Editor’s note: Jeff Zurschmeide, frequent contributor to SCM, is taking over Keith’s Blog with week with his report on last weekend’s Portland Swap Meet and PIR Auto Swap Meet:
By Jeff Zurschmeide
April in Portland means two things: rain and the Portland Swap Meet. Both are as inevitable as the sunrise, but you have to take it on faith that the sun is really up there somewhere above the clouds. However, it’s the swap meet that signals thousands of car people that it’s time to emerge from hibernation and begin another year by trudging around in the wet and looking at other people’s cast-offs.
A swap meet is the exact inversion of a concours. With a few exceptions it’s the worst of the worst, the nadir of the neglected. Sellers drag disassembled hulks onto trailers, slap a hand-scrawled asking price on the windshield (if there is one), and sit under an EZ-up waiting for eager bidders.
No low-ballers. I know what I have. Serious offers only.
Here’s how it goes: any real bargains get swept up early on day one. Realistic sellers can usually find a buyer before the end of the event. The rest of the rust — and this is the vast majority — goes back to the barn for another year.
The problem is twofold. First, people see the prices paid for top-tier examples of a given car and figure that the raw material of a gem must be worth a substantial fraction of the cut gem’s price.
Yet just as a lump of coal may become a diamond, it’s the process that confers value — not the elements.
The second problem is harder to solve, and it’s simple arithmetic. The price of many driver quality cars is stagnant or dropping. If you estimate restoration costs and then look at prevailing prices at auction, the process rarely pencils out. It’s hard to tell someone that the classic car on their trailer is effectively worthless now and probably losing value every year, but that’s the truth.