Earn Your Place in Chicago Television History

If you’ve watched TV anywhere near Chicago sometime in the last 30 years, you’ve probably seen what is now an iconic low-budget commercial for Victory Auto Wreckers. It’s been on the air essentially unchanged since 1985. Now is your chance to replace it, earn a measly $500, and perhaps become immortalized in Chicago television history for another three decades.

Come trudge through the muck and save on parts for your car!

If you’ve actually gone down Green Street in Bensenville to visit Victory Auto Wreckers, you’d likely have seen a muddy lot tightly packed with bashed cars stacked two high, with few straight body panels among them. (Our own Eric Rood posted about his visit early last year). Request a transmission — this is not a self-serve lot — and a fork tractor might skewer the car through the windows or the sides, carry it back to the garage and hold it up in the air as their hardworking employees take torches to axles (it’s easier and doesn’t spill fluid) while the car hangs there.

It was still a muddy disaster early in 2014. Photo copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Eric Rood.

Aircraft taking off from O’Hare International roar in the background: The lot is practically across the street from the perimeter of what was once the world’s busiest airport. (It just dropped to No. 6.) The cars are much more modern than they appear in the ad, though they did finally pave the lot recently enough for a starburst highlighting this fact to appear on their website, along with T-shirts so proudly emblazoned.

subar-wrx-cat-helpI’ve owned this shirt for about a decade. Photo copyright 2015 Hooniverse/Zoe Cesar.

If you call them on the phone, you’ll get three language options from the automated system: English, Spanish and Polish, because they understand Chicago’s demographics. I don’t know if this policy is still in place, but as of 10 years ago when I bought a transmission for my ZX2, if you spent more than $100 there, you’d get a free T-shirt. I still have mine, though it’s clearly too large and is stained by many, many types of automotive grime. It has never torn, and the image of a T-Rex eating a car is still as unclear as ever. When time comes, I’ll burn the shirt; I suspect the flame will last days. I bought a couple new ones for my wife and myself recently; I don’t wear the clean one in the garage.
The commercial itself — ah, yes, the actual point of this post — features Bob Zajdel, a 20-something man who worked at Victory as a tow truck driver in the early ’80s. He attempts to open a car door when it falls off its hinges and onto the ground. He calls Victory and gets cash: “That old car is worth money,” the slogan goes. A handful of vintage twenties is traded for a title between the actual tow truck driver and the man playing the tow truck driver.
Zajdel claimed in 2006 that he still had the watch and T-shirt he wore during filming. He’s something of a minor celebrity around Chicago; every few years, during a slow news cycle, a TV station or newspaper will produce a piece on the long-running ad and will inevitably interview Zajdel. My memory is hazy now, but I swear I remember seeing Zajdel interviewed in a bar at some point, beer in hand. He’s said the commercial was filmed on a side street near the junkyard and he wasn’t paid for the role.
As part of their marketing push for what I assume is the next one-third of a century, the company is offering a $500 prize to whoever can make a winning replacement. Film something on the nearest quiet suburban street, upload it to YouTube, and sign your life away the release on their website. If it’s successful enough, you might become part of Chicago folklore for a few decades, but probably only between daytime reruns of Roseanne and Jerry Springer. If you’re smart, you’ll choose a Plymouth Fury mighty Dodge for your door-dropping car.
Just don’t forget your Big ‘Uns Collectors Edition in the trunk.
[Source: ABC 7 Eyewitness News]

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  1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
    PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

    I used to get this ad on TV in Southwest Michigan because a few of our stations were Chicago-stations. WGN and WNDU were right next to each other on our cable, so it helped me keep track of when Indiana was Eastern and when they were Central time. Just flip back and forth and look at the clock during the news.

    1. Tom Avatar

      I too grew up in SW Michigan (St. Joseph) and I still have fond memories of this commercial on WGN. I remember having to call stores in Mishawaka and ask them what time it was since I could never remember the time zone change! I think they finally observe DST now….

  2. r_toaster Avatar

    Step one, set your scene somewhere dystopianish/Chicago:
    <img src="http://pics.imcdb.org/0is638/vlcsnap2010040101h29m12.7107.jpg&quot; width="600">
    Step two, self explanatory, have massive dinosaur (let's look in to that cloning thing, m'kay?) eat car:
    <img src="https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/aG0oUNknPjTxXNZ0NXekEFvgf7f2On6vyMaSRNC04L4=w756-h567-no&quot; width="600">
    Step three, film? it, maybe with an old home use RCA shoulder camcorder (VHS only) for that authentic junkyard vibe.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/archive/0/0a/20140211094727!Old_School_JVC_Camcorder.jpg&quot; width="600">
    <img src="http://stuffpoint.com/money/image/48071-money-2.jpg&quot; width="600">

  3. hwyengr Avatar

    I still chuckle every time that door falls off. The story goes that the guy didn't know it was rigged like that, so the jump back and the shaken expression are real reactions to almost having your feet crushed.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I had heard that as well.

  4. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Finally, I know where I can go to get one of those rare BMW prototype doors!

  5. MurileeMartin Avatar

    I'm going to make teams create Victory commercials as a penalty at the Barber LeMons race in a couple weeks. They will have production values every bit as good as the original.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Hey, good to see you around, Phil!

  6. Night Traveller Avatar
    Night Traveller

    Love that the 3rd picture down ,crappy shot of a Honda has a copyright. You would not want that gem stolen.

  7. dukeisduke Avatar

    You can get Now Paved! t-shirts: