New Zealand’s largest swap meet
Words and photos:
he Canterbury branch of the Vintage Car Club (VCC) is the organizer of the largest swap meet in this country. In 2016, the event celebrated its 39th year at Cutler Park, Mclean’s Island Road, Christchurch, October 7–9. The park is the headquarters of the Canterbury Branch of the VCC, and its 15 hectares effortlessly accommodate the over 600 sites — it’s easy to spend two days there, even if you don’t take in the huge car show held on the lower field.
As this swap meet dates back to 1976 (two previous ones were organized by the Rod Benders Hot Rod Club in Christchurch), it may well be the longest-established old-car-related swap meet in New Zealand. I first joined the VCC in October of 1970, after buying a totally original one-owner 1929 Plymouth 4 that had travelled only 33,784 miles (54,370km) (but that’s another story), and Lorraine and I have had our site at the event since about 1978. This year may well have been our last; but, I am reminded by several folk that I have stated this before in the last couple of years. Time will tell; you can’t predict the future.
Like anybody who has attended swap meets over many years, be they a site holder, buyer, or just browser, I have some fascinating yarns to tell.
I recall a time, around 1976–’82, maybe, when the weather was constantly hot at the swap meet — too hot on many occasions. One particular year around this period, I had for sale an eight-track car stereo, all set up and playing. With it came about 20 tapes, some even still in their wrapper: Glen Campbell, Neil Diamond, the James Last Orchestra, Olivia Newton-john, Cher, Kenny Rogers, American Graffiti, etc. Remember the ’70s? I certainly do, with great passion. Anyway, I sold the eight-track and all the tapes for $70! What would you sell it for today? Everything comes back in vogue, it seems.
Then there was the time, in about 1996–’98, when I was selling all the leftover parts, mainly body related, after finishing a 13-year restoration of my ’36 V8 roadster. I had priced them at what I thought was about top price at that time. A certain man came along and bought the lot. Three or so hours later, Lorraine looked after our site while I went walkabout. I came across a site with pre-war Ford V8 parts for sale and spotted all the items I had just sold. The asking price? About twice what I had just sold them to the site holder for. By the end of the swap meet, they had all sold!
There are so many interesting yarns to be told in regard to swap-meet finds. A classic is a tale that I told in this magazine, some years ago. Without going into detail this time, a sporty-looking windscreen frame was still available for sale at the end of the day for next to nothing. An acquaintance purchased it ‘ just for fun’. When he described it to me, I recognized that it was probably the one someone had advertised for in the bi-monthly VCC magazine Beaded Wheels. I matched up the two men and, sure enough, that was it. Jonathan got the very screen frame he wanted for his very rare Auburn Speedster. It was the genuine article for that model! The price difference? I’d best not go into that! Oh yes, and the great thing about this purchase is that a cast was taken of it for a second Auburn Speedster restoration, this one with a Christchurch history.
In more recent times, I had for sale MKI Escort two-door parts, after finishing my Mexico for sealed circuit racing. As I was setting up my stall, Barbara — from Horopito Wreckers — came over and said, “I will buy anything you have for Escorts”, which was about 80 per cent of what I had to sell. All the Escort parts sold even before the swap meet officially opened.
In 2014, I had last-minute walk around on the Sunday evening, just before departing, and what did I spot? A pair of bumperettes with associated brackets for the now very rare 1937 Ford 10 ute. Just the item my son, Paul, needed. The site holder had almost finished packing up, and these were the last parts to be loaded on. Another minute, and I would have missed them!
Finally, last year, an Invercargill site holder had some Hudson wheels for sale and had listed them in the site directory. A North Island visitor saw the listing and was immediately able to locate the site via the swap-meet map. The consequent outcome, of course, was the Invercargill seller made a North Island restorer a very happy man. No doubt this was typical of many find stories of the day.
I’m sure many of you will have a tale to tell on finding parts at swap meets. If you’ve got one to share, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org (you may remain anonymous if you wish). To finish, I would like to remind you of a interesting little adage that relates to miracle finds at swap meets, markets, via chance meetings, ‘so-and-so told my mate’ happenstances, and so on: ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ — there never has been a truer word. Looking back, now that it’s all but over for me, I wish that we had taken more detailed notes each year since 1978 on the various stories, as a site holder, buyer, and listener to all the interesting yarns — well, they’re not actually yarns but true stories, even if some have been slightly embellished.
Postscript: The car I removed the eight-track from is the one I would like back. It was a 1973 Holden Statesman de Ville, finished in a beautiful colour of green/blue teal metallic with a black vinyl roof with white brocade upholstery. I purchased it off Allan Bramwell (of Bramwell Scaffolding), a member of the Banks Peninsula Branch of the VCC. It’s hard to believe today, but I paid $4800 for it when it was just 10 months old. It was the first second-hand Statesman to be offered for sale in Canterbury. I think the odometer read about 18,600km. Our offspring, now all adults, of course, still recall this car with great passion, as we do also, especially the time we drove along the beach at Titahi Bay (just out of Wellington).