During the mid-June height of the Washington area gasoline crunch, a Virginia man drove his 1970 Buick Electra 225 into the parking lot of a Goodwill Industries store on Duke Street in Alexandria and gave it away.
Given the soaring price of fuel, he said, he could not get what he wanted for the car from a dealer.
The charity accepted the offer from the man, who said he was about to buy a smaller, more fuel-efficient car. After weeks on the Goodwill lot, the Electra finally sold - for $30.
The Buick is one of 95 cars received by local Goodwill stores thus far this year.
In a year of rising gas prices and a new emphasis on fuel economy, the harried owner of a gas guzzler has discovered one way to unload his albatross on wheels: Give it to charity and claim a tax deduction.
"The car donations really picked up when the gas crunch set in," said David Becker, president of Goodwill stores in Washington, which, he said, usually receive only four or five cars a year.
"They're obviously coming from people who can get a tax deduction on them and are in an income bracket where the donation will mean something."
Since the beginning of this year, local Goodwill stores have raked in $25,000 in car sales alone, according to Becker.Goodwill will take any car that can be driven to one of its two area stores.
When a donor brings a car in, he is given a receipt for the donation, and is free to place whatever value he chooses on the car.
Internal Revenue Service regulations stipulate that a taxpayer "may generally deduct the fair market value of the property at the time of the contribution."
The regulations define "fair market value" as the "price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller."
According to Goodwill spokeswoman Betsy Forte, the charity has nothing to do with the value claimed on a donated car. "That's between the donor, his accountant, and the IRS," SAID Forte.
The vast majority of the cars given to Goodwill fall into the old clunker category, station wagons and 10-year-old V8 sedans which have lost their appeal and resale value as gas prices have climbed.
But there have been some cream puffs, including a 1975 Cadillac Coupe de Ville which brought in $3,300, a 1966 Mercedes Benz which fetched $1,900, a 1973 Dodge Dart which attracted a $1,220 bid, and a 1975 Honda which brought $1,030.
The charity even got a 14-foot-long outboard speedboat from one man this year. "The guy told us, that, with gas prices so high, he just couldn't pay the prices they charge for fuel at the marina," Becker said. The boat was auctioned off for around $1,800.
And just last week, a business executive drove his 1972 Lincoln Continental to the Alexandria store.
"He said he wouldn't get any money if he traded it in," said one employe. "So he just gave it away."
For the more valuable cars in stock, Goodwill asks for sealed bids. The 1975 Cadillac attracted 14 bids, Becker said, and the Mercedes received almost as many.
But if no good bids are forthcoming, Goodwill will keep a car until the right offer comes along.
Take the case of a 1958 Edsel Villager station wagon. The red paint on the dashboard is badly chipped, the chrome bumper has turned brown in spots from rust, and minor dents dot the wagon's body. It still sits in the parking lot at the Goodwill store in Northeast Washington.
"We're trying to get a good price" for the collector's item, said Becker. "A couple of people offered $700, but we'd like to get around $1,500."
Goodwill is not the only charity reaping benefits from the car giveaway trade. The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Northwest Washington has had 20 cars donated so far this year, according to staff coordinator David Sayre.
In fact, says Sayre, the center has stopped taking cars because of a lack of space.
Meanwhile, five cars sit on the Goodwill lot at 2026 West Virginia Ave. NE, waiting for a new owner to happen by.
"This is as close to recycling a car as you can get," mused D. C. Wiley of Fairfax after he closed the hood of a 1969 Dodge Polara station wagon. "The possibility of having a place where you can leave a car is kind of a revelation."
And while Goodwill officials are quite pleased with their used-car business, they're not tied just to autos. "Because of all the publicity we've been getting, we have a line on a Piper Cub," said Becker. "I have no idea how much that would fetch."