The Portland Swap Meet has been on hiatus for the past two years, for obvious reasons. It’s been a long and boring pandemic, so this year’s event was highly anticipated, at least by me.

The swap happens at the Portland Expo Center, with five large buildings and the entire parking lot filled with parts and cars for sale. For the past 20 years or so, the swap has also spilled over into the neighboring Portland International Raceway, ringing the two-mile racetrack with a couple thousand more vendors.

It’s a huge event, to say the least.

With two years of pent-up demand, I expected this year’s swap to be bustling. I was enthused enough to commit to the whole three-day weekend and rented a stall to sell off my old stuff.

The show was good, but it was not full. There were empty rows inside the buildings, which is uncommon, because April in Portland usually means rain. Even some areas in the less expensive outside spaces were open. The number of cars for sale was down a bit, and the crowd was thinner than I expected.

Is it a lingering fear of large gatherings? Or is the swap maybe going out of fashion? It’s hard to say, but likely a little of both.

As I shopped and watched the crowd from my booth, a number of observations presented themselves.

You could see the Bring A Trailer effect in the cars for sale — the top-tier vehicles were simply absent. Better results can be realized online for the same price as a parking space at the swap. You market to a much larger audience and you don’t have to negotiate.

For the most part, what we saw this weekend was the dross that didn’t or wouldn’t make the cut online.

Many trucks were available for sale, and comparatively few were restored or resto-modded. Many appeared to be Grampa’s old F-150, complete with the little bug deflector on the nose. Most showed reasonable asking prices — or they got more reasonable as the weekend went on.

The last few years before the pandemic were subject to what I call the “flea market premium,” in which prices were less attractive than you could find elsewhere. After all, nobody wants to come home empty-handed. And as the saying goes, a bird in the hand…

Stupid pricing went even further this year. The old days of finding bargains at swap meets seem to be long gone, unless you find the right seller on the first day of the swap. A couple items I sold early (and cheaply) ended up on other people’s tables at a handsome markup.

Today it seems the swap meet is less about finding that rare or perfect part, and more of a tribal gathering. It is one of my favorite rites of spring. I ran into old friends, found a few unexpected treasures, and ate an overcooked $8 hot dog.

The experience scratched my itch for the summer driving season. I’ll see you there next year.



  1. Jeff, I have not had the pleasure of making this event, however about twice a year I fly from Washington DC to LA to attend the Pomona Swap. This swap has been going for years and the friends I meet and attend with, it has been a on-going bonding since we were teenagers.
    The swap has change from digging through bins and seeing project cars, to now more of Man Cave items and Car Clubs meetings for BBQ. A few years ago the trend was impala’s and you could see Asian onlookers with steel brief cases buying them at over inflated prices, then it was the Belgians/Australians buying Americana, now it is Man Cave goods like Coke Machines etc. (Yes I have one in my house from there).
    I was suppose to make the trip this month, but my friends drive an RV up from AZ and with Gas prices would be to much of an issue for them and others that attend, since gas is over 7.50gal and these old rides just love to consume large amounts. I will be going to Spring in Carlisle instead since it is around the corner. I do think with Facebook market place, craigslist as well as BAT has change this landscape. However, my last trip to Pomona was in Oct and plan and the crowd was great, with some empty vendor spaces. So, I am in hopes that things will calm down for another fall trip to the West Coast.

    • The price of gas certainly kept some more distant buyers and sellers at home this year. My experience with Facebook Marketplace is that it’s for people who think Craigslist buyers and sellers are too damn reliable. 😉 It’s not uncommon to see an ad for an Alfa Spider (excuse me, I mean Alpha Spyder) with a photo of an MGB on FB.

  2. I fall into the category of “coming home with nothing,” largely due to my little collection of European cars, and the one Mopar. These cars rarely have been catered to by the Portland Swap Meet crowd, yet I still go with the hope that someone will have a lonely table full of 1960s Alfa Romeo Sprint GT parts. Also more and more absent are vintage toy cars, replaced by endless modern adult collectible diecast. The writing has been on the wall since eBay, so no big surprise. I suppose if I was a connoisseur of fake patina vintage gas sign replicas and Let’s Go Brandon engraved hearth decor, the swap meet might have drained my wallet a little more.

    • The “Brandon” stuff was ubiquitous – as expected, right? The number and type of foreign cars was about the same as always (which means, count ’em on one hand). And the tables full of Harbor Freight tools seem to grow every year. But I find the swap rewards patience. I found a decent deal on a period-appropriate steering wheel for my dune buggy and a few other items worth having and reasonably priced.

  3. Myself, my son and a good friend of ours attend annually (make that religiously), and travel down from British Columbia to do so. We also noticed the lighter crowd size, but being Canadians, we also noticed the lack of the usual amount of Canadian plates in the hotel lot, the PIR lot and pretty much everywhere we went. When we crossed into Washington, there were literally only 2 vehicles ahead of us. 5 minute wait, tops. The lingering effects and uncertainty of travellers due to covid is my guess. In the past, we’ve sat in the border line for over an hour. For us, the lighter crowd meant a better chance of finding something cool, and we definitely did. We had a great time, people were awesome, weather was fantastic, and we’ll definitely be back again next year.