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Is a swap meet a viable place to buy my first collector car?

Andy Reid offers his thoughts, experience and suggestions on swap-meet sales

(Editor’s note: During the month of May, the ClassicCars.com Journal is publishing a series of stories about buying your first, or perhaps your next, collector vehicle. Today, East Coast editor and collector car market analyst Andy Reid takes a look at buying the car at a swap meet such as those held at Carlisle and Hershey, Pennsylvania. If you have a story about your experience buying your first collector car that you’d like to share, please send it to us at [email protected].)

You can buy a collector car from a dealer, at an auction, from an individual, online, or even do a trade. But there is another venue for buying a collector car to consider — a swap meet. 

But are swap meets — like those held each fall in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and those staged on a regular basis by Carlisle Events, — still viable places to purchase a collector car? Are there still good cars for sale at such events in the internet age, especially of late with the spread of online auctions? 

The short answer is a conditional yes, at least so far. 

Checking out some of the cars available at the Carlisle Import swap meet

This past weekend I went to Carlisle Events annual Import and Performance Nationals event. In addition to the various car-club displays and a long list of other activities, the event included a swap meet with vehicles for sale. 

My attention was drawn to a nice Saab 93 Viggen coupe in Lightning Blue and to a TVR 280i, both which I seriously considered taking home. 

A Saab and a TVR? Yes, I like cars that tend to be different and those two definitely qualify.

Both cars were in excellent though not perfect condition, and both were offered at very reasonable prices. No one was bidding on them, they just had signs in their windows with an asking price. I test drove one and spent a lot of time with the other. Either would have been a good buy. 

That no one is bidding against you at a swap meet is a definite advantage toward getting a good deal on a collector car, though I have yet to see a swap meet car that was in concours condition. 

The cars at swap meets are usually driver-condition examples, but also often without serious needs like rust repair. 

Sometimes you find a rarity, such as this 1995 Suzuki Cappuccino

Another advantage is that you can almost always test drive a car offered at a swap meet, and if you come prepared to buy, you can bring an experienced friend (highly recommended) or the necessary tools to do a thorough examination in person of the car. 

In the case of the import event at Carlisle, if you do not know a lot about the specific car, say the Saab Viggen, for example, you also have the ability to go over to the Saab Club tent and find the help you need, though be sure to offer your helper lunch or at least a beverage.

I had the knowledge to examine the 93 Viggen myself, but the TVR club was not in attendance this year so I was unable to get expert eyes on the 280i or I likely would have bought it. 

I did just such a thing at Carlisle in 2015 when I bought my TVR 2500M. The car was a nice driver and the price was right. I also had the wonderful TVR club members available to assist in the process and made many new friends during the weekend.

Some cars offered at swap meets need work

Finally, there is another advantage to buying at a swap meet because the seller would rather not have to take the car back home. And the further from home the seller has come, the more eager he likely will be to do the deal.

By the way, getting the car home is something you also need to think about in advance. One good reason to bring a friend along is that you have an extra driver for the drive home should you make a purchase.

Now, for the sadder news: The proliferation of collector car-shopping opportunities 

However, while numbers might be down, swap meets still have quality cars offered for sale, and buying at a swap meet can make for an enjoyable experience. 

While the focus for the import show at Carlisle is, obviously, on non-domestic brands, the Carlisle calendar also offers specialized gatherings for Mopar, Ford, GM and Corvette gatherings with sizeable corrals of cars for sale. And of course, there’s the big Hershey Fall swap meet, plus other events across the country.

If you are on the hunt for your first classic, or are looking to add another to your collection, don’t forget that swap meets are still alive and well and offer some advantages and a bit more simplicity than buying online might be. 

While the variety of cars may be smaller, there are great deals to be had.

Buying A Collector Car Series

A series of stories on the ins and outs of purchasing a collector car, whether it's your first or your next.

Andy Reid
Andy Reid
Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.


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Buying A Collector Car Series