May 20-21 at Evergreen State Fairgrounds.
Along with wild salmon and the elusive lowland sasquatch, the Pacific Northwest Car Buff (automobilicus fanaticus) is one of the true wonders of the Evergreen State.
Now is the time to glimpse this native species in all its glory, as its members emerge from winter dormancy to show off their new paint jobs, modifications and non-factory accessories.
It’s a circle of life, and one of its most important scenes will unfold May 20-21 at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe.
The Swap Meet is the largest convergence of automobile collectors in the state, and the best place to see them in en masse — sort of like the watering hole on Animal Planet.
Under the stewardship of the PSRG, the Swap Meet has catapulted from a home-grown affair to an epic event that draws upwards of 10,000 visitors each day.
Visitors this year will encounter more than 1,200 vendors who gather to sell, buy and swap antique, classic and street rod parts, tools, collectibles, equipment, wheels and tires, engines, sheet metal, auto literature, signs, toys, neon, gas and oil “petrolinia,” antiques and vintage collectibles.
There will be such abundance that a visitor can easily build a car from scratch just by hunting and gathering at the fairgrounds, according to Swap Meet Chairman David White.
“Many vendors have been coming to the event since it started, others have been in the same stall for 20-plus years,” he says.
“You can find a lot of what we call NOS — new old stock — parts that are still in their wrappers and original boxes. Others have hoards of parts that they have finally decided to let go of. You never know what you’ll find.”
Another attraction of the Swap Meet is the Car Corral, a pop-up car lot in Fairgrounds Area 32 where untold numbers of cars, trucks, motorcycles and related projects will be for sale. (There is no advance registration. Owners show up on Friday and pay a modest fee that covers the duration of the meet.)
The first Seattle Auto Swap Meet was held May 4-5, 1974, at the Seattle Center, with about 100 vendors indoors and 24 cars parked in the shadow of the Space Needle.
The next year brought twice as many vendors, and a club member put up the deed to his house in order to meet a $10,000 bond for event security, according to a Swap Meet history compiled by organizers.
In 1976 the event relocated to Evergreen State Fairgrounds (forced out of town by the King Tut Exhibit), and it has grown exponentially ever since.
The Puget Sound Regional Group uses proceeds from the Swap Meet to support an array of charitable causes, and also hosts an annual Ford Picnic. (This year’s is June 4 at Bellevue College.)
To peruse the grounds of the Swap Meet is a bit like taking a tour of automotive history, according to Elmo Lewis, a car lover from North Bend and one-time co-chairman who still volunteers at the event.
Indeed, each year’s meet mirrors the shifting trends in the hobby.
“You used to see a lot of ’20s and ’30s cars [such as] the Model A … but the trend has shifted more towards muscle cars … the ’50s and ’60s, the Mustangs and Corvettes,” he says.
In an online age when automobile hobbyists can essentially search the planet for car parts without leaving home, the Swap Meet is a welcome throwback that helps keep the local scene alive, organizers say.
“You couldn’t ask for a friendlier bunch of people,” White says. “All the way from the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ restoration crowd to the full-on hot-rod types with modern engines and superchargers and everything in between.”