Online shopping hurts part sales at Wis. car show

Auto buffs say they are finding fewer antique parts at shows because of a growing scarcity and more people shopping online.

Hundreds of thousands gathered over the weekend for the 41st annual Iola Old Car Show and Swap Meet in Wisconsin, but vendors and others said part sales weren’t what they once were.

Dick Knapp, a Ford Model A expert from Arkansas, is originally from Wisconsin and has been attending the show since 1976. He said one factor is that fewer parts for old cars are available, so there’s less to sell.

“I think it’s peaked out,” he told Stevens Point Journal Media. “Parts are drying up for the Model A Fords. They’re getting harder and harder to find. The other cars are even harder to find, the rarer cars. It’s like a big treasure hunt.”

Show spokesman Mitchell Swenson said online shopping also has reduced the number of people looking to buy parts at the swap meet. There are spots for more than 4,000 sellers, but some are now filled with people selling such items as racing sunglasses. Swenson said some longtime parts vendors have just stopped coming.

“We’ve had some older guys that just say they can’t do it anymore,” he said. “They’ve been coming here forever, and they maybe had five or six spaces.”

Cars built between 1903 and 1983 draw massive audiences at the show. This year, they included a 1966 springtime-yellow Ford Bronco that Richard Cleer brought from Ipava, Ill. Cleer also had a space at the swap meet to sell Bronco parts.

He said he too noticed a drop-off in participation with fewer vintage car parts on the market.

“They’re almost all gone, and people come for that stuff,” Cleer said. “In another 10 or 15 years, these older parts are going to be about all bought up and they’re going to have to be bringing in Toyotas, I suppose.

“When they do that, I won’t be here,” he added.