Searching For Corvette Gold At The Local Auto Swap Meet

Behind every car is a story, and with Corvette owners it is almost always filled with passion and love. Buying a Corvette could be the beginning of a life-long love affair, heartache and/or numerous fond memories.  Wherever you get a number of Corvette aficionados together you will hear stories about purchasing their dream car, how the car lead to meeting the other love of their life, and perhaps even a midlife crisis. The bond between these folks is amazing.

If any enthusiast wants to become involved with Corvette culture then a trip to the Pomona Swap Meet in southern California is a must. For those not living in the southern California area, the local auto swap meet is an abundant source of both parts and information. I headed out to Pomona, California in the early predawn hours in search of Corvette gold, which equates to hearing the stories of old-timers, searching out killer deals and making a few friends along the way.

J. Michael Baker's 1996 Corvette features the red chevron stripes like the Grand Sport. Although the car is mostly stock, Baker owes part of his love of the Corvette to his late wife who talked into buying a 1964 so he would quit tinkering with her car.

Many local auto swap meets feature gatherings of particular makes/models, and Pomona is no exception. In fact the Corvette name is part of their radio campaign, so it seemed a logical place to gain insight into Corvette culture. Thanks to a multi-generational gathering of these cars and their owners, the swap meet provides an opportunity to experience the history of this magnificent machine through the eyes of Corvette diehards.

Upon meeting J. Michael Baker of Bakersfield California, I was unaware of the breadth of knowledge and welcoming nature of the Corvette brethren.  Baker brought out his 1996 Corvette to Pomona in search of a factory left front wheel and a disc brake conversion kit for his wife’s 1958 ‘Vette. Baker told me about his experience as avid road racer and has several Corvettes to his name. During our conversation he told me story of how the iconic sports car had brought him together with the woman who would eventually become his wife.

While cruising Chester in Bakersfield, Baker explained that he happened upon two girls with a beautiful 1958 Corvette and how it would forever change his life. At that point he was driving a Mustang, but eight years later he married that beautiful woman with a Corvette, which led to a life-long love affair with his wife and all things Corvette.

One pretty clean fourth generation parked next to a work in progress.

Baker stated that he had owned the ’96 since 2000 and although the car is mostly stock, he loves the handling of the car on the track. During a recent trip to Infineon Raceway he had the fastest time of the day coming out of the carousel.  “These cars handle great, better than the new ones,” said Baker. As I listened to Baker a couple of nearby C5 owners jumped into our conversation, a bit of good-natured ribbing ensued. I witnessed that despite the lines drawn by ownership and/or preference for of one or many of the various generations of Corvettes these owners embrace fellow enthusiasts as friends.

Bench racing aside, Baker made the trip down to Pomona this morning in search of parts. He said that he does not own a computer and prefers to hit the swap meet to track down parts for his cars, rather than scouring the web.

Fred Mains of Phoenix, Arizona brought out three sets of front and rear ends from various late model Corvettes. Mains sells these to hot rodders looking to give the '55 Chevy or classic truck, a Corvette-like ride and braking capabilities. Unfortunately, the market for the fourth-generation cars is approaching the bottom, so in some instances the parts are worth more than the entire car.

Shortly after Baker headed off in search of disc brakes and a front wheel, a bright orange fifth-generation with the unmistakable whine of a supercharger pulled into the section reserved for Corvettes. I thought to myself, “is there nothing better than the sound of a centrifugal supercharger whine at 7 AM to get your blood flowing?” After giving the driver adequate time to get parked and gather her purse, it was time to get the inside scoop on her car.

The 2002 of Corvette of Vernice Velazquez is in store for more horsepower and a day at the races.

Vernice Velazquez of Moreno Valley, California introduced herself as the proud owner of the orange 2002. “It is my dream car, this is the one I want to keep,” said Velazquez. When I inquired about the modifications, Velazquez told me that her car already had the supercharger and a few other mods when she bought it some six months ago. Today she was on the hunt for a good deal on more go-fast goodies for her ‘Vette.

Velazquez was searching for a MagnaFlow off-road x-pipe, some interior accessories (floor mats and the mat for the storage area), a set of C6 headlights and performance brakes. The auto swap meet was the obvious choice when it came to tracking down some used parts and a great excuse to drive a fast car on an unseasonably warm January day. She told me that once she has a chance to get the new mods installed and the requisite trip to the dyno, it is off to Irwindale for a day of fun at the track.

Hopefully, Vernice Velazquez ran across Rick Swenson on her hunt for those C6 head lamps that she was after.

While walking the swap meet I noticed the vast array of classic parts, but the fourth-generation and newer parts are there as well and with patience it is possible to find some great deals for the newer ‘Vettes.  I met Rick Swenson of Lake Elsinore, California who has been selling Corvette bumpers and other take off parts for approximately three years at swap meet.

When I asked what his biggest sellers are Swenson replied, “Bumpers and the new head lamps.” The bumpers may have minor scratches, but when accidents happen it is nice to know that replacement parts are available if you fear the wrath of your auto insurance company. Most of Swenson’s take off parts are purchased from insurance companies after a car has been brought in for repair at the body shop where he works; the ones that are in decent shape make their way out to Pomona.

Fred Mains and his fellow Corvette parts sellers brought a variety of parts from Phoenix, Arizona to the Pomona Swap Meet.

However Mr. Swenson’s parts might come in handy if you purchase one of the many Corvettes for sale. There were many fourth-generation cars in great shape and a few others that were obvious project cars. A local swap meet is an excellent place to get started on a hunt for that perfect car. Steve and Jackie Ellis of Santa Clarita, California brought their 1989 out to the swap meet in hopes of finding the car a good home. The Ellis’ are of retirement age and looking cut down the number of toys in their garage.  Mr. Ellis had purchased the car with the help of his cousin who brokered the deal with the original owner in Ohio. “It was a fun car for us, it handles nice and it was fun to put the top down while driving by the beach,” said Mr. Ellis.

If you have $52,000 in your back pocket you could have driven this 2010 Grand Sport with only 6,400 miles away today. Anyone have some winning lottery numbers?

There were plenty of Corvettes for sale, and though some were outrageously priced, there were still deals to be had. The swap meet is a place where you can buy a car, pick up a few parts, learn the history of your new toy and possibly make a few new friends along the way.  From old timers who have experience with every generation of the car to the guy with a few left over parts, it is nearly impossible to leave without something for your ride and your wallet on empty.

About the author

Lauren Camille

Lauren is a graduate of California State University Fullerton, and has experience working for several enthusiast publications. She enjoys drag racing, classic Fords, and vintage Lincolns. She currently races a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback, and has a soft spot for 1960’s Lincolns. Currently, her collection includes: ’04 Cobra Convertible, ’65 Mustang Fastback, ’04 F350 6.0 diesel, ’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a ’87 Jeep Wrangler. She provides insightful content as a freelance writer for Power Automedia.
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