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BEST JUNKYARD Minneapolis 1999 -

Owner Steve Lang likes to say that he operates the smallest junkyard in the country. If there's a smaller one, the 25-year veteran of the grease and rust biz hasn't heard about it. But don't be deceived by size; there are more than 25,000 transmissions, carburetors, heater cores, and other automotive detritus crammed into his one-third acre lot, centrally located just across the Minneapolis-St. Paul border. Even if, say, that maddeningly tough-to-locate Colt turbo-charger isn't on the premises, Lang can usually find one in a few keystrokes, thanks to a computerized database exchange that links Prospect's stock with 2,700 other junkyards nationwide. Prices are reasonable (the used tires, starting at five bucks, are a steal), but convenience and prompt service are this business's strongest selling points. On-site mechanics will even install used engines and transmissions. Ask for that type of help in the sprawling U-pull-it yards in the northern suburbs, and your only reward will probably be a snarl. Prospect Auto Parts is organized with an amusingly artistic flair: A pair of school buses, now used for storage, sit atop sheet-metal sheds, and Lang and his agreeable four-man staff have dubbed the separate chambers fancifully (The Dungeon and The Love Shack are two favorites). Be sure to check out the Hansen Windsculpture Gallery above the main office, where lawn ornaments made from recycled car parts are on display and for sale at $200 a pop.

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