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A decrepit car is one that is often old and damaged and is in a barely functional state. Numerous slang terms are used to describe such cars, which vary by country and region, including jalopy and banger.
Age, neglect and damage tend to increase the expense of maintaining a vehicle. The vehicle may reach a point where this expense would be considered to outweigh the value of keeping it. Such vehicles are generally stripped for parts or abandoned;[nb 1] however, some owners choose to keep the vehicle. These old, neglected and often barely functional cars have been used not only for transport but also as racing vehicles. Their use has earned them a place in popular culture.
During the 1930s, the market for used cars first started to grow and decrepit cars were often a poor man's form of transport. Cheap dealers could obtain the cars for very little, make aesthetic adjustments, and sell the car for much more. Early hot rodders also purchased decrepit cars as the basis for racers, and early stock car racing was called banger racing in the United Kingdom and jalopy racing in the United States.
A jalopy was an old-style class of stock car racing in America, often raced on dirt ovals. It was originally a beginner class behind midgets, but vehicles became more expensive with time. Jalopy races began in the 1930s and ended in the 1960s. The race car needed to be from before around 1941. Notable racers include Parnelli Jones.
Numerous slang terms are used to describe such cars, which vary by country and region, including hooptie, jalopy, shed, clunker, lemon, banger, bomb, beater, rust bucket, voodoo, wreck, bucket, death trap, disaster on wheels, or rattletrap.
In British slang the terms old rust bucket or simply bucket are used to refer to decrepit cars but the favoured term is old banger, often shortened to banger. The origin of the word is unknown, but could refer to the older poorly maintained vehicles' tendency to back-fire. The term shed is also used.
North American English
In American slang jalopy, clunker, old rust bucket and bucket are also used. So too are beater and the more urban hooptie, which gained some popularity from the humorous song "My Hooptie" by Sir Mix-a-Lot. The word jalopy was once common but is now somewhat archaic. Jalopy seems to have replaced flivver (1910), which in the early decades of the 20th century also simply meant "a failure". Other early terms for a wreck of a car included heap, tin lizzy (1915) and crate (1927), which probably derived from the WWI pilots' slang for an old, slow and unreliable aeroplane. In the latter half of the 20th century more coarse terms became popular, such as "shitbox".
Of unknown origin, jalopy was noted in 1924. It is possible that the non Spanish-speaking New Orleans-based longshoremen, referring to scrapped autos destined for scrapyards in Jalapa, Mexico, pronounced the destination on the pallets "jalopies" rather than multiples or possessive of Jalapa. Another possible origin is the French "chaloupe" which refers to a "motor-boat" and could reference the sound an old car would make.
A 1929 definition of jalopy reads as follows: "a cheap make of automobile; an automobile fit only for junking". The definition has stayed the same, but it took a while for the spelling to standardize. Among the variants have been jallopy, jaloppy, jollopy, jaloopy, jalupie, julappi, jalapa and jaloppie. John Steinbeck spelled it gillopy in In Dubious Battle (1936). The term was used extensively in the book On the Road by Jack Kerouac, first published in 1957, although written from 1947.
Georgia Tech, an engineering school in Atlanta, Georgia, takes pride in the former practice of engineering students maintaining antique cars, and the school still maintains the Ramblin' Wreck, a popular symbol of the school. Their college radio station, WREK, is named after the iconic Ramblin' Wreck From Georgia Tech.
In 2009 the term "clunker" was heavily used in reference to the Car Allowance Rebate System in the United States, which was also known as the "Cash for Clunkers Program".
Decrepit cars used on Indian reservations in the United States and Indian reserves in Canada are often referred to as reservation cars or rez runners for short. The culture of the rez car was explored in the documentary film Reel Injun, and also figured briefly in the feature film Smoke Signals. Keith Secola (Ojibwa) recorded the song "NDN KARS" describing such a vehicle in 1987. Originally appearing as a cassette release, it was used in the Native American-made film Dance Me Outside. It is on his album Circle (AKINA Records, 1992). Activist Russell Means's humorous poem "Indian Cars Go Far" (1993) also describes the "Indian car" as a decrepit vehicle.
- 24 Hours of LeMons
- Banger racing
- Cash for Clunkers
- Demolition derby
- Lemon (automobile)
- Pimp My Ride
- Vehicle scrappage scheme (United Kingdom)
- Wrecking yard
- "Abandoned Vehicle Law & Legal Definition". USLegal.com. US Legal, Inc. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
- "Reporting an abandoned vehicle". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- "Jalopy Racing Craze, Nipping Baseball Take". Google News Archive. Prescott Evening Courier. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
- Kennedy, Tim (21 January 2009). "BOOK REVIEW: "MEMORIES OF THE CALIFORNIA JALOPY ASSOCIATION"". Racing West. Archived from the original on 14 January 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
- Warm affection for a rust-bucket past Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 2005
- "Slang of the 1920s". Antique Automobile Club of America. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
- "jalopy". Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
- "And Why Do We Call Them That?". American Heritage. April–May 1986. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
- Steinbeck, John In Dubious Battle, Penguin Classics, 2006, ISBN 0-14-303963-6; Page 81
- Goodwin, Andrea (15 August 2008). "My Rez Car". Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education. Archived from the original on 13 September 2015. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
- Hale, Mike (14 June 2010). "Letting the Arrows Fly at Hollywood Stereotypes". New York Times. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
- Keith Secola and the Wild Band of Indians, Circle documented at discogs.com.
- Russell Means, "Indian Cars Go Far" on Electric Warrior (Soar, 1993) at discogs.com.
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