Pomona Auto Swap Meet
Brian Kennedy visits The Pomona Auto Swap meet after a long hiatus.
By Brian Kennedy
Fri, Apr 15, 2022 01:33 PM PST
I used to go the Pomona auto swap meet a couple of times a year to see what was up. Sometimes, I bought something. Then Covid hit, and I haven’t been there since probably 2019. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to revisit the place, since it’s an outside event and probably safe. My goal was to survey the trends in the collector car hobby. What I found might surprise you, and it might entertain you. You also might leave with a bit of a sense of disappointment, but I’m not to blame for that!
Not As Crowded As Pre-Covid Days
To start off, I noted that there were not as many people as used to be there, but more than I expected. Most who were there seemed to be there for the fellowship, rather than to buy and sell. However, the car sales areas were not full, particularly the Corvette paddock. Is that because of the toll the pandemic has wreaked on the older set? It’s commonly known that older men make up the majority of Vette buyers. Hard to say, but sad to speculate on given that this section was about half empty.
In general, Corvettes aside, the population of collectors selling cars was sparse, especially if you’re measuring on the older stuff. The 40s Fords section, always a popular aspect of the show, was thin on the ground, for example. Perhaps this is just a sign that the hobby has further shifted in two years, and is now more focused on 1960s and up cars than 1940s and older rides. But in the 1960s section, there was little to buy except some Mustangs, often wildly overpriced. A redone but not perfect California Special for $50 grand? Get serious. Another thought on the matter: over the past couple of years, garages have not been disgorging their contents because nobody wants a stranger over to their house due to the pandemic. So downstream (now) there’s not as much inventory. Maybe as the year goes on that will change..?
However, there are niches that were well represented. The VWs, for example, were well turned out, with those weird little van things still an apparent favorite. I spotted one for just past $20 thousand that seemed pretty tidy.
Whole cars aside, the swap tables were also pretty packed, and I think on an unscientific evaluation that more people were selling more car-related stuff than before. Pomona had become kind of a junkshop, with many vendors selling stuff that wasn’t strictly automotive, counter to the (apparently unenforced) rules. I walked about ten of the aisles, and most vendors now seem to be focused mostly on car stuff, rather than non-automotive swap meet junk.
One great vendor I spotted was a hubcap guy. He had hundreds, all apparently for Fords. He said he’s not there every time, which is disappointing, but he had loads of standard covers for 1960s Mustangs, which is where my heart is, anyway.
The rest of the show yielded some impressions that might interest you. I’ll list them for you here.
Beer At 7AM?
First, there’s still a lot of call for hanging out and drinking beer at 7am Sunday morning, as hinted above. This was evident amongst the clubs gathered as well as the regular spectators crowding the beer sales booth and walking around with brews in their hands. I did not indulge, but I seemed to be a bit of a man on an island in this respect.
The Auto Clubs
Second, as for the clubs, they were out in force, sitting under little awnings and having a swig or perhaps barbecuing. The fellowship looked intense, like everyone was making up for lost time, which is exactly what they were doing, since this scene has been on Covid hiatus.
But that was about where the action was. As I mentioned earlier, there were few cars for sale, especially when compared to pre-Covid days. There were some overpriced Mustangs and a few other goodies, but I didn’t see any 95-point retired show cars or honest barn finds. Just restored stuff and other cars of dubious progeny and inflated prices, as I’ll detail next. That’s my third observation.
8-Plus-Letters License Plates
Fourth, I noted that a lot of the vintage cars for sale had California 8-plus-letters license plates, in other words, plates recently issued. But sellers were still representing them as one-owner. What does that mean? That a lot of these cars are either imported from other states or are recently re-tagged after not being driven for years and thus needing to have their tags updated. Note by the way to the used car liars out there: when your car has an 8-license, it is not “black plate” and it is not believable that “it’s always been on the road.” Buyers are not as stupid as you think they are ☺. Or maybe I just appear like a sucker, and so you tried this BS out on me. No sale.
Four Doors The Next Coupe?
Fifth, if you read the car magazines, you’d believe that four-doors were taking over the hobby, or at least providing an alternative to the coupes, whose prices have gone astronomical. That was not borne out here. I saw few or no four-door “collector” cars for sale. As I said above, I saw few cars for sale altogether, but certainly four-doors were simply invisible.
Current Trend: 1970s Caprices
Sixth, the hobby is trendy, as careful observers will note. For a while, anything Hemi was worth three times its real value. Then it was 70s Firebirds. Guess what? That’s OVER! The hobby as represented on TV and in magazines is now all crazy for Broncos.
That’s not what Pomona says. Rather, the hot money right now is headed to 1970s Caprices. I saw a bunch of those. Lovely cars, most especially one red one with red wheel covers. My dad almost bought one of those in about 1980, a white one. He ended up with a Chevy station wagon instead. As a family, we were so close to being cool . . . How could he NOT have known that a car with a Landau top that actually said “Landau” on it would improve our family’s image, and perhaps our future prospects? But he didn’t. I could remedy this by buying the red Caprice Classic I saw, but nobody was around, and there was no phone number on the car. Rats.
Where Did The Bargains Go?
Finally, I saw nothing amongst the cars for sale that would be a bargain (or I’d have bought it). I did try to negotiate with a guy on an 8-Reg (see above) 1972 Buick Skylark, but he was way over book at 18K, and no, I never believed that he had “rebuilt” the AC so that it “blows cold air.” Nor that it was a movie car. Nor that he’d owned it for eight years, which later turned into three, and later still, “I’ve owned it a while” when I called him on the lack of documentation.
What’s that they say about a car salesman? How do you tell if he’s lying? Check to see if his lips are moving.
So in general, I’d say this about what Pomona - a bellwether of the hobby - showed me: car people are hungry to hang out and do car stuff with car people. They’re not as keen on selling their cars or buying those of others. Maybe that’s the next phase of recovery.
About The Author
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.