Making the Swap

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by Joe Babiasz  More from Author

The Ultimate Guide to Swap Meets.

Swap meets have been the lifeblood of hot rodding. Although the Internet is an easy way to search for cars and parts, attending a swap meet is a lot more fun. Swap meets come in all sizes and venues. Over the years, I’ve attended more than I can remember, and I usually score a part or two that I’ve been looking for. On more than one occasion, I’ve walked into the meet owning one car and left owning two or more. While I enjoy attending local events, I eventually started seeing the same guy in the same booth selling the same stuff, and the only thing my $10 entry fee got me was sore feet. What else can you do?

Travel to a National Meet

Eventually I came to the conclusion that if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain, and I began attending national swap meets. The large national meets offer one-stop shopping for most hot rod and restoration needs. With large meets having up to 10,000 vendors and several thousand vehicles for sale, there’s a good chance you can find just what you are looking for. Many last several days and a few nearly a week. Don’t be afraid of traveling a few thousand miles to attend. I found it’s definitely worth the trip, as evidenced by my recent trip to the Pomona Swap Meet, shown in the accompanying photos.

Getting There

Of course it costs more to attend a long distance swap meet, but there are ways to reduce your travel costs. Gather a few buddies to share fuel and hotel costs. The cost for someone going alone could be cut by 75% if three friends go for the ride. Turn it into an adventure. And for those who are married and think your spouse wouldn’t be too happy with you vacationing without him or her? Then just take them along. Find a nice hotel and make a great weekend out of it. How could they say no? Keep in mind that this method works anywhere; a weekend at Hershey, Carlisle, Pomona or any of the other cities offering national swap meets.

Things to Consider

There are a couple of things to consider when attending a long distance swap meet. If you decide to drive to the event, you have the advantage of being able to stuff your car full of goodies. If you fly, don’t worry; there are ways you can get your parts home, at least if they aren’t too big. The easiest way to bring parts back is to have two suitcases where one suitcase is slightly smaller and will fit inside the larger one. On the outbound, pack your clothes into the smaller suitcase, then put that in the large one. In essence, on the outbound you’re bringing two suitcases on the plane but only paying for one. After your trip, fill one suitcase with your clothes and the other with parts. Sure, you will pay for the second suitcase, but it will be cheaper than shipping.

Paying for your purchase

You need cash for what you want to purchase, but do you want to carry large sums of money with you? Remarkably, I’ve seen many foreign buyers who carry thousands of dollars in their pockets in an effort to score the best deal, but there are obvious risks. My suggestion is to carry just enough money for a decent deposit, then take care of the final payment outside the swap meet via the bank or by wire transfer. Many swap meets have ATMs on-site if you need a small amount of cash. You can make the purchase if you do some forward planning. If you are considering purchasing a vehicle, I suggest the following method:

Check with your bank to see if they have a branch in a city close to where the swap meet will be held. Contact that branch and advise the representative that you might need to withdraw a large amount of cash or receive a bank check drawn from that branch. Ask them if there is anything special you need to do or bring with you. The next alternative is to wire transfer the funds to the seller.

Contact several shipping companies and request a quote to ship a car back. Make sure you verify that they are licensed and insured.

Write a contract for the purchase of the vehicle. The contract should include an area for the buyer’s and seller’s name, address, phone number, driver’s license number and purchase price, deposits, balance due and signatures. It’s important to add a notation indicating that no parts will be removed or changed and that the car will be stored safely and not driven except to get it on the transport truck. You certainly don’t want to find out the new tires that were on the vehicle at the swap meet were replaced with a worn out set of tires. If you are completing the money transfer after you get home, the contract should include a statement indicating that the seller is to mail the title to you as soon as they receive the remaining funds. Never send the title with the shipper. Make a copy for each party to have.

Don’t forget to pick up a price guide prior to leaving. AutoTrader Classics has an excellent classic car price guide for reference.

Buying a Car at an Event That’s Not Close to Home

So you bought the car of your dreams, but it’s 1,500 miles from home. How do you get it back? You have several options. You could drive to the event with a trailer, but that only works if you have the time to spend on the road and have a vehicle with a trailer. You could go with a buddy and have them drive the car home. That works until that beautiful vintage car you just picked up develops a mechanical problem on the way home. Then it’s “open the wallet” time. Or you can have it professionally shipped. I’ve shipped dozens of vehicles from long distance swap meets, and I’d suggest going the same route. It’s really not that difficult to do.

Things to Do

If you manage to score a deal, it’s important to check out a few things before handing over the cash. Most importantly – is the car that’s being sold the car listed on the title?

Check the VIN on the title with the VIN on the car. Look on the title to see if there is a lien on the vehicle. If there is, the seller will have to take the lien off it before selling the vehicle.

See if the name on the title matches the name on the driver’s license of the seller. While the person selling the car might be a friend of the owner, you must make sure this person has the right to sell the vehicle.

Make sure the vehicle doesn’t have a salvage title.

If you close the deal and are having the car shipped, you’ll have to ask the buyer to hold the vehicle until pickup and to work with the trucking company to get it on the truck.

Before leaving the swap meet, do a thorough walk-around and note any damages and defects on the car.

Take plenty of photos.

Lastly, if you picked up some parts at the same swap meet, put the parts in the trunk of the car you’re purchasing. It will save you from carrying them home.

So there you have it. Fire up the Internet and find a long distance swap meet to go to. Grab some friends or a significant other and make the trip. Then take it all in and have a great time. You’ll be glad you did.

Short List of National Events

Below is the list a just a few of the many large swap meets nationwide. Just visit their websites to find the dates and specific locations of their events for 2011.

Antique Automobile Club of America


The Antique Automobile Club of America hosts 17 events yearly. The largest A.A.C.A. event is always the fall swap meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It will be held from October 5-8, 2011. Attendees will have the opportunity to visit over 10,000 vendor spaces and view approximately 1,200 cars for sale.

Carlisle Events


Carlisle Events hosts ten unique swap meets yearly at the Carlisle, Pennsylvania Fairgrounds. Each meet is unique in that it brings buyers and sellers together based on their type of vehicle, be it domestics, imports, trucks or even motorcycles. Attendees can walk the 102-acre facility in search for that special vehicle or part that’s been eluding them. Just remember to bring your walking shoes.

Pomona Swap Meet


The Pomona Swap Meet is one of my favorites. Each event has over 3,000 parts-seller spaces with lots of hard to find car parts and accessories. There are several thousand vehicles (many for sale, some just for show) from all across the country displayed by their owners in five distinct “Cars for Show and Sale” areas: pre-1975 antique autos, any year Corvettes, any year Porsches, pre-1957 street rods and pre-1975 Volkswagens. The Pomona Swap Meet is the West Coast's largest antique auto, Corvette, Porsche, street rod and Volkswagen swap meet.

Pate Swap Meet


The Pate Swap Meet has been going on for 38 years, with no signs of stopping. It is held at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. While it’s not quite as large as other meets, it does offer attendees 1,000 vendors and over 500 vehicles for sale. This year it will be held on April 18-May 1.

Goodguys Rod & Custom First Fall Nationals


The Goodguys Rod & Custom Association will host 21 events for 2011, and all will include a swap meet and car corral. Their largest event, the 22nd Autumn Get-Together will take place on in Pleasanton, California on November 12-13. Over 1,500 vendors and 1,000 vehicles will be for sale. Of the 21 events, 18 are dedicated to 1972 and older vehicles, and three are open to vehicles of all years.

7am Sunday morning at the Pomona Swap Meet. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating.

A sample of the 1960s and 1970s muscle car section.

This tin woody could exchange hands for only $8,000. It was the deal of the day.

$11,500 would have bought this very nice 1961 Pontiac Bonneville. Check out the sheet metal.

Need a project? It took $8,500 to take this 1956 Chevy home.

While the weather wasn’t the best, there was still a nice variety of vehicles for sale.

Serious parts buyers bring along their wagons

Those interested in a challenge could bring home the 1929 Ford for just $1,700.

California loves low riders.

Wagons – like this one – are hot.

This beautiful Nova was priced at $34,500.

$7,000 would buy this vintage Chevy pickup.

Buyers could go home with this 1970 Plymouth tribute Superbird for $28,000.

This seller brought two projects.

The owner of the 1968 Charger was asking $42,500.

This V-8 powered, rust-free 1970 Chevy stepside could be had for only $3,900.

This rust-free “Southern California” 1962 Galaxie convertible was priced at only $13,750. While it had a big block, it was not a numbers matching car.

There was a nice showing of Corvettes.

A later model small block powered this 1965 Corvette. The owner wanted $40,000 for it.

Buyers had their choice of colors and model years.

Pomona always gets a nice mix of cars.

The ultimate in rat rods.

This mildly customized 1949 Plymouth was powered by a Dodge Red Ram Hemi. Air conditioning and automatic transmissions were a few of the options. It was priced at $16,500.

Custom paint was only part of the goodies on this 1956 Ford truck. It was powered by a 5-liter V-8 and had a four-link suspension, and was priced at $42,000.

It took only $1,800 to take home this 1949 Chevy truck.

Over 2,500 vendors were selling parts.

You need engines? Pomona has engines.

This guy makes his living selling grilles.

If you can’t find a manifold here, you don’t need one.

Valve Covers R Us!

Nothing but power steering pumps, beautifully restored.

$10k would buy this 1951 Ford custom.

This beautiful 1937 Plymouth was for sale at $27,500. You couldn’t build it for that amount.

This was my favorite car, a 1954 Pontiac convertible. Price? Just $17,500.

If you need a camper, they have them too.

There is even a foreign car section filled mostly with Volkswagens.

Pomona has lots of Volkswagen parts for sale.


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