CC Swap Meet: Random Buys And Finds At The Local Antique Festival – An Age Of Madness (And Boxes Of Transmission Parts)

In Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, Eugene Henderson said that “in an age of madness, to expect to be untouched by madness is a form of madness. But the pursuit of sanity can be a form of madness, too.” Anyone who is fully immersed in the antique car hobby is not actively pursuing sanity in the literary sense; nonetheless, my lovely bride and I arrived at the local antique festival for its annual June get together with the soundest hope to return with an empty trunk and no regrets. This year, however, that expectation was madness. *Author’s note – I did not buy this 1973 Chevy camper: It was unfortunately not for sale.*

In my attempt to stave off the inevitable, my wife and I drove our Corvair to the fairgrounds in the hopes that a lack of luggage space would somehow allow me to ignore my deeply-ingrained impulses. (It did not.) What it did afford me was on-grounds parking. As entering a car in the show is no more expensive than buying a ticket and hiking from the hinterlands, I almost always do so with whatever old car I’m driving. Pretty cool Suburban next door, by the way.

My wife and I were in a relative hurry, as we had other places to be on this particular Saturday, but that didn’t keep me from snapping a few pictures at the car show (starting with that 1973 Chevy Camper Van, which was pristine). This “favorite blue” 1965 Satellite convertible also caught my eye right away. Some find the 1965 Chrysler intermediates bland, but I don’t and would have no qualms about cruising a Satellite or Coronet hardtop.

I am not embarrassed to say aloud that I would proudly own an El Camino as well, including this 1970 model. I’d certainly exchange the polished Torq-Thrusts in lieu of some steel wheels and hubcaps (as I would with the Satellite above), but that’s just my personal preference.

I haven’t kept detailed records, but I think my success rate in photographing Tempest 194.5 cubic-inch four-cylinder engines is 100%: When I see one, I take a picture of it; this one called a 1963 LeMans its home.

I paused at this 1974 Gran Torino Elite in the “for sale” lot for two reasons: 1. A brown one brought me home from the hospital in 1977, and 2. I recently helped my parents’ neighbor work on his kid’s 1976 Elite (long story that isn’t relevant).

The owner was asking about $10,500 for this one; prices are commonly a bit high at the antique festival.

The Elite’s dashboard doesn’t jog many memories, as Dad sold his when I was four. My connection to machinery being what it was, however, the sale rendered me distraught. He and my mom, in an attempt to assuage my disappointment, explained that they sent it back to Ford to have the rust repaired, and that they would return it in the year 2000. I did not forget this attempt at subterfuge when Y2K rolled around, and a few jokes were exchanged about Ford’s incompetence in the field of bodywork.

After a hot lap or two around the Elite, I got down to the business of buying things I don’t need. This is a Jeepster Commando toy – five bucks.

This is the horn ring medallion for 1960 and 1961 Buicks – five bucks.

It cleaned up nicely. While it is unlikely that I will ever own a 1960 or 1961 Buick, it will stand out on a shelf in my car room.

This 1970 Ford stockholders’ brochure was two dollars. There was a stack of them.

The real nonsense buy of the day, however, was two bins and a cardboard box worth of NOS and NORS transmission parts for 1948-1976 Buicks. One of the vendors’ signs claimed he had straight-eight Buick parts, and as I’m always looking for those, I wandered in and found the bins. The vendor explained that he was tired of hauling them from swap meet to swap meet and would be interested in making a deal on the lot. Clearly, he was able to spot a sucker when he saw one. My poker face is…I don’t have a poker face.

I told him I’d think about it. So we wandered. And I went back. We wandered some more. I went back. After conferring with my lovely bride, I figured that $200 was a fair price (there were hundreds of parts) but hoped he’d price it out at $500 so I could walk away without regret. Sadly, he said $200. I don’t think either of us really knew what they were worth.

I offered a deposit so I could return later, but he said that there was no danger of the parts going anywhere. We thus returned home and did our running around for the day.

Near closing time, I called him to make sure he was still at the fairgrounds, having already picked up the Dirty Dart in preparation for my return journey. By early evening, the crowd had thinned out enough that I was able to pull the Dart right up to the seller’s booth; he and his pal were nice enough to load up the parts, and I was on my way.

Being a man who owns three antique Buicks with obsolete automatic transmissions, this was quite a find. There are a dozen or more sets of steel and friction clutches, modulators, sprags, clutch hubs, and the like in these bins, and they were labeled by year and part number (aside from a few that mice had reached). The seller had apparently bought these parts at a sale where a Buick dealer technician lived.

I have already begun to catalog and separate the parts into “sell” and “keep” piles. The parts in the picture constitute about one-quarter of the whole, if that, and the tally is running about 50/50.

I clearly understand that it will take me the rest of my life to sell the parts I don’t keep, and there’s a solid chance I won’t even attempt to do so, but that’s the madness of my little world. And who knows, there are plenty of parts for Turbo 400s, Turbo 350s, and even Triple-Turbine Dynaflows in this little parts haul. Similar parts are available for fair money up on eBay, so there’s a chance, isn’t there?

Even if there’s not, there are worse things than hoarding obsolete transmission parts. I’m not yet beyond help; I haven’t even bought any ’70s campers yet. That’s something, right?