International Discoveries: Iceland

Our regular Discovers automotive archaeologist Will Shiers has taken a break this month, but fear not, Max Sautoy has made some discoveries a bit closer to home… in Iceland!

Why are there so many American cars in Iceland? Well, there used to be a whole lot more; these days you’re more likely to see them scrapped than on the road, as the American airbase which housed a several thousand American service people in Keflavik, an hour south of Reykjavik (and where the main airport in Iceland is,) was closed about 20 years ago.

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Much like the British airbases, US personnel imported their American vehicles for their tours and left them, selling them to locals when they returned to the US. There’s always been a healthy appetite for American vehicles even before the Second World War, as Iceland is more or less in the middle of the Atlantic between America and Europe, so this proximity, plus their toughness and low price made them an appealing prospect.

1. Found about an hour north of Reykjavik, near the town of Borgarnes, was this collection of ‘retired’ cars, including plenty of American metal. This Dodge Ram truck has seen better days, most of the glass is missing and looks as if its own rear axle and wheels are in the truck bed.

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2. Showing just how tough the weather conditions in Iceland can be is this Eighties Cadillac Seville. Although it may look like a symphony in Brown with rust, it in fact started life… white! The second generation Seville’s styling was controversial for its use of a bustle back rear end treatment, a styling fashion that was briefly popular with all big three car makers in the early- to mid-Eighties.

3. Another brown beauty, this two-tone brown Ford Econoline dayvan looks like it might have been imported to Iceland by an Icelander rather than brought in off the base, as these vehicles used to be popular for going on fishing or camping expeditions in Iceland. Nowadays, the equivalent would be a land cruiser with a lift kit and massive doughnut tyres.

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4. Another Cadillac at the same site, this Sedan De Ville looks to be in pretty good condition, with only the chrome showing obvious rust. Heavily tinted rear windows suggest a possible diplomatic connection or maybe time spent somewhere very hot and bright before arriving on the frosty shores of Iceland.

5. This Ford Econoline with an extended wheelbase has been lifted, this is a modification popular in Iceland for vehicles that go off-road and need to ford fast flowing rivers and rocky off-road courses. There are still sections of road untarmacked in some parts of the wilder bits of the country, such as inland.

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6. This Chevrolet Suburban has certainly seen better days. Although much of its glass and interior remain, its drivetrain and front cab have long departed this mortal coil. Ritzy ‘Scottsdale’ trim level included: a full-depth foam cushion, door trim panels with simulated wood-grain inserts, ashtray mounted lighter, door operated dome and courtesy lamps.

7. Launched in 1995, the Chrysler Cirrus was marketed in Europe as well as the US. Pitched between the Neon and the first new generation 300, it wore Chrysler’s trademark ‘cab forward’ design and came with either a four-pot or V6 engine. Sibling models were the Plymouth Breeze and Dodge Stratus.

8. Of course it’s not just out in the sticks you can find abandoned and scrapped Yanks… there even in Reykjavik! These fourth generation Sevilles were launched 1992 and were considered pretty ground-breaking at the time with their Northstar V8 engines and remarkable amounts of computer aided driving assists. It could be this very complexity that lead this Caddy ending it’s days a parts car in the suburb of Kopavog.

9.  Chrysler’s K-cars were one American compact that really did make sense in Europe and for a while there were many of them on the streets of Reykjavik. This one was still in use driving, until only a couple of years ago. Not any more.

10. Another abandoned Seville, this one with pearlescent paint and a tag from a dealership in Florida, suggesting it may have been purchased their and shipped back by an Icelander. Faulty computers and electrics can be very time-consuming and costly; labour is relatively expensive in Iceland, making for horrific car repair bills, in cases like this it’s often just cheaper to scrap the car and put the repair bill money to the price of a new one.

11. … And for that reason precisely, older cars like this Mercury Comet have a better survival rate as they are mechanically simple and can be repaired by a home mechanic.

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