Though electric cars have been with us for about as long as there have been cars, you didn't see many of them on American roads from the 1920s through the first decade of the 21st century.
Things changed fast in the EV world at that point. The Tesla Roadster went on sale to the public in 2008, followed by the Nissan Leaf in late 2010 and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV a year later. I knew I'd need to wait about a decade for the first of those EVs to begin showing up in the big self-service car graveyards I frequent, and I was right: Here's a crashed first-year Leaf in a Northern California Pick-n-Pull.
I'd found a few electric cars in boneyards over the years, including a pair of 2007 Zenn Electrics, a 1988 Chevrolet Sprint with an electric conversion of unknown provenance, a 1995 EVolve Electrics-converted Geo Metro, and an electrified 1988 Ford Ranger that may or may not have been authorized by Dearborn. Today's Junkyard Treasure is the first mass-produced, highway-legal EV that I've found in the knacker's yard.
This car has a February 2011 build date, which makes it one of the first Leaves (actually, LEAFs, since the name is a very Nissanic acronym for Leading, Environmentally Friendly, Affordable Family Car) sold in the United States. It appears to have been hit in the left rear suspension while parked, and we can assume it was an insurance total that wouldn't sell at auction. We can also assume the very valuable battery pack got yanked out and resold long before the car ever reached its final parking space. Right now, Row52 shows four of these cars available—and all four are in California yards.
A big part of the early popularity of EVs in the Golden State was their eligibility to obtain the coveted ACCESS OK sticker that allows solo drivers to occupy exclusive HOV lanes during rush hour. This car has one, naturally.
It's nice that the electric motor and controller was made to resemble a four-cylinder internal-combustion engine, right down to the "valve cover" on top. The first-generation Leaf was built on a platform derived from a Renault-Dacia econobox chassis, allegedly, which means this car is a close cousin to the Mexican-market, Nissan Aprio-badged 2008 Dacia Logan that I found in a Denver yard last year.
The Leaf was the best-selling EV in the world for most of the 2010s.
What if everything ran on gas?