Initial Ramblings – Spring 2016: Times are Changing


By JT Burkard

It occurred to me while I was vending at the Englishtown Raceway Park Swap Meet in April how this hobby has evolved in many ways but has stayed the same in others in the last 25 years. The need to buy, build, restore, modify cars has not changed at all. As people inflicted with this disease with oil in our veins and carbon in our brains, we WANT to be around cars every day. We like to get our hands dirty. We want to be around others with the same desire. It consumes our free time. This will never deviate from course. It’s the technology that has transformed the way we search for items we need.

Twenty-six years ago I was just out of high school. I had a 1980 Firebird Formula I was trying to fix up, which I still own. I remember going to the junk yards with friends on the weekend or days off from work. We would start off on Texas Rd in Morganville and hit up a couple yards, then move to B&B in Marlboro, and then wind up at Red and Black in Jamesburg or Jacks in Englishtown. It was an all-day scrap yard-fest, picking and looking at the stuff that was in there. Most of these yards had sections of older muscle cars and classics just rotting away, ready to give up their vital parts to keep ours on the road. I remember one place that had nothing newer than 1975 in it. There were old Chryslers with 331 and 392 Hemi’s in them. A 421 Tri-power Catalina, and in the corner was a wrecked V12 XKE that looked like is sat in a swamp. I also remember a BMW, either a 1600 or 2002 with no windows, or interior rotting away. There was also a 70’s Dodge van gold with brown interior, heart window on the side with a platform for a bed and mirrored ceiling that probably had more stories to tell than an adult magazine. Something told us never go into it, not even for the free candy.

Those were the days when we needed stuff, we went and got it. If you needed a part that wasn’t at the junkyard, you drove down to the local parts store, speed shop or specialty dealer, got in good with the parts guys, and then you hung out and told stories of last week’s garage adventure, or what happened at the track. I distinctly remember going to a Performance Centers of America and spending 4 hours in the showroom bench racing and telling tall tales with the regulars. I don’t think anyone was really telling the truth about their cars that day.

Then there was that 1”-thick mail order catalog that you got monthly or quarterly. Everyone seemed to have a JC Whitney book lying around in the garage. You flipped through its hundreds of pages and wrote down the part numbers of the things you needed then called the supplier with your order. I still have some old magazines pre-net era and its funny to see “Send a self-addressed stamped envelope for a free decal and product flyer.” I still like calling some of the parts places. For example, I speak to the same sales guy at BavAuto I have used since 2002. We tell E21 stories as well as other things, much like my youth at the shops. To me there is a bond you get when you deal with the same people over the years. Something you don’t get over the faceless internet.

But since the internet is here to stay, and rapidly advancing over the last 15 years, one can’t help but to go on various websites, click the evening away on the computer, or tablet, and buy whatever you need at 11:14 PM and not have to speak with a single person, or tell the wife. All in the comfort of your home, pants optional. I am guilty of late night eBay purchases myself, most of the time clothed. It’s quick, easy, cheap, and sometimes you even get free shipping. Everything is at our fingertips 24/7. Even the small guy can put his own stuff on auction sites or online classifieds and sell them to anyone in the world. A virtual online swap meet if you will.

But then there are similarities of the two time periods. Even though we don’t go to the junk yards as much, the art of the quest is still alive and well. We just don’t leave the house. Countless online classifieds offer us great ways to look for those used or no longer in production parts. We now have the whole world at our fingertips to search for that elusive piece for your car or a new vehicle to wrench on. I have bought so many more vehicles simply because I don’t have to drive around and look for cars on the side of the road, search want ads or paper shoppers. I can sit while watching TV, go on my iPad and look for things that tickle my fancy. It’s made life easier. Perhaps, too easy.

What I did notice while I was at the swap meet was there is still an interest in it. This year there was a resurgence in people coming out and buying parts face to face again. Fathers and Mothers with their sons and daughters looking at crusty gold as a family. High school kids playing hooky from school to go buy stuff. It’s great to see this tradition still alive and well. Selling and buying at the swap meet was always something I looked forward to, even now. Maybe it’s because I am a people person. Maybe it’s because I have been doing it for so long its part of my spring ritual. I am not sure what the answer is but I’m happy to see that it hasn’t lost its appeal.

One thing is for sure, no one would want to see me trying to sell my stuff without pants.

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