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Carlisle Spring Swap Meet

by Phil Berg
Friday, July 7, 2006

Annually, Carlisle, Pennsylvania’s 82 acres of fairgrounds lay out a spread of car parts and petrobilia that draws a national crowd of 200,000 to shop, search, and admire, making the event one of the largest in the world for car hobbyists. This year the pilgrimage to the small burg just west of Harrisburg by parts and goodies seekers had an additional treat: a day-and-a-half auction of 250 cars, some classics, some beaters, and all with a story.

click to enlarge The inaugural auction at the spring Carlisle swap meet included 250 cars.

A crew of auctioneers made the proceedings entertaining, especially as they tried to unload a ratty Pontiac Fiero, which was donated by the Antique Automobile Club of America’s museum in nearby Hershey to raise funds for the non-profit museum foundation. Available at the auction were cars ranging from a ’63 split window C2, a 1970 Dodge Challenger ragtop, and a 1956 Chrysler Windsor two-door hardtop to a relatively recent Ferrari Modena. The auction took place in the 22,000 square-foot Carlisle Expo Center, a block from the fairgrounds entrance.

Almost half of the 250 cars in the inaugural auction were sold for almost $3 million.

“I’m very pleased,” said John Detrick, founder of the Carlisle car events organization, which produces a show almost monthly and caters to particular car hobbyists divided by marques, as well as motorcycle fans. “The variety and diversity of vehicles was significant. We had cars from just about every era, ’20s through 2000s. We had luxury, muscle, speed and fine examples of automotive beauty. There were many vehicles at the auction that were one-of-a-kind collector cars.”

click to enlarge This vast 82-acre fairgrounds was packed with used parts displays.

“Logistically, the auction ran quite smoothly. There were many small details to manage as with any new event, but the staff at Carlisle did a great job,” Detrick commented following the auction. “Any first-time event is a challenge, and requires lots of thought and planning. I’m really looking forward to our fall auction. The date of the Fall Collector Car Auction is September 29-30.”

The Spring Carlisle swap meet is known for parts and accessories, petroliana, and whole cars for hobbyists. It’s a monster event, with space for 8100 booths full of stuff. We took a small poll of garage decoration vendors, who reported that there seemed to be fewer foot traffic at the event, which most blamed on the price of fuel hovering over $3.00 a gallon and in turn keeping folks from taking a road trip to Carlisle. In addition, particularly from the gas-pump and antique Coke machine restorers. “It’s getting hard to find old machines at reasonable prices anymore,” said Gary Hasson, a long-time Carlisle vendor who specializes in soft drink machines, neon signs and oil signs. “There’s a lot of competition from the internet, and it’s almost as if people have figured out that their old, unrestored machines are in demand, so they’re charging more for them.”

click to enlarge Unrestored soda machines are getting harder to find, said one vendor.

Annually, Carlisle draws about half a million visitors. It was founded in 1974; for more information visit www.carsatcarlisle.com.

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