“This thing was the best car,” the man on the phone told us. We’d just found his name and number on a piece of paper, abandoned on the floor of a dead, red Pontiac Aztek and decided to give him a call. He sang it praises I’ve never heard anyone sing about an Aztek. It was unbelievable, it was mind-blowing. It was Detroit, in a nutshell. And it was only the tip of the great stuff we found after spending a day at a junkyard in Pontiac, Michigan.

The first time I visited David Tracy in metro Detroit, he suggested we go to a junkyard just to “check it out.” With no car and therefore not much say in the matter, I agreed. It turned out to be quite a delightful afternoon, so upon my second visit, we brought along a camera crew. This is what we found.

Here’s the thing about a junkyard (or salvage yard, as some like to call them): Everything is in exploded view. So, if you really wanted to see how a leaf spring suspension works, all you need to do is find one and poke around it a bit. You don’t have to go hunting around the internet for diagrams or videos. The real-life thing is right there in front of you!

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Photo: David Tracy (Jalopnik)

You also get a close-up look at other people. Or, rather, what they leave behind in their cars—vestiges, and snapshots of owners past. Some salvage yards are better than others at cleaning out the cars that are brought in, but they don’t always get everything. Pop open the glovebox and you might find someone’s registration still in there. Or maybe their cherished Smashing Pumpkins CD collection. Old clothes, used shoes. The possibilities really are endless.

On what was ostensibly the most beautiful Detroit day ever, with snow falling thickly and wetly all around us, David, two freelance videographers and I trooped out to U-Pull And Save Auto Parts in Pontiac, Michigan. This was a place David insisted we visit, since it’s actually located on what was formerly a Pontiac stamping plant.

Think about that. There were countless Pontiacs sleeping beneath the snow that day. After having some of their parts stamped in Plant 15, these cars were driven God-knows how far and then, at the end of their lives, were returned to rest in the very spot they were born.

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But it wasn’t just Pontiacs. This particular salvage yard definitely leaned toward American scrap, but there was still a respectable number of import cars. There was a Land Rover vomiting a rainbow array of complicated wiring out of its console and doors. There was an Austin Healey Sprite so rusted and woebegone you could stick your legs through it and walk off with a new car-stume.

Screenshot: Jalopnik

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We made two great discoveries, though. The first, which I was unaware of, was the Chevrolet Avalanche’s mid-gate. Before, the Chevrolet Avalanche was just another stupid truck. But now that I’ve seen its highly versatile and utilitarian interior, I’m blown away. Why doesn’t every truck have a mid-gate?

Screenshot: Jalopnik

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And second, people really, really loved their Pontiac Azteks. It’s easy to dismiss the Aztek as a hideous, plastic hunk of 2000s General Motors crap, but if you and I are still here talking about it now, the car had to have done something right, right? We found two Azteks at the salvage yard and one of them had a folded piece of paper still in the footwell.

Upon reading the paper, we found a name and phone number of someone who probably had a close relationship with this red Aztek. David decided to give him a call. The car’s owner picked up, and what ensued was the most Michigan car story I have ever witnessed.

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Screenshot: Jalopnik

Check out our video to see our salvage yard antics!