One of the most common questions derby newbies (dewbies?) ask is, "where can I find a car I can run?"
For me, I've found that the best way is to make sure all my friends and relatives know I'm looking. In fact, almost every car I've raced was found this way.
But if that doesn't work for you, one of the most sure-fire (though likely more expensive) ways is to drop by your friendly neighbourhood auto wreckers. They will have a plentiful supply of old beaters that still run, but they'll probably want more than the $100-$300 I like to pay.
A related source: used car lots. Sometimes these places will take in old clunkers on a trade just to make a deal, or they might have some cars brought in during a "push / pull /drag" event. You may be able to take it off their hands for a few hundred bucks depending on your negotiating skills.
To find hidden gems, try slowly cruising down gravel roads and looking into the fields. Some farmer may have parked his old Caddy out there after the brakes and exhaust went on it, deciding it wasn't worth the effort to fix. Giving him $100 to tow it away just might make his day. This generally works better in the spring or fall when there's no leaves on the trees.
You can even try to spot "candidates" in mall parking lots or on streets, and leave a note under the windshield wiper with your phone number. You may not get the most friendly responses though.
Choosing a Car
If you have the luxury of choosing your type of car, the number one tip is to get a General Motors product. Ford and Chrysler may have made some pretty solid cars in the past (in fact, most derbies have outlawed Chrysler Imperials because they're so tough), but their engines always let them down. For some reason, GM engines can take an incredible amount of heat and still keep running. I've seen Chevys have their entire radiator ripped right off in the middle of a derby, and then continue to run without a drop of coolant for another 10 minutes or more.
Secondly, get the biggest car you can find. Cars from the 60s and early-70s are the biggest, heaviest, and strongest. More mass = more inertia = more damage to the other guy. Station wagons are very popular for their added size and strength in the rear, where you ideally try to do all your hitting.
Leaf springs in the rear are another advantage, although not many GMs built after the early 70s have them. The reason is that as the car gets crunched up, the leaf springs will actually bow down, pushing the wheels towards the ground and providing more ground clearance for the body. Quite a few cars become disabled when their trunks get beat downwards into the ground and prevent the car from moving.
The size of the engine isn't as big a deal as you might imagine. The derby rings are always made of gravel and are often muddy so there isn't much traction, and thus no need for 300 hp stump pullers.