Jim’s Blog: Kicking Tires at the Portland Swapmeet

I don’t need any more car parts, but I just can’t stay away from the Portland swapmeet. I go every year, and I always tell myself I’ll keep my money in my pocket. But even though I set out with a solid plan to not buy anything, I don’t usually leave empty-handed.

Portland’s spring swapmeet is made up of two events that take place just a short distance from each other. Portland International Raceway’s meet takes over that facility’s 2-mile track, while The Portland Swap Meet, now 50 years old, fills up Portland’s 330,000 square-foot Expo center and its sprawling parking lots. Individually, both events are plenty big enough. Combined, the scope of it all is overwhelming. Seeing everything, or at least most of it, takes at least a solid day of wandering. And combining the two events is easy enough for someone to do, as there are free school bus shuttles that run a circuit from front gate to front gate all day long.

ACC’s Associate Editor Chad Tyson joined me this year, on assignment to cover the event in an upcoming edition of his ACC “The Parts Hunter” column. His task was to find what he thought were the most interesting items for sale this year, while I was just out to try out my new camera and to take pictures of everything I could. Our expectation? A lot of small-block Chevy parts, old tools, and rusty sheetmetal. But right out of the gate, in the first ten minutes of wandering, I found a fresh ’65 409/400 engine (pretty rare, as it was from the last year of 409 car production), while Chad turned up a very cool pair of engines: a mechanically injected DeSoto Hemi and an Offenhauser-equipped Ford flathead with dual Strombergs.

That’s pretty much how our entire day went — sure, there was plenty of standard swapmeet fare, but there was also a lot of rare vintage speed equipment and NOS parts that popped up from the rough.

One of my favorite finds was a 1955 Ford wrecker that was covered in patina but still looked ready to go. The tag said “YOU NEED THIS TRUCK!” Asking price was $6,500. Topping that was a complete vintage hot rod, last tagged in ’67. It had the body of a ’21 Dodge and the chassis of a ’27 Chevrolet. The engine, according to a vintage article with the car, was a ’28 Chevy block with a ’32 Ford crank, Pontiac rods, and a ’30 Olds head. The whole thing was covered in about an inch of dust. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you see every day. No price was posted with it, so it had probably already sold.

As for me, after what seemed like 10 miles of walking and some really tempting $60 ’66 Caprice taillights in better shape than the ones I already have, I managed to make it out without buying anything for any of my cars. I’d call that an achievement, or at least my wife would. Chad, on the other hand, couldn’t resist. A perfect ’67 Impala grille took $100 from his wallet. “I didn’t mean to buy it.” he muttered on his way out to the shuttle bus. “But it was just too perfect. I couldn’t say no!”