The BugShop: The '98 Northeast Classic and Swap Meeting

This page last modified- 11/2/01

While initially I had thought to write up an objective text on the Northeast Classic VW show, it occurred to me that there might be some benefit to relaying some thoughts on "swap meeting" as well. So this text will serve both of those purposes.

Admittedly, I like to "deal" in VW parts and yes, make a few bucks at it sometimes. The idea is to find some undervalued part somewhere, clean it up or do a "resto" on it, and then take it to the right market and sell it. That market might be the local shows, or the internet, or somewhere in between. Most of the fun for me is dealing in a certain vintage of parts, I like the Oval era stuff. Studying books and catalogs and identifying the "hard-to-finds". Over the years I have collected quite a bit, some of it I am just plain sitting on, others I offer to those who need it.

Given that I hadn't "swapped" in several years, I started sorting through my stuff in the early spring and decided to target two Connecticut shows in June of 1998. A few items that I had "resto'ed" were a pair of '64 convertible quarter windows, an early Oval brake fluid reservoir and a pair of 36hp heat exchangers. Then there was some of the stuff that had made a few trips to shows with me, was too valuable to give away, and found its way back up into the loft again. Like a '67 decklid, a couple '67 handles and an Oval rear window. Lastly, there were some "leftovers" from the '54 Beetle I had for 2 weeks then sold. Namely a 60's decklid and a pair of decent lowback seats with the '67 only side releases. Then of course that big "box-o-parts" that goes to everyshow. I felt that I had a pretty good "stash" of stuff that was worth the $20 for the swap space..

I spent most of the day on Saturday packing up my little trailer. I had made up some folding "legs" out of wood that would allow me to use the removable sides of the trailer for a table at the show. Then I crawled around in the loft going through boxes pondering "yeah, that's small, we'll take that..." or "naaa, no one would want that". I gave the car a quick once over for oil, tire pressure and cleaned off the windshield and vacuumed out the inside. On the top of all the stuff in the trailer I put the two decklids top edge meeting top edge. They made a perfect smooth cover for trailer (my 3 year old daughter came out into the garage and asked "daddy, why are you taking TWO Volkswagens?"). Some tie downs, a small blue tarp and some bungees and I was ready to go.

 I left the house at 5:40am, not really knowing how long it would take to get to Norwalk. I knew that I had made New York City in 3 hours flat once (exceeding the speed limit once or twice ;-) and it was all interstate. But on the other hand CT is one of the few states with a 55 mph limit and is damn proud of it. And I was pulling a trailer. I made my obligatory swing through the drive through at a McDonalds near Vernon, CT for the traditional sausage biscuit. I actually made it to Norwalk in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Traffic early on a Sunday morning is a non-issue.

 I didn't really have good directions. I had gone to the CVA page that pointed to a Yahoo map, but I was having server speed problems at my ISP and eventually gave up. I did a search on Cranbury Park and found a map to nearby attraction with an I-95 exit number and an arrow pointing "to Cranbury Park", so I had a pretty good idea. I got to the exit and headed in the direction indicated on the map. But I immediately found myself in a residential neighborhood. It didn't look right. I suppressed my testosteronal instincts and swung into a gas station to ask directions (gulp!). I was told to continue down the road for 3 more lights, take a left and that would lead me to the park. I did that, and found my self in a very residential area, then on a narrow winding road through the woods. I had seen no signs for Cranbury Park and no "VW" signs as are sometimes used at other shows. Just when I was about to give up and turn around, I came upon a gravel driveway with a big "VW Show" sign.

The show was co-sponsored by the CT VW Association (CVA) and the Vintage Volkswagen club of America (VVWCA). They did a very nice job. I had been really concerned about rain. Enough that the day before I made a run to home depot to by some PVC and made a shelter using an 8x10 blue tarp. I set it up in the front yard but it was so wobbly it would hardly stand up on it's own. But I brought it anyway. But there was not a cloud in the sky. It was about 60 degrees. I stopped and paid my $20 and was directed to the perimeter of the field where the swap row was forming. In about 45 minutes, I had everything unpacked and set up.

In few minutes a fella came over, squinted at the BugShop stuff on the table and said "You John?". He was a frequent visitor to my site and ran a small VW business in MA. We chatted for a bit, he bought a shirt. Then I sat down and for the next hour and a half felt like a museum security guard. People streamed by, looked, but no one said a word. I was beginning to get a bit discouraged. But toward noon, things picked up a bit.  People were picking through parts and trying to lowball every price I was (hey, that's what I do!). What was a bit frustrating was that I was by myself and really couldn't leave all my stuff and go look around the show. At one point, I did ask the guy next to me (selling all sorts of VW toys) to watch my stuff while I strolled a bit down the swap row, but that was about all I saw.

I heard that there was another big show in NJ that day and I think that admission to the Northeast classic was free (swell deal!). So after thinking about it a bit, I speculated that there were a lot of non-enthusiasts at this show. Unlike my swap experiences in the past where the hard core traders swarmed my car as I was unpacking, hammering for deals before the "main" crowd arrived, the morning was v e r y   s l o w .

But some thoughts on "what sells" at the shows......

I have come to the realization that you are not likely to sell a very cherry pair of '54 taillights at the swaps (a guy had a pair for $300). Nor a set of Cibie original 6 volt "bubble" headlights ($200 for those, I did think about it) or even a set of nice convertible quarter windows. What you will sell are windshield washer switches for a buck, an new throwout bearing you never needed for $8 and a dirty but straight bumper for $25. The "mainstream" VW enthusiast scouring the swaps is just looking for cheap, not rare, parts to keep his car on the road. Yes, people who knew what the rare old parts would stop by and pick up a bullet turn signal housing and ask "how much?". I'd say "twelve" and they would put it back down. Nothing wrong with that, it is exactly what I do. If something is rare and cheap enough, I'll buy it. Even if I don't need it. While it is not likely that someone will have a shiny oval door handle at the swaps and have no idea what it is or what it is worth, there are some people who will give good deals. On one of my short strolls I saw a pretty nice pair of '56 taillights. I asked how much, more for the purpose of my continuously monitoring the "going rate" of these. They guy said "twenty-five". "Each?" I asked. "No, for the pair, I really don't need them."

I brought them home.

So my approach is that if something is rare and worth a good figure and is relatively easy to carry (like a metal brake fluid reservoir), I'll bring it. But the big, heavy stuff I'll leave home, unless I am willing to give it away. I have a few nice doors, but I hate dragging them around. The '67 decklid is kinda on the fence. Big, but light. If I have room...

 I did get kind of desperate mid morning when things were slow. I sold a perfect 36 hp fan housing for $5, and a rear oval window glass for $35. And I sold a set of watercooled Neuspeed springs that I paid $190 for and used for 2 months for $115. People were lowballing stuff left and right, but I expect that and am not offended. If I don't want to sell it, I keep it. That's all.  The weather was weird. An hour after I got there, gray clouds rolled in. It was windy (that flimsy shelter would have never survived) and cool. But it didn't rain. Around noon, the sky cleared again, almost completely. Then an hour later, it got cloudy again, and right at 3 o'clock, it started to rain lightly.

Overall it was a pretty good experience, but it didn't seem like a "typical" CT show for some reason. I was a bit bummed that I didn't sell any of the "big" stuff like the decklids, bumpers and seats. Oh well, I'm hopeful that Harwinton will be at least as good.