Contributor David Esch wrote something for me the other day. Reader Brian Epro mentioned exactly the same thing. People have an idea in their heads of what a “clunker” is. For some, it’s a crappy car they never want to see again. For others, it’s tied up in the 400,000 cars the government crushed in 2009. For us, it’s the preservation and enjoyment of things that a lot of people thing are disposable.“Etymology,” David Esch wrote. “You might not expect this, but as it turns out, this whole clunker thing has ties to Jalapa, Mexico.” Apparently, it’s the place where jalapeno peppers come from. It’s also where a whole lot of cars that American citizens didn’t want anymore ended up.
Jalopy. The original clunkers.
“The first reference I have found for the word jalopy dates back to 1924, and the first words they used were a little different,” David wrote. “Jaloupy. Jaloppi. Even Gillopy. They all meant the same thing: Battered old automobile.”
Clunker, David reminds us, is something a little different. “That is a little different. That used to mean a ‘thing that is totally unsuccessful.’ As late as the 1940’s, it was agreed that it meant ‘anything inferior.’ ‘Clunk’ in the sense of an old, worn out machine.”
Eventually, it came to be associated with cars, especially in the early 1950s. Interestingly, David points out that “Hooptie,” the current pejorative term for “clunker” started out as “Coupe D,” as in “Coupe DeVille.” Now there’s a car that’d be right at home here.
Less than 25 years old.
Provide fewer than 18 miles per gallon of fuel.
Owned and registered for at least a year before you traded it in.
That’s it. A whole lot of really nice, formerly expensive automobiles were permanently disabled and crushed for a $4,000 check. Some of those vehicles included:
1992 GMC Typhoon
2005 Mazda RX-8
2006 Nissan 350Z roadster
1997 Bentley Continental R
I went to my local Honda dealer in Bennington, Vermont one Sunday morning and was aghast to find FOUR B-Body wagons exactly like the one I love so much right now, sitting behind the dealership waiting to be crushed.
Screw the government. Let’s redefine what the word means:
A clunker is a car that’s past its expiration date that requires a little more attention to get by.
It’s often a car that someone felt so unconnected to that they moved it down the road to us, and we took it in like an old stray mutt.
On our Facebook page, I suggested that we should stop calling these cars “used,” and start talking about them the way that a lot of pretentious dog owners have ameliorated the dog they picked up for free at a pound. “It’s a rescue,” they say, like they rappelled out of a Huey to save them off the top of a burning building.
I’m going to start referring to my 1996 Roadmaster Wagon as a rescue, too.