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Author: Murilee Martin

Junkyard Gem: 1982 Toyota Cressida Wagon


There was once a time when many car manufacturers each offered station wagons to American car shoppers in several sizes. During the early 1980s, even Mercury had wagons available in small, medium and large sizes, and Toyota was right there with three of its own: the little Corolla, the somewhat bigger Corona and the opulent Cressida. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those Cressidas, found in a car graveyard in the Northern California hometown of John Steinbeck.


The rear-wheel-drive Cressida was available in the United States from 1978 through 1992, going through four generations along the way. It descended from the Corona Mark II, and in fact retained the Mark II name in Japan well into our current century. Until the Lexus LS 400 showed up here as a 1990 model, the Cressida was the most luxurious U.S-market Toyota car during its reign here; the Avalon is the closest thing to the Cressida’s replacement in the United States market.


This generation of Cressida was sold in the United States for the 1981 through 1984 model years, and it was closely related to the Celica Supras of the same era. That means it has an M-series overhead-cam straight-six engine driving the rear wheels. One big difference between the 1982 Cressida wagon and the 1982 Celica Supra is that the wagon didn’t get an independent rear suspension (the Cressida sedan did, though).


In this case, the engine is a 2.8-liter 5M-E with electronic fuel injection, rated at 116 horsepower and 145 pound-feet. Curb weight was just 2,906 pounds (significantly less than that of the current Corolla), so its performance was decent for the era.


A four-speed automatic with an overdrive top gear was standard equipment.


The MSRP for this car was $12,699, or about $42,294 in 2024 dollars. The only 1982 Toyota with a higher U.S.-market price tag was the $13,218 Land Cruiser four-door.


This was a California-market car from the beginning, as we can see by the underhood emissions sticker.


The 1982 Cressida came with plenty of standard features that were extra-cost options on most comparable cars (beyond the automatic transmission, that is). Air conditioning, cruise control, rear defroster and an AM/FM four-speaker audio system were included.


I’ve found plenty of high-mile Toyotas in junkyards over the years, including an Avalon that drove 949,863 miles and a Camry that did 648,928 miles, but this Cressida barely cracked the 100k mark during its 42-year life.


The wagon version of the Cressida was available in the United States from the 1978 through 1987 model years, after which it was replaced by the high-end trim levels of the Camry wagon.


These cars have something of an enthusiast following, but that wasn’t enough to spare this rust-free one from its junkyardy fate.

Nobody else can give you the feeling!

Sadly, we never got the turbocharged version on our shores.



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Junkyard Gem: 1985 GMC Suburban K1500


General Motors has been selling Suburbans since 1935, outlasting the DeSoto Suburban, the Nash Ambassador Suburban and the Plymouth Fury Suburban. These days, the US-market GMC-branded twin to the Chevrolet Suburban wears Yukon XL badging, but GMC Suburbans were sold here from 1937 through 1999. Today’s Junkyard Gem is a four-wheel-drive example of the very successful 1973-1991 Suburban generation, found in a car graveyard just outside of Reno, Nevada.


The Service Parts Identification sticker on the glovebox lid tells us that this truck was part of a fleet order with some interesting RPO codes, including one for “Retail Amenity Delete.” Yes, the cigarette lighter was an extra-cost option.


The original engine was a good old carbureted Chevrolet 350-cubic-inch (5.7-liter) small-block V8, and this small-block may even be the one that was installed on the line in Flint, Michigan. The power rating was 165 horsepower and 275 pound-feet, not a lot of power (by our current standards) for a truck that scaled in at nearly two-and-a-half tons, but it was enough for the era.


The transmission is the optional 700R4 four-speed automatic. The seat is a bench, as is proper.


This is a half-ton with four-wheel-drive and the base Sierra trim level. The High Sierra and Sierra Classic packages (corresponding to Chevrolet’s Scottsdale and Silverado names at the time) got you nicer-looking decorations plus some convenience features.


The 1985 GMC and Chevrolet Suburbans had identical price tags, which started at $11,650 for the K1500 with 350 engine (about $24,682 in 2024 dollars).


The eighth-generation Suburban showed up as a 1992 model, and it received the luxurious independent front suspension that had lived beneath C/K-series GM pickups since the 1988 model year.


At some point, the tailgate from a Chevrolet Suburban was installed.


Rust works slowly in Nevada, though we don’t know where this truck resided before it came to the Silver State.


An owner of this truck was a proud member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12, which covers California and Nevada.


What broke and sent this truck here? We can’t know.

The Suburban doesn’t show up in this commercial for the 1985 GMC trucks, but it’s still worth a view.

Most of the Suburban advertising dollars went to the Chevrolet version.



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Junkyard Gem: 2014 Nissan Leaf


After writing about nearly 3,000 discarded vehicles during the past 17 years, I’ve learned that it takes just over a decade for a new type of car to begin showing up in the big self-service boneyards (not counting unrecognizably crashed and/or burned ones). The first mass-produced battery-electric vehicles of the modern era hit American streets during the early 2010s, which means used-up examples can now be found in Ewe Pullet-type car graveyards. Here’s one currently residing in Carson City, Nevada.


While battery-powered vehicles enjoyed mainstream sales success during the early days of the automobile, there were very few sold from the 1920s through the end of the 20th century. Things in the EV world got more interesting during the late 1990s, when General Motors sold the EV1 and Toyota offered the RAV4 EV (I feel fairly certain that I’ll never run across a junked EV1, but have found a discarded ’02 RAV4 EV).


Then the electron-fueled pace really picked up in the late 2000s. The Tesla Roadster became available to the public in 2008, followed by the Nissan Leaf in late 2010 and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV a year later. The Leaf immediately became the best-selling EV in the world, a title it held for most of the 2010s.


Nissan would like us all to spell this car’s model name in all capital letters, because LEAF is one of those tortured acronyms so beloved by Japanese carmakers: Leading, Environmentally Friendly, Affordable Family Car. This isn’t as annoying as the model names we’re supposed to spell in all-lower-case letters or the ones with punctuation marks, but I’m not going to play that game. This is a Leaf, which means the plural shall be Leaves.


Because EV drivers get to drive solo in California’s HOV lanes, the early LEAF sold very well in the Golden State. This car’s current (and final) residence is across the state line in Nevada, but Carson City is only about ten miles from California.


You can tell it began its career in California from the Proposition 65 sticker on the driver’s side window, which informs car buyers that there may be cancer-causing materials inside. Most owners scrape off these stickers, but this one remained for the life of the car.


This car wasn’t crashed and the interior looks like it was in good shape upon junkyard arrival, so why did it get thrown out? Resale value on the 2014 Leaf and its 84-mile range isn’t so great compared to newer models, so we can assume that some costly mechanical problem ended this car’s career. Nissan wants $14,941.18 for a replacement battery pack, so that’s a good candidate for this Leaf’s demise.


The current Leaf can go up to 212 miles on a charge and boasts 147 horsepower (40 more than its 2014 predecessor) plus far superior fast-charging ability, so the specs on this car seem antiquated just a decade after it was built.

Good for the world, built in America.

What if everything ran on gas?



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Junkyard Gem: 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit


When Volkswagen introduced its second water-cooled model for North America as a 1975 model (the first was the 1974 Dasher), it was badged as the Rabbit instead of getting rest-of-the-world Golf badging. The Rabbit name stuck around here through 1984, after which the Golf designation took over in North America. Then, apparently to please nostalgia-prone American VW enthusiasts, the Rabbit name returned for the late 2006 model year. Here’s one of those second-time-around Rabbits, found in a Colorado self-service boneyard recently.


The Rabbit badges stayed on U.S.- and Canadian-market cars until the Mk6 pushed aside the Mk5 for 2010. Then Volkswagen shoved the Rabbit name into the memory hole, where it has remained since that time.


The 2006-2009 Rabbit was pitched to hip North American urban drivers and its brochure included handy guides to “the language of urban driving” that included definitions for such terms as Hurry Honker, Bumper Broadcasting and Spot Sloth. Clever!


It was available as a hatchback with two or four doors. This is the former, which had an MSRP of $15,600 (about $23,211 in 2024 dollars).


The engine is a 2.5-liter straight-five rated at 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet. That’s well over twice the power of its 1975 ancestor.


The base transmission was a five-speed manual, though this car has the far more popular six-speed automatic.


It looks fairly solid inside and out, though there is a bit of rust-through.


It appears to have been turned in as part of Colorado’s Vehicle Exchange Program, open to pre-2012 vehicles that fail their emissions tests.

It’s back, and it’s clogging the city.

For those who can afford a new car but can’t afford to pay for internet.

 



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Junkyard Gem: 2006 Isuzu Ascender


Things got a little unsettled with the lesser-known players in the GM Empire during the years leading up to the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with plenty of mix-and-match branding efforts. Suzuki badges on Daewoos? Sure thing! Rebadged Subarus for Saab? Why not? One of the sadder stories during this era was the fate of once-proud Isuzu, which was down to just two rebadged Chevrolet passenger vehicles for its final few years in the United States: the I-Series pickup (Colorado) and Ascender midsize SUV (Trailblazer). Here’s an example of the latter type, found in a Silicon Valley self-service car graveyard recently.


Isuzus first entered the American automotive mainstream in 1972, when GM started bringing over Isuzu Faster pickups and selling them with Chevrolet LUV badges. Isuzu began selling I-Marks, P’ups and Troopers here in 1981, followed by Impulses and Styluses (and their Chevrolet/Geo-badged siblings). Isuzu’s real sales success here proved to be with its well-priced trucks; the final U.S.-market Isuzu cars were 1993 models but Rodeos, Troopers and Amigos continued to fly out of American Isuzu showrooms during the decade.


Then sales slumped as the 2000s dawned. The aging Trooper couldn’t compete against a bunch of fresh new rivals and got the axe after 2002. The VehiCROSS was too radical to succeed and was done after 2001. The Amigo (aka Rodeo Sport) went away after 2003, leaving just the Rodeo and the Axiom in the Isuzu lineup. For the 2005 model year, there were no genuine Isuzus left here, just rebadged Chevrolets (Isuzu commercial trucks continued to be sold, of course, and you can still buy a new one today).


GM introduced its new GMT360 SUV platform with the 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada. Sales of those trucks were brisk, and American Isuzu dealers got their own version starting with the following model year: the Ascender, which was supposed to replace the Trooper.


The only meaningful difference between the Ascender and its Chevy/GMC/Olds siblings was its generous Isuzu warranty. On the minus side, Isuzu was in obvious trouble here and potential Ascender buyers feared getting stuck with a truck lacking a dealer network (a genuine concern so soon after Daewoo owners had been directed to the Pep Boys for warranty service in the wake of Daewoo Motor America’s bankruptcy).


In the end, the Ascender and I-Series didn’t sell well. GM announced the discontinuation of the seven-seat Ascender for 2006, with rumors of the five-seater’s demise beginning soon after. 2008 ended up being the final year for new non-commercial Isuzu vehicles in the United States.


Buick and Saab also got their own versions of the Trailblazer, the Rainier and 9-7X.

The actress in this Ascender commercial did a fine job of sneering out the word “minivan” with the appropriate contempt.



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Junkyard Gem: 1982 Jeep J-20 4X4 Pickup


The Jeep SJ Wagoneer was built for the 1962 through 1991 model years, by Willys Motors, then Kaiser-Jeep, then American Motors and finally Chrysler. For all but the last few of those years, a pickup version of the SJ was manufactured as well. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those trucks, an AMC-built ¾-ton four-wheel-drive J-Series, found in a Wyoming car graveyard with snowplow mount still attached.


The Equality State gets meme-worthy amounts of snow in winter, and four-wheel-drive plow trucks tend to be in heavy demand there. The blade is missing from this Fisher plow assembly, but we can be pretty sure it moved cubic miles of the white stuff during its career.


AMC would sell you a factory-installed Snow Boss plow system for 1982, on your new J-Series, Wagoneer or Cherokee. This truck’s owner went the aftermarket route.


The Jeep SJ pickup began life as the Gladiator, a name revived recently on a Wrangler-based pickup. After that, it became the J-Series through the end in 1988. From 1974 on, the ½-ton Js were badged as J-10s and the ¾-ton ones were J-20s.


This one was sold new in Denver, about 100 miles south of the Wyoming state line.


It still has Colorado plates with 2013 tags, so we can assume it did most of its plowing in the Centennial State.


The American Motors Corporation bought Jeep in 1970, dropping the Gladiator name soon after.


Kaiser-Jeep had been buying AMC engines for its trucks since the middle 1960s (along with 225-cubic-inch Buick V6s with Dauntless badges), so it was easy for AMC to continue bolting in its powertrain hardware once it took over Jeep.


This truck has the 360-cubic-inch (5.9-liter) pushrod AMC V8, rated at a Malaise-y 150 horsepower and 205 pound-feet for 1982. A 258-cubic-inch (3.7-liter) AMC straight-six was base equipment in the J-10.


The AMC 360 stayed in production after Chrysler bought AMC in 1987, with the last ones built for the 1991 model year.


The transmission is the base four-on-the-floor manual with extra-low “granny” first gear. A three-speed automatic was available as an option.


The final J-Series pickups were built by Chrysler as 1988 models, after which they got axed so as not to compete with Dodge pickups.

Go ahead, drop a piano into your J-10!

You Jeep truckers just keep on truckin’ in the snow, don’tcha?

Avoid the embarrassment of destroying your date’s front porch by trading in your tank for a Jeep pickup.



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Junkyard Gem: 1985 Ford F-150 Explorer XL 4X4


The Ford F-Series was the best selling motor vehicle in the United States for the 1982 model year and has remained in the No. 1 spot ever since. You’d think that Junkyard Gem-worthy examples of that historic F-Series generation would be easy to find in the car graveyards I frequent, given how many were sold, but most of the ones that do show up have been used up beyond easy recognition and then picked clean by junkyard shoppers. That’s not the case with today’s truck spotted in a northeastern Colorado yard: a fairly solid 1985 F-150 with two-tone paint and the Explorer trim package.


The seventh generation of the F-Series was sold in the United States for the 1980 through 1986 model years. For 1980 through 1983, the F-100 cost-cutting half-ton model was still available, after which it was replaced by the F-150 as the only half-ton F-Series. This truck has the mid-grade XL trim level, positioned between the Standard and XLT tiers.


The Explorer package, which included styling upgrades and various popular options at tempting prices, first became available in F-Series trucks for the 1968 model year. There were Explorer Rancheros and Broncos as well for a while. 1985 appears to have been the last model year for the F-Series Explorer package, after which it was replaced by a set of Preferred Equipment Packages. Starting with the 1991 model year, the Explorer name was repurposed as the model designation for a hot-selling SUV based on the Ranger chassis via the Bronco II.


The F-Series hadn’t gone very far along the process of its metamorphosis into the replacement for the American family sedan by the middle 1980s, so the powertrain in this one is extremely truckish. The engine is the base 300-cubic-inch (4.9-liter) pushrod straight-six, rated at 115 horsepower and 223 pound-feet. 302- and 351-cubic-inch (5.0- and 5.8-liter) gasoline V8s were available as options, and buyers of 1985 F-250s and F-350s could opt for a 460-cube (7.5-liter) big-block V8 or a 6.9-liter diesel.


No drive-to-the-office-park automatic here! This truck has the four-on-the-floor manual transmission, which was an upgrade from the base three-on-the-tree column-shift manual but cheaper than the four-speed with overdrive top gear.


Who says you can’t have a floor-shift manual with a bench seat? The middle passenger just had to get used to taking a beating from the shifter.


Ford hadn’t gone to six-digit odometers in these trucks by 1985, so the actual final mileage must remain a mystery.


There’s rust here and there, but it looks good from 100 feet away.


The original buyer of this truck even sprang for the optional AM/FM stereo radio, which was a good idea for the kind of long drives you take in the Mountain Time Zone.


Ford used the chassis of the 1980 F-Series nearly into our current century, finally doing a major redesign for the 1997 model year. The current F-Series is the 14th generation of a truck family dating back to 1948.

Willie Nelson better have been paid well for Ford’s use of this rewrite of his 1980 song!

Climbs a rocky hill while carrying a Chevy truck and towing a Dodge.

 



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Junkyard Gem: 1985 Jaguar XJ-S


An American car shopper looking for a new V12-engined coupe in 1985 had two choices: Spend the present-day equivalent of several hundred grand for a Ferrari or Lamborghini … or get a Jaguar XJ-S for about a third that price. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, found in a Denver car graveyard recently.


Jaguar began bolting V12 engines into the E-Type beginning in 1971, then into the XJ12 sedan soon after that. By the time the E-Type was discontinued after 1974, Jaguar had spent the better part of a decade grappling with the near-impossible task of developing a successor that looked just as beautiful.


This ended up being the XJ-S, which was based on the chassis of the XJ sedan and debuted as a 1976 model in the United States. Production continued through 1996.


These cars were mean-looking, powerful and packed with English wood-and-leather luxury, but they were also temperamental and costly to repair. I’ve documented quite a few discarded XJ-Ss during my junkyard travels.


This is a DOHC 5.3-liter engine, known as the HE for its improved combustion chambers and rated at 262 horsepower and 290 pound-feet. This was serious power for a year in which a new Corvette’s engine made 230 horses and the Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC coupe chugged along with a 184hp V8.


A three-speed ZF automatic was the only transmission available in this car.


The MSRP was an even $36,000, which amounts to something like $107,170 in 2024 dollars. That compared favorably to other European luxury coupes; the 1985 BMW 635CSi was $41,315 ($122,993 after inflation), the Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC listed at $57,100 ($169,985 today) and the Porsche 928S cost $50,000 ($18,848 now). Detroit offered the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz coupe for $24,850 ($73,977) and the Lincoln Mark VII Bill Blass Edition for $26,659 ($79,363).


The XJ-S was notorious for expensive-to-fix electrical and mechanical problems, so it’s a struggle for third or fourth owners to keep theirs in driving condition. Some give up on the V12 and swap in small-block Chevrolet V8s.


The gauge cluster in this one was purchased by a junkyard shopper before I arrived, so I couldn’t get a final odometer reading. It appears to have been reset in 1987, anyway.

Here is V12 power wrapped in soft leather, paneled in rare wood, equipped in complete luxury.

A blending of art and machine.

British Leyland was so proud of the XJ-S that it opened this iconic TV commercial with a mid-1970s Playboy Bunny climbing into one.



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Junkyard Gem: 1991 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz


GM’s Cadillac Division introduced the ultra-swanky Eldorado as a 1953 model, and the Biarritz name was first used on the Eldorado convertible three years later. After that, Eldorado Biarritzes in various forms were built intermittently through the following decades. The end finally came for the Biarritz in 1991, when the last eleventh-generation Eldorados rolled off the Hamtramck line. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, found at a self-service yard near Denver, Colorado.


Biarritz is a resort city on the Atlantic coast in France’s Basque Country, just the sort of place where a high-living oil heiress might have flaunted her new Eldo during the late 1950s. The Biarritz title was used to designate Eldorado convertibles through 1964, then got dropped until its revival as the name of a gloriously rococo trim level for 1976.

For me, the definitive Eldorado Biarritz is the 1979-1985 version, with its stainless-steel roof panel inspired by the one on the 1957 Eldorado Brougham. When Robert De Niro as pink-suited Ace Rothstein falls victim to a bomb in his car in the 1995 film “Casino,” that car is a 1983 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz.


The Eldorado got a radical downsizing for the 1986 model year and its next-to-last generation, losing 16 inches of overall length and a corresponding portion of general bulk. The Biarritz version stuck around, but with no stainless-steel roof. 


The 1991 Biarritz package did get you two-tone paint, “Tampico” carpeting, birdseye maple wood on the dash and console plus 10-way power front bucket seats.


Also included were “wire wheel discs” aka faux-wire-wheel hubcaps.


The padded landau roof with slick-looking integrated opera lamps also went onto the 1991 Eldorado Biarritz.


All 1986-1991 Eldorados got a full digital instrument cluster.


This generation of Eldorado never got the DOHC Northstar engine. Instead, all were powered by a member of the Cadillac High Technology pushrod V8. The Northstar went into final-generation Eldorados from 1993 through the end in 2002.


This is the 4.9-liter HT engine, rated at 200 horsepower and 275 pound-feet. If you want to enrage engine-name purists you should call it the “HT4900” within their hearing range. Earlier versions displaced 4.1 and 4.5 liters, with 1991 being the first year for the 4.9.


When this car was new, no manual transmission had been available in a new Cadillac since the last three-pedal Cimarrons were built as 1988 models. The gearbox in this car is a four-speed automatic.


The final year for the Cadillac Eldorado was 2002, after which it was replaced by the CTS coupe. The 1986-1991 eleventh-gen Eldos ended up being the smallest of all the generations.


This one had an MSRP of $34,425, or about $80,326 in 2024 dollars. That was a bit cheaper than the cost of the similarly sized 1991 BMW 525i, which listed at $34,900 ($81,434 after inflation). Meanwhile, the costliest Cadillac of 1991, the Allanté hardtop convertible, cost $61,450 ($143,384 today).

Winner of the 1990 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award!



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Junkyard Gem: 1999 Suzuki Vitara JX 4WD four-door


Toyota and Honda enjoyed lucrative American sales success with the RAV4 and CR-V compact crossovers, which went on sale here for the 1996 and 1997 model years, respectively. Suzuki offered its first-generation Escudo/Vitara here (as the Sidekick, in addition to being sold by GM with Geo Tracker badging), but its 1980s design had become embarrassingly dated by the middle 1990s. Something had to be done; that turned out to be the second-generation Vitara, which appeared here as a 1999 model. Here’s a first-year example, found in a Colorado car graveyard recently.


The first Suzuki-made car model sold new in the United States was the first-generation Cultus, sold here by GM with Chevrolet Sprint badges beginning in 1985 (this after more than 20 years of Suzuki motorcycles arriving at our shores). The Suzuki Jimny showed up the following year (as the Suzuki Samurai), with more and more Suzuki-badged models showing up during the 1990s.


As an affiliate of the far-flung GM Empire, Suzuki products sold in the United States became more Daewoo-ized during the 2000s, but there were always some genuine Suzukis available all the way through the final Kizashis and Grand Vitaras.


The Vitara was available in the United States through the 2003 model year, while the more powerful and generally grander Grand Vitara was sold here all the way until American Suzuki Motors filed for bankruptcy and gave up on highway-legal four-wheelers after 2013. You can still buy new Suzuki motorcycles and ATVs to this day, of course.


This is a top-trim-level four-door JX+ with four-wheel-drive, so its MSRP was $17,999 (about $34,406 in 2024 dollars). That compares favorably with the similarly equipped 1999 Honda CR-V ($20,450, or $39,091 today) and 1999 Toyota RAV4 ($18,198 today).


The Grand Vitara for ’99 came with V6 power under the hood, while the regular Vitara made do with 1.6- and 2.0-liter straight-fours. This is the 2.0-liter, rated at 127 horsepower and 134 pound-feet.


A five-speed manual transmission was base equipment, but the original buyer of this car bought the automatic. Unlike the car-based CR-V and RAV4, the 1999-2003 Vitara had a truck-style frame and true four-wheel-drive instead of an idiot-proof all-wheel-drive system.


Collectible? Probably not, but still an interesting piece of Suzuki automotive history.

American Suzuki Motors didn’t seem willing to spend money to do TV commercials for the not-so-grand regular Vitara, so we’ll watch one for its JDM sibling instead.



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