How to Make the Most of Swap Meets

Swap Meet
Swap Meet

I learned that a 20-year-old vehicle needed components periodically, so my car show activities included swap meets to feed my projects and even my daily driver if needed. When I got a 1967 GTO as a project car, I needed parts. In the pre-Internet age, I loved Spring and Fall Carlisle. I was in school and working a Saturday nighttime shift. I recall leaving work at 4 a.m., picking up my girlfriend, and driving my ’76 Formula to Carlisle, fatigued but motivated by the potential of finding cheap vehicle parts.

Walking through Carlisle was like a treasure hunt. First, find automotive gold, then make a transaction. When it came to car stuff I needed, I grew fearless about bartering. Evidence? I acquired an $8 swivel bucket seat for a Hurst Olds. The upholstery was ruined, but the frame and shell were OK. Sunday, the guy didn’t want to take it home, and I wouldn’t pay his original amount. The swap meet had fantastic deals. By late Sunday, prices moved from rarity and advantage to weight and vehicle space.

Swivel Seats

Then came the after-auction phenomenon. By 6 p.m., it looked like a gold rush boomtown gone bust-no people, but heaps of proof they had been there. When the late-Sunday mass evacuation began, we were far behind. Why? If you wanted real vehicle components from private vendors at decent prices, you strolled past the car wax, sunglasses, colored spark plug wire looms, window tint, and professional sellers up front and to the far side. In my early days, the pit side wasn’t paved, and we bought parts off the dirt. We enjoyed it.

However. Anyone who attended these semi-annual swap shows back then knows there were only one or two ways out of town and the lines could be over an hour long. Front yard alcohol sales were common. The traffic was awful. We were stuck that day. We did what any good parts-hunters would. Instead of rushing to the car to sit in traffic for an hour, we went slowly to see what the vendors had left behind. It’s remarkable how many serviceable components people leave near trash cans to be scrapped.


I found a restricted-secondary Pontiac intake manifold. Since I was working on a High-Performance Pontiac, I rescued it. I remembered how heavy this manifold was after 200 feet. A few steps away was a discarded silver suitcase on wheels. I opened it, rolled my intake manifold on it, and left. On the long walk back to the car, we found a blue late-’60s Barracuda glovebox door. I didn’t own one but couldn’t let it go to the dumpster, so I rescued it.

Over the years, it’s been easier to sit in your living room on your computer and browse a huge selection of parts from around the country and maybe the world via auction sites and online classifieds, buy what you want, and have it delivered to your doorstep. I enjoy and easily do it. I know it’s cheaper than driving to a swap meet, spending the day digging through parts and possibly finding nothing. Many swap meets have shrunk because of this.

Online buying lacks adventure. Finding a perfect part at a swap meet and haggling its price can be satisfying. I paid $42 for a GTO His-and-Her shifter. A Trans Am’s $15 secondhand Hurst Super Shifter works perfectly. Let’s not forget the time spent sorting through $5 or $1 tables. I realize those days are gone, and it’s not reasonable to expect those prices anymore, but there must be deals to be had in the swap meets.