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Monday December 8 2014 / Science & Technology - A Little Levity

The Belgian village of Châtillon is a pretty unassuming place. A stone’s throw from the border with France and Luxembourg, it forms part of the sleepy commune of Saint-Léger which boasts a modest population of 3,500 people.

Paris, New York or London it ain’t, but Châtillon has nevertheless attracted a fair few tourists over the past decades, curious to see and take photos of an eerie phenomenon on the outskirts of town.

For over half a century, until just a few years ago, the forest surrounding Châtillon was the home to what can only be described as a ‘car graveyard’. 

Not a dedicated wrecking yard where decommissioned cars are dismantled, but a secluded place where nearly 500 cars were abandoned to rest, and rust, in peace.

The corroded cars were left in surprisingly orderly lines, resembling bumper-to-bumper traffic, frozen in time.

Branches and vines of surrounding foliage had grown down into the cars, twisting around the rusted, broken down metal. 

These old motors were also eerily animal-like with rusted, busted radiator grills from yesteryear looking like the rib cage of a carcass, voids where headlights were missing resembling empty eye sockets. 

How the graveyard developed remains somewhat of a mystery, but the story goes that cars were dumped there by US troops stationed in and around Châtillon during World War II.

Once the conflict ended, the American soldiers, who had bought cars during their European sojourn, didn’t fancy paying expensive taxes to ship the motors stateside and so hid their vehicles in the dense woodlands near Châtillon, possibly with the idea of picking them up at a later date.

But few, if any, ever came to claim what turned to buckets of bolts. The once shiny lustre of paint wore off and these cars were left to mother nature to moss over and rust. 

Watch this video in Flemish in which a Belgian TV channel visit the forest:

Whether or not the Châtillon car graveyard started this way is still up for debate, but these forests went on to become an unfortunate dumping ground for abandoned cars after the war.

Eagle-eyed observers have noted that you can spot a 1960s Ford Anglia, for example, among a cluster of other post-war cars.

Alain Rongvaux is the property owner of the final resting place for these vintage automobiles. In 2010 he received a summons in the mail ordering him to remove the rusting vehicles from his land for environmental reasons. 

“I inherited these depots after the death of my father, who was very attached to these cars,” said Rongvaux.

If the Belgian failed to remove the cars, the authorities were going to penalise him €250 per vehicle – that’s €125,000 – so he decided to call time on the car cemetery and duly removed the old bangers. 

Today, none of the four car graveyards remain in the forests of Châtillon but recent visitors to the area say a few rusty scrap parts are still lingering in the dense brush, a reminder of the corroded traffic jam that once occupied the space. 

The truth about the genuine origins of the Châtillon car cemetery remains a mystery but the legend of the decaying scrapyard rests among the fronds.

Suggested by
Steven Rogers