Keith’s Blog: The Rite of Spring

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.

Jeff Zurschmeide

Jeff Zurschmeide - SCM Contributor - %%page%%

Jeff is a lifelong automobile enthusiast with a penchant for sports and racing cars. He has raced SCCA, local circle track, and stage rally as a co-driver. He makes his living as a freelance automotive journalist and is the author of six books on automotive topics. As a rule, he practices catch-and-release fishing when it comes to collectible automobiles, trying to leave each one in better condition than he found it. Enduring passions include his MGA and Austin Mini, and his 1969 Corvette. He recently purchased a 1920 Ford Model T Touring because “you just have to have one of these once in your life.”

Posted in Blogs, Keith Martin

3 comments

  1. Your blog is a genuine service to a hobby that is often delusional and almost purely emotional. I was in the retail car business for 44 years. I winced when people referred to the process as “pumping iron” but have gradually acclimated to this notion.

  2. Gee Jeff, guess you missed my 1966 Mercury Comet Caliente Convertible for only $10,500/OBO at PIR…

  3. I attended the Portland Swap Meet for years, nearly always for the entertainment and astonishment value, always wondering what motivated many of the vendors who had to physically load up all this crap, haul it in, then haul it out and load it up again for the return trip home. Not only did the junk look the same, so did the sellers, rotund,scarcely bathed, adorned in dirty ill fitting overalls. And then there were the men these ladies were with! But occasionally there were some hidden jewels. I once found and bought a significant piece of early California Hot Rod history – the car set dry lake records, won it’s class at the 1953 Oakland Roadster Show, and was the first feature car in the very first issue of HONK which went on to become Car Craft Magazine. Bought it on the very last day too. Had a few other cool

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