Pantera. After he’d moved along to his most famous gig as the frontman for Chrysler in the 1980s, De Tomaso found himself the owner of the Maserati brand, which was famous for just about nothing at that point.
The two wheeler-dealers put their heads together and decided to coach-build a car using the Maserati brand’s cache, and the mechanicals and basic platform from a Chrysler K-based Dodge Daytona.
The ad said you could “expect 16-valve Maserati turbo.” Well, you could expect it, but you wouldn’t actually get one. What you got was a Turbo II Chrysler 2.2-liter, with a Crane cam and a Maserati valve cover.
When Iaccoca made the announcement about the TC, he noted that it would be “the prettiest Italian to arrive stateside since his mother immigrated.” The reaction was a little more muted. First off, it was insanely expensive. While Subaru was having trouble moving its SVX at $28k, Iaccoca attempted to squeeze Maserati hopefuls for $33,000. In 1989. In 2017 money, that’s about $68,000.
In the end, Chrysler only managed to sell about 7,500 TCs in three years. It feels like every one of them is still around, though, because they frequently turn up for sale at vintage car auctions.
To learn more about donating your old heap to benefit your local NPR station, visit Car Talk’s Vehicle Donation Program.