The annual car show formally called the “Antique Automobile Club of America Eastern Division National Fall Meet”, but known the world over simply as “Hershey,” was held for the 60th time on October 7-10, 2015. The event takes over most of the 121-acre grounds which are Hersheypark, plus some adjoining property. The town of Hershey PA, which not coincidentally is also home to national AACA headquarters, gives itself completely to “Hershey Week”. If you want a nearby hotel room next year, book it 4-6 months in advance.
For those who have never been to Hershey, describing it as the biggest car show on the East Coast and one of the biggest car shows in the world does not do it justice. Most of Hersheypark’s paved lots are blanketed with flea market vendors. Hundreds of antique and classic cars are offered for sale in the Car Corral. Saturday is the show’s raison d’être, as the finest restored cars and trucks in the country compete at a judged car show. Hershey attracts participants and spectators from around the world, many of whom have been making the annual trek for decades.
These die-hards renew old acquaintances, seek out valuable parts needed for their restorations, and buy and/or sell cars with regularity. Your scribe first attended Hershey in the late 1970s, and has not missed a meet since the late 1990s. If your interest is in stock (meaning unmodified) cars that are 25 years old and older, as required by AACA guidelines, this is the place to be. Newer and heavily modified vehicles (and parts for them) need not apply.
Hershey is endemic of, but not responsible for, many of the changes we’ve witnessed as the hobby has grown, changed, and matured. In years past, an automotive flea market consisted of vendors with rusty old junkyard parts, or obsolete dealer parts stock. Either way, the parts were in milk crates, scattered on folding tables, or spread out on tarps on the ground. You had better well know your needs, because you were going to spend hours looking through those piles to find that gem in the rough.
At many flea markets today, you can seek out a vendor who specializes in your make and model vehicle. Once you inform the vendor of your vehicle particulars, the part, remanufactured as an aftermarket component, probably “offshore” (a nice euphemism which allows you to avoid saying “China”), is handed over, neatly packaged in hard plastic. This is if you even bother to attend the flea market. Much of this stuff is available online with a few clicks of the mouse button.
Given two facts, one, that AACA is strict about its 25-year-old-and-older rule, and two, that many of the Hershey veterans still have a huge interest in pre-war (WWII) cars, the flea market has fewer of the reproduction vendors that you would likely see at Carlisle, for instance. The thrill of the hunt still applies. The photos below affirm that Hershey still does the flea market the old-fashioned (some would say the more fun) way:
THE CAR CORRAL, SUB-$10,000 EDITION
The Hershey Car Corral always has a nice variety of cars for sale. This year, the variety of domestic and imported vehicles seemed greater than usual. That is not to say that every car in the corral is an instant classic. There are those run-what-you-brung cars that look like they were someone’s daily driver as recently as last week. Part of my reaction to these cars is because I was of driving age when they were new. Heck, I saw cars for sale that were new at the car dealerships where I worked in the 1980s.
The good news is that many of these types of cars have low asking prices, and can serve as excellent starter vehicles for someone new to the hobby. (My friends and I enjoy pointing these out to those who say the hobby has become too expensive to enter.) Here are some random choices for those with limited means who still want an AACA-eligible car.
One of the few car corral vehicles from the newest-allowable model year, the sign on this 1990 Firebird claimed it to be a one-owner car with 52,000 miles. The asking price was $6,000, likely held back because of the V6 under the hood. But moving down the road, who would know?
With an asking price of $4,800, this 1965 Jeep J-10 pickup truck is rare. Many were used as work trucks and long ago met their fate at the crusher. Four-wheel-drive and V8 power meant that little was going to stop your forward motivation. The Colorado license plate helped assure that there was little to no body rust (none that could be seen with a cursory look). Buy this and you’re practically guaranteed to have the only one at the next Cars & Coffee.
Squeaking in under the wire of our self-imposed $10,000 limit with an ask of $9,900, this 1981 Honda Civic had many scratching their heads. Sure, by year and unmodified condition, it’s eligible. My personal reaction is that I remember doing new-car prep at the dealership on them, and my then-best friend bought one of these new. They CAN’T be allowed here, can they?
By my account, the least expensive operational vehicle in the car corral, this Triumph appeared to have arrived under its own power. The sign on it said “new transmission, new clutch, new interior, runs great, fun car!” Asking price? $2,800. Make ‘em an offer.
This car’s cleanliness belied its reported 123,000 miles. The paint and interior were unblemished. It was a stick to boot. Thursday’s price was $7,400, Friday’s was $6,500. Don’t know if he sold it, but this was a later “Z” that wouldn’t require the gold chains to be worn (by you, not the car).
My Caddy friends assure me that these first-generation Sevilles are future collectibles. We’ll see. However, if you wanted a sharp driver in a very appealing black over red, this car could do it. The windshield write-up claimed it to be a one-owner, 80k car. Another one going through a fire sale, Friday’s price was $5,600, down from an earlier $5,900.
First generation Mazda RX-7s are another model which pundits claim will double in value “soon”. Hasn’t happened yet. In the meantime, good clean cars sell for credit card money, and someone is having fun. This 1980 rotary rocket with 82,000 miles could be yours for $7,850. Handwritten next to the price was “let’s talk $”.
Sure, SS 396 Camaros and Shelby Mustangs are never going to make mention in a chapter called “sub-$10,000 cars”. But that’s not to say that good ol’ American performance can’t be had at that number. How about a Corvette? Seriously. The C4 Corvettes (1984-1996) are quite affordable right now. Here’s proof, in the form of a 1987 coupe. Yes, it’s a 350/auto with incorrect wheels, but at $7,750, it’s something you could drive every day and display at cruise nights.
THE CAR CORRAL, VOLVO EDITION
Two Volvos in particular stood out for me. A 122 wagon, in white over red, stick shift of course, was fresh from the Pacific Northwest, and looked it, as there were no signs of visible rust in the body. The ask of $14,500 may have seemed high, but try to find another one this solid on the East Coast. (Recent Bring A Trailer sales of 122s have approached $20,000.)
By contrast, this 1979 242DL, with automatic and (dealer installed) a/c, was super clean, and in that requisite 1970s brown. But $12,500? See sub-$10,000 cars above. This Volvo was for someone who HAS to have this particular configuration.
THE CAR CORRAL, NOT IN THE CORRAL EDITION
Not every car for sale at Hershey is in the designated car corral. There were some interesting finds in the flea market area. There are also cars for sale in the parking lot, possibly as a way to avoid paying the AACA car corral fee.
This Studebaker Avanti from the first year of production is distinguishable by its round headlight bezels. This car also has the desirable 4-speed with factory air. At $26,995, the asking price fell in between CPI’s “good” $14,000 and “excellent” $29,000 values.
Porsche 911s of all years, body styles, and performance levels are hot right now. The joke is that 911 pricing is like the fish at your favorite seafood restaurant: “market pricing”, which is X today and will likely change upward tomorrow. But the 912, the 4-cylinder variant, remains relatively affordable. This car was in the parking lot across the street. The sign said its engine had been swapped out for a 1969 version. The owner was asking $29,000. Going down the road, no one will know you’re not packing a flat-6. (By way of reference, nice 1967 911s are approaching six figures.)
This 1954 Ford convertible was hanging out in the flea market. The asking price, if it had been displayed, was now gone, and the car was marked “sold”. Given its overall dreadful condition, I took it as a healthy sign for the hobby that someone out there was willing to take it on. No word whether the Fire Chief pedal car was included (might be worth more than the Ford).
SATURDAY’S CAR SHOW
My great friend and fellow rally driver Steve H and I have made the trip to Hershey together numerous times. It was one trip in the 1990s when we discovered that if we arrived early enough on Saturday morning, we could have the pleasure of watching the parade of cars as they entered the show field (AACA rules require that show cars be driven onto the field under their own power).
As has become my custom, I was on the grounds before 8 a.m., and found a good viewing spot. It is endlessly entertaining to see the cars. If you’re close enough, you can also capture the drivers’ faces, almost every one of them grinning as they proudly pilot their machines. Below is an assortment of vehicles moving under their own power before finding their designated show field spots (click on these, or any photos in the post, to enlarge them).
Sometimes, the “business” of the hobby causes us to forget that this IS a hobby, which means we’re doing this for fun. And looking around at the sights and sounds, plenty of people at Hershey are having fun. We’ll leave you with a few photos as reminders.
All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.