SWAP MEET FEVER

GARAGE GURUS IN THE SHED WITH JON FAINE

JON FAINE

JON DREAMS THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM IN THE ONGOING QUEST FOR UNOBTAINIUM

SO THE annual pilgrimage to the Bendigo Swap Meet is over.

Another day of dehydration and delirium, dreaming of the elusive bargains that rarely if ever materialise.

For more than twenty years the same band of idiots gather ritually pre-dawn Saturday, meander up the highway and then amble around searching for the holy grail.

Fifteen or so years ago, Ian bought a Moto Guzzi V50 that only needed a back wheel. An easy fix. A bargain, obviously.

After a few weeks of calling calling every motor bike wrecker in Australia, he called the importers. A new wheel would cost more than he paid for the bike.

Two years later we were still ribbing him as he scoured wreckers around the globe.

Eventually he imported a used wheel from Argentina. Great bargain the Guzzi. Not.

Dom spent fifteen years asking everyone he saw if they knew where he could get a barrel for a ’50s Ariel Red Hunter. Eventually the stall holders would be ready for him, saying: “No I haven’t got one this year either….” Even before he asked.

While there have been subtle changes over the years, plenty of people still wander around wearing that ultimate fashion accessory – the cardboard sign. Like body armour – held together with string front and back asking anyone who has Whippet or Marmon parts to stop them and chat away. In the entire global history of swap meets, has anyone ever found anything by wearing a sign?

Endlessly optimistic Renault Fregate and Simca vendors advertise their hopeless causes alongside hapless trustees of other orphans like Morris Marinas and even the appalling Datsun 120Y . Does it occur to them that the effort and cost involved in fixing these duds is no less than is required for something worth preserving?

Something you could enjoy driving when the job is done?

This year’s offerings were above par. Yes, for sure, there are stall holders who wheel out the same trailer of rust flakes each year expecting someone to shout “Eureka” as they scratch through. There are sellers who pile rubbish into nondescript lumps of greasy gears, worn tie rods and broken chrome from mysterious vehicles of unknown provenance. If you recognised anything, you win the prize.

If the stub axle poking out yells “1953 Chrysler” and you happen to have that car missing that stub axle then hooray – you have found a real nugget.

But that is not what typically happens. It is a social outing for most of us, a chance to observe others sharing our little niche and suffering the symptoms of the same mild disorder.

Most of all, I love the oddities that turn up. The carousel horse. The hand built scale steam train from a deceased estate. And best of all, in fact one of the all time greats, the Edwardian era travelling salesman’s sample porcelain toilet bowl. I never go home empty-handed.

This time, a rare parts book for the 1920’s AJS V-twin. Hens teeth – the bike and the parts book.

For a considerable outlay, a slightly scratched but not dented pair of blue dot 1950s driving lights for the Light 15 Citroen. A bit of elbow grease, metal polish, some new bulbs and brackets and they ought look a zillion bucks astride the bumper irons.

The blisters recede. The dehydration is easily dealt with by refreshments at the end. And then back home the triumphant display of junk, always met with her incredulous greeting: “You spent HOW much on that…?”