While hiking in Texas on Saturday, I spotted the frame of an old car that had apparently been swept away by a river and then deposited on the bank, where it has rotted for decades. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to identify the machine; can you please help?
I spent Thanksgiving hanging out in Texas with my brothers and their girlfriends. After a gluttonous few days, guilt forced us to spend Saturday hitting hiking trails at Colorado Bend, a state park in the Texas hill country.
Toward the end of our hike, we checked out a waterfall called Gorman Falls, which flows into the Colorado River. Just a few hundred feet from the falls, along the river bank, I discovered a buried car — well, what’s left of one.
A quick Google search led me to a photo on Wikipedia with the caption “An abandoned car buried upside-down in mud along the bank of Colorado River near Gorman Falls.” I cannot find any further information, but I can tell you that this car — whatever it is — isn’t upside down.
Let’s walk through some of this mysterious vehicle’s characteristics and see if we can identify what we’re looking at. Luckily, the car’s mechanical components are quite telling.
First things first: This thing is a body-on-frame vehicle, and what’s interesting is just how wide that frame is between the axles compared to how narrow the frame is ahead of the front axle and behind the rear. It’s a unique frame shape, which should help us identify what we’re looking at.
The suspension gives us some good information, too. Up front is an independent suspension that uses strut rods to locate the wheels longitudinally. This isn’t uncommon on some later Japanese cars, and even a few later American cars, but it’s very common on older, 1960s-1970s-era cars like my 1965 Plymouth Valiant and 1966 Ford Mustang. I don’t see any coil springs up front, so it might be a torsion beam design — also common on 1960s-era cars like my Valiant and Mustang. It’s also possible that I just can’t see the coils.
The solid rear axle works with the body-on-frame design and strut rods to all but confirm that the vehicle is rather old, and the rear coil springs make it clear that the machine is not a truck (trucks have used leaf springs up until relatively recently): What we’re looking at here is an old sedan or coupe. Most likely American.
Also obvious is the fact that this vehicle has a steering box and not a rack-and-pinion setup. Plus, instead of kingpins, whatever vehicle this is used ball joints to create the axis about which the front tires turn. This all lines up with what I’d expect to find on a 1960s-era American car.
The bias-ply tires are Goodyear “Custom Power Cushion” Polyglas tires, which were quite popular in the 1970s:
Drum brakes at all four wheels further confirm that this machine is probably from the 1970s or older.
Vehicles (especially nicer ones with rear coil springs) in the 1980s and newer would likely have had radial tires and at least front disc brakes.
The vehicle’s size offers a bit of a clue, as well. It’s wide, but not really that long.
With a coil-sprung rear suspension, we already know it’s not a truck, but given the frame’s size, I don’t think we’re looking at a big four-door sedan like a Lincoln Continental, Chrysler Imperial, or Cadillac.
Granted, this frame has clearly been crushed by whatever crash put it in this river in the first place, but I don’t think it’s been shortened by accordion by multiple feet.
The entire body of the car is gone, meaning the only Class-A surface (i.e. surface that one might consider “styled”) we have left is the frame-mounted rear bumper. It’s chrome, and there’s a prominent crease about six inches inboard from the corner, where there’s a round carriage bolt.
I am honestly unsure what the car is, though I will say that a 1960s-era B-Body Chevy would have the same independent front suspension design (though with coil springs up front; again, I didn’t see any on the front of the buried car, but they might have been there), the same coil-sprung solid axle out back, a similar steering box location, and a similarly-shaped frame (you can see a 1965 Impala frame above; this one was being sold by a member of Impala Forums messaging board).
If it were a 1965 Impala, it’d have a similar rear bumper crease, and a carriage bolt in a similar location. The mint condition Impala shown above (this vehicle sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction) shows a rear bumper not unlike what I found on the shore of the Colorado river in Texas.
But I am not sure that the mystery car is an Impala, particularly because the front subframe mounts where the front side of the strut rods bolt up don’t quite look the same. So if you have a guess, let me know in the comments.
Part of me hopes it wasn’t an Impala, because that’s far too badass of a car to go out this way.