Jim’s Blog: Hubcap Hunting at the Portland Swapmeet

I love swapmeets. All it takes is a little time and a little walking to find just about anything you’re looking for at a bargain-basement price. And even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, chances are you’ll end up buying something anyway.

 

Ever since I bought a set of steel 15×8 wheels for my ’72 Chevy truck on eBay, I’ve been hunting for a good pair of dog dish 4×4 front hubcaps to finish them off. ACC Associate Editor Chad Tyson gave me a set of four stainless two-wheel drive hubcaps, which work fine on the back wheels on my truck. But for that set to work on the front, I’d have to cut holes in two of them for the hubs to fit through. That’s not as easy as it sounds. How would I cut them without it looking like a hack job? How would I press in the flange to make them look factory stamped?

 

What I really needed was a pair of factory 4×4 caps, but they’re hard to find. If you go by eBay and the truck forums, sellers are asking up to $200 per pair — pretty steep for hubcaps with holes in the middle. I found a few driver-quality caps on eBay for $30 apiece, but I didn’t pull the trigger.

 

And then it was swapmeet time.

 

Every April, two swapmeets come to town. The Portland Swapmeet sets up shop at the Portland Expo Center, and the PIR Auto Swap Meet wraps around the 1.9-mile Portland International Raceway. The two meets operate independently of each other, but they’re not even a mile apart. Free bus service creates the experience of one huge event, with miles of Cragars, carburetors, trim pieces, and complete project cars.

 

There’s always a lot of stuff to see at these two events, but I had a laser focus on those hubcaps. They hid somewhere in the thousands of parts and cars spread across the track and the sprawling parking lots of the Expo center. It was my job to find them, as well as gawk at some of the more interesting projects and parts for sale.

 

When it comes to parts hunting, education is half the battle, and cash in hand is the other. So I went to school on GM truck hubcaps from the era before heading out to the meet. What I found was this: In 1969, Chevrolet offered chrome steel hubcaps on its steel truck wheels (RPO PO3). Both 1/2 and 3/4-ton trucks got the same style, but in different sizes: the 1/2-ton truck units were 10.5 inches across, while the 3/4 tons got 12-inch units. They look the same but they don’t interchange. 4×4 front caps have the aforementioned cut out centers to fit around locking hubs. The chrome caps rust, so they’re expensive if you can find a set in good shape. From 1973-75, GM went away from chrome (probably due to that rust) and made sets out of stainless instead. Visually, the big difference was yellow center bowties instead of blue. There were also full-wheel covers available (RPO PO1), although I don’t think they look as good.

 

I needed a pair of later stainless 10.5-inch 4×4 units with the hub cutouts, so I prepared for a difficult search, some tough haggling, and a higher price than I wanted to pay. But within the first 20 minutes of wandering around the track, I spotted a pair. They were in decent enough condition, measured out right, and were priced really right at just $15. I couldn’t believe my luck.

 

Three miles and thousands of parts later, I spotted another 4×4 cap in decent shape hiding under a table on the east side of the Expo parking lot. It was better than my other two, and the guy was only asking $5. I couldn’t pay him fast enough. That was the deal of the day, but it created another problem. Now I had three — one more would make two complete PO3 4×4 hubcap sets when combined with the four two-wheel drive caps already in my garage. Car guys can’t resist that sort of challenge — I had to push my luck to find one more.

 

I walked over seven miles on swapmeet day, and I didn’t find that last cap until late afternoon, when I went back to the vendor who sold me the first two caps. I dug around in his pile to see if he had one more, and I scored one more. It wasn’t perfect, but it was just $5.

 

The cost of all four combined: $25. That’s less than the cost of one 4×4 front cap on eBay, not including shipping. I’d call that a successful day, and probably one of my best swapmeet scores ever. Other cool finds I didn’t buy? How about a 1944 Willys M-38 jeep with spare body for $995? What about a 1941 Lincoln Continental convertible in barn-find condition for $15k? Check out photos from the day in the gallery below.

 

Got any good swapmeet find stories? Share them with us in the comments on this page!