Considering the economic crisis brewing on Wall Street and from coast to coast, the Wisconsin Fall Jefferson Car Show and Swap Meet on Sept. 26-28 was a surprising people-packed event that filled the Jefferson County Fairgrounds with vendors and vintage vehicles for sale. I attended the Saturday venue and had to wait an hour and a half to wind my way into Madison Classic’s huge flea market and car corral. Corvettes were the featured car with three rare examples in the main hall.
I attempted to cover the four vendor fields and part of the car corral in one day and failed miserably. It was my first time at Jefferson in a decade and the show has really improved and grown. The upgrades to the fairgrounds facilities were a big plus over the “good old days” and the swap meet itself was much larger than it had been when I staffed the Old Cars Weekly trailer years ago. There was simply no way to cover the whole show in a single long day.
Many remarks I heard during and after the show concerned high prices on goods and reluctance on the part of vendors to barter. I spent a few hundred dollars and thought there were some good bargains, but it’s true that I failed to get some vendors to lower their prices when I made what I thought were fair offers on items I didn’t get. Vendors usually point out that it costs money to store the older parts I need, but I enjoy reminding them that’s there are only so many hobbyists looking for ’30s and ’40s parts these days.
Although many vendors I regularly deal with admitted that their business was slow, I saw many people hauling away fenders for Mustangs, hoods for Camaros and consoles for GTOs. Without surveying every vendor, it’s impossible to gauge the total show, there was certainly commerce happening and it wasn’t occurring at giveaway prices.
The car corral was also filled with cars and trucks for sale. There were some interesting offerings such as a 1930 Chrysler Coupe for $9,999 and some really odd ducks including a home-built 1947 Willys Jeepster “dual- owl Phaeton” that somebody built. A strange group of off-condition cars being offered in one section of the corral included a 1958 Ford station wagon for $1,300, a rough 1955 Chevy hardtop for about $9,000, a ’54 Chevy that had been hit pretty bad on one side and a 1960 Opel Rekord.
There was a general sense that we are currently in a “buyer’s market” in the old-car hobby, but you could not tell that from the asking prices in the car corral. There almost seems to be a situation where some folks are willing to buy if they can strike a bargain, but the sellers need money so badly they are not willing to reduce their asking prices.
Of course, no journalist can give you an overall picture of the reality of the market. At best, I get snippets that reflect a little of what’s happening. I often hear from “squeaky wheels” and not the well-oiled buyers and sellers that keep the hobby marketplace rolling.
All I can say for sure is that Fall Jefferson drew a gigantic crowd and that probably translates into a big success on the overall picture.
Washington may be having its problems, but collectors are still going to shows and investing in “stuff you can touch” to one degree or another. It’s truly an interesting market out there.