It was ten in the morning on Friday when we boarded the streetcar to head to the Portland Swap Meet. We were not in a hurry.

Accompanying me were SCM Editor-In-Chief Jeff Sabatini and my son Bradley (fresh from scoring a 1:24 Avanti toy at the previous weekend’s Hot Rod and Custom Show). We planned to meet up with SCMer and NCRS Senior Judge Michael Pierce to wander the aisles.

Founded in 1964, the meet is billed as the largest indoor/outdoor automotive swap meet west of the Mississippi River. There was an era when it was the epicenter of the old car world in Portland. We kept time by it: “Only three months until the swap meet.”

We also bought cars and parts in preparation for selling them at the swap meet. We all had our trick ways to get to the good stuff first.

Load-in is on Thursday, and every experienced swap-meet goer knew that all the best deals are done then. I would always have at least two cars for sale, which meant that I could drive them in on Thursday. One year I had a 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner, a 383 with a 4-speed, Hurst shifter and bucket seats, along with an MG-TD that was perhaps the worst driving car I ever owned.

I recall the easy strolls I took from one building to the next, alert for a hidden treasure.

One year I found bucket seats and a dash with a tachometer for the 1963 “shoebox” Chevy II Nova wagon I was restoring. Another time I came across a set of three Stromberg carburetors plus a manifold to fit to the Devin sports car I had. (Sadly, it wasn’t an SS, but rather a homebuilt special mounted on an MGA chassis. With a built 283 Chevy V8, it was a wild ride, indeed.) I once bought an Isetta and drove it home.

The lack of efficiency in my search was one of the best parts of the weekend.

But times have changed. This year the swap meet, while still huge and taking up five buildings and the entire parking lot of the Portland Expo Center, was the smallest in memory. There were empty vendor slots in nearly every building, and the aisles were not crowded.

The blame, of course, rests on the internet. For parts and literature, the advent of eBay and the like created a 24/7 global market.

There used to be one vendor I would wait all year to visit, to comb through the magazine advertisements of Alfa Romeos from the ’50s through the ’70s he had clipped. Today, I just do a quick eBay search to find what I want.

Regardless, most everyone at the swap meet seemed to be having a good time. There were more than a few people carting around treasures piled into wagons or rolling on furniture dollies.

We stopped by to chat with SCM book reviewer Logan Gray at his booth. It was stocked for the weekend with an impressive selection of books, many on hot rods and American cars that catered to the swap meet crowd.

We also visited with SCMer Bob Ames. A retired bank president and car collector, Ames reminded me that 36 years ago he authorized the $10,000 line of credit we used to launch the Alfa Romeo Market Letter. I told him we still had the line of credit and had always made our payments on time.

There weren’t many fun cars in the “for sale” section. A Flame Red MGB GT at $16,500 peaked Jeff’s interest but not in any seriousness. We did have fun looking over a “Ferrari 246 Dino” that was just wrong in very possible way. That’s what happens when there’s a Pontiac Fiero lurking underneath. The $63,000 asking price seemed optimistic.

One of the nicest cars for sale was an Alfa Romeo Milano Verde with an ambitious asking price of $23,000. It was offered by old friend Gary Blodgett, who used to race Alfas in SCCA before they were vintage.

Will I return next year? Of course. But not with the intent of actually looking for anything to bring home. For me the swap meet has really become a social occasion, a chance to admire rows of rebuilt carburetors and chrome-plated alternators rather than a place to actually find something specific.

More important is that Bradley enjoys himself, wandering and ogling to his heart’s content. This year he bought a pair of coveralls, which seems like an important gearhead rite of passage.

Will there be a swap meet in 10 years? Yes, but it will continue to be smaller and with fewer unique and interesting finds.

If you haven’t been to a big automotive swap meet, I encourage you to go. It’s like visiting the “The Land That Time Forgot” and seeing rooms full of automotive fossils.


  1. Lovely article Keith, so glad you shared that with us. Looks like you had a great time with Bradley and your pals. The Car Hobby, Friends and Family, a wonderful reason to get together.

  2. My 1st car was a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner – with a 383 and a 4-speed!
    Metallic blue with a factory flat black hood. I loved that car!

    I’d like to get another one someday, but the prices on them are stratospheric these days. 😒