Doane Yawger: Turlock Swap Meet puts on another good show

February 8, 2013 

It's a car collectors' paradise, a motley marketplace of just about everything imaginable for auto buffs.

I'm referring to the storied Turlock Swap Meet held Jan. 26 and 27 at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Turlock. This was the 47th year the event has been held and it shows no sign of waning.

I've been going pretty much every year since the early 1980s, and I'd say this year's event was no different. It's one of the biggies for the West Coast, the Super Bowl of automotive shopping.

Despite fears earlier in the week that rain would spoil the parade, so to speak, the weekend weather was ideal. It takes a hardy soul to get up at 4 a.m. to brave the early-morning cold and fog in search of good deals.

What was at Turlock? Just about every vendor had vintage license plates. They were everywhere but prices ranged from reasonable to ridiculous.

Rally wheels for late 1960s Camaros and other General Motors' products also were commonplace sightings.

Plenty of vintage gasoline pumps were looking for new homes; even crusty yard relics had prices of $375 or more and nice examples easily had four-figure prices.

Since the Modesto Area A's Model A Ford Club of America puts on the event, you would expect to find quite a few of Henry Ford's product offerings from 1928-31 and that was the case this year.

Everything from grille shells, spoke wheels, four-cylinder engines and balloon tires were there for the Model A enthusiast, along with some elegant-looking runners in the mid-$15,000 range.

Vendors ranging from amateur hobbyists to professional dealers packed the grassy space, outer parking lot and the stables area; the two exhibit buildings were full too, with some antiques thrown into the mix.

Spectators regularly had to dodge many children's wagons pressed into service to haul rims, manifolds and other treasures.

I'm more convinced than ever that Turlock is an ideal place for someone contemplating acquiring a vintage vehicle to jump into the waters. Quite a few decent cars were going for less than $10,000 and that seems to be the way to go, unless you absolutely love spending a couple years turning a pile of parts into something promising.

Let someone else do the hard work, and you can start cruising right away.

Of course, if money were no object, there was a jet black 1950 Oldsmobile convertible for $65,000 along with a bright red 1959 Chevrolet convertible, also for 65K, or a 1940 Ford convertible for just under 60,000 smackeroos.

Several hundred cars filled the fairgrounds' grassy area. Here are a few that caught my eye:

A 1952 Hudson Hornet four-door sedan could be had for $8,500; a 1932 DeSoto four-door sedan looked mint for $19,500; a 1941 Buick convertible had a $49,900 price -- with "sold" written underneath it.

For something different, a 1961 Falcon four-door station wagon looked fairly fresh at $5,800; a metallic maroon 1930 Pontiac two-door sedan had no tag on it and presumably had already changed hands. There were 1949 and 1950 Ford two-door coupes on site, one available at $11,000 and this just scratches the surface.

I've got a feeling some big money changed hands Saturday; the two money machines in front of the snack bar were out of service and more than a dozen people came up but couldn't withdraw any cash from them.

But you couldn't put a price on the exercise and enjoyment I derived from attending one of the biggest auto events of the year in the Central Valley.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or

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