On March 14, 1972 the Vanlene freighter was engulfed by fog and ran into the so-called Graveyard of the Pacific, a treacherous area off the west coast of Vancouver Island. On board were 300 Dodge Colts, built by Mitsubishi, bound for North America.
All the cars had fuel in their tanks and keys in the ignition, as is standard procedure for cargo ships. According to an article in the Times Colonist, the captain had sailed all the way from Japan with nothing but a compass, as none of the on-board navigation systems worked. With the back half of the boat underwater and the bow angled sharply upward, it must have looked like the finale of Titanic from afar. All 38 Chinese crew members made it off the ship safely, but the cars were trapped on board.
A helicopter was called in to save as many Colts as possible, and impressively, it managed to airlift 131 of them onto dry land. Once the Vanlene was declared a loss, locals from nearby villages swarmed in to scavenge. The article describes one man who had a plan to cut open the hull and fashion it to a ramp, and drive 40 of the remaining cars onto a barge. However, the salvagers nixed the idea. Others pulled engines and wheels, while even more raided the ship’s galleys for furniture, clothes, and more.
Ultimately the Vanlene sank, taking 169 brand new Mitsubishis with it. What remains of the ship and cars are still at the bottom of Barkley Sound, apparently a popular diving spot (at 2:13 in the video above, you can see the remnants of one unlucky Colt). Like the lost Toyotas of Cyprus, it’s another tale of new JNCs that were never driven. If you’re wondering why Colts are so rare on this side of the Pacific, well, this is one of the reasons.