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Clunkers sit and await death
Long lines of traded cars to get scrapped

SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. - They were waiting down at Gibson Chevrolet near Chicago for a couple of five-gallon cans of sodium silicate - liquid glass, they call it - to poison and kill the clunkers when the latest condemned car pulled up.

The 1999 Ford Explorer with 140,000 miles was still sturdy. It had some body damage, including a mangled front bumper, but nothing that couldn't be fixed.

Gabrielle Pulce wasn't thinking about that. She wasn't sentimental about all the trips taken in the Explorer or about how in a few days the SUV will be squished until it's about as tall as a toaster.

'I like new stuff,' said Pulce, 19, of Chicago.

She is among the thousands of people across the nation who have taken advantage of the government's 'cash-for-clunkers' program. One after another, they've pulled up to dealerships in gas guzzlers and pulled out in gas sippers after getting rebates up to $4,500 for a new car - like the more efficient Chevy Equinox SUV bought for Pulce by her mother.

The program has breathed new life into the dealership, which sold more vehicles since the program began than in all of June. But for jalopies like the Explorer, it's the end of the line.

Out back at Gibson Chevrolet south of Chicago there's a growing conga line of clunkers - 17 in all this week.

All of them made it here under their own power - a requirement of the program is that they all be drivable. But if this were a hospital, their conditions would range from good to critical.

Among those in better shape is a maroon 1987 Chevrolet Caprice Classic, with matching maroon velour seats. It is the kind of land whale that once dominated the roadways. It is also a reminder that while $4,500 off on a new car is enticing, it also means losing an old friend.

'I cry before I came out here, I cry,' said Clorinda Tomasi, who just before her 83rd birthday traded the Caprice for a new Malibu. 'I been thinking of this since a few years ago, but I always got cold feet.'

One vehicle in Gibson's waiting line is beyond a clunker: a 1987 Ford Econoline van. Road salt has left its lower edges looking like a voracious animal chewed on them. The driver's door stays closed only with help from a latch like those used to lock garden sheds. And it's unclear what would fall off if not for the yards of duct tape along the windshield and throughout the interior.

'He said his wife was celebrating already,' said Dave Gibson, one of the dealership's owners, clearly impressed with the efforts to keep the van alive.

All the clunkers face the same fate.

'We'll drain the engine of oil and pour in two quarts of the sodium silicate and run the engine until it seizes,' said Gibson, whose grandfather opened the dealership more than 50 years ago.

Then it's off to one of two nearby wrecking yards owned by Vito Mistretta.