Hershey – The Old Car Mecca

By Stephen Kassis

For many years I have joined friends at the huge auto swap meet at Hershey, PA. By traveling in a group, we share expenses for rental cars, hotels and shipping costs. The swap meet is the largest and longest running swap meet in the country.

While the swap meet is fantastic and a great place to find treasures, getting there is half the fun. We start early and travel the east coast to visit restoration shops, private car collections, part suppliers and machine shops before actually going to the swap meet.

Our “crew” is a group of hard core Chevy guys that really enjoy the hunt for parts and accessories. The first stop will be at Dave Sylvain’s shop in Vernon, CT. Dave does high end show restorations and he specializes in 1930’s Chevy open cars. Currently, Dave has five Chevy roadsters at his shop, ranging from 1933 to 1935. His most recent project is a beautiful 1934 Master Roadster which is nearing completion. The owner is still making some final color choices but most of the paint and body work is done and assembly is nearly complete.

The next day we visited a fellow named Frank Cabula – a somewhat eccentric car collector that had some really rare cars in his sheds. He was working on a 1937 Cord coupe, 1934 La Salle Convertible, 1928 Chevy/Montgomery Ward tractor conversion, Ford Model A Canopy Delivery & two doodle bugs (shortened car chassis used as farm or off road vehicles).

Next on the list was Morton Coach Works. Jesse Morton has a high end restoration shop that specializes in Rolls Royce and Buick autos in the 1920’s & 1930’s. This shop is in a huge historic industrial building that once housed the New Departure Bearing Company. In addition to beautifully restored and in-progress cars, they had a nice collection of original gas & oil signs. This shop does a lot of custom sheet metal fabrication. To assist in this Jesse has a collection of antique machinery equipment which he has modified to do English Wheel fabrication.

Off to Didominico Hot Rods and owner Jeff who builds custom street rods. Jeff is also a fabricator and expert painter. He was working on a 1939 Coupe when we arrived.

The final stop of the day was Mike Katz, a former Mr. Universe. Mike’s collection of hot rods is truly unique. Mike is a body builder that was in the movie Pumping Iron with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1975. He built a hot rod to commemorate the body builders, including himself, that were featured in the movie. The graphics and detail of this machine are truly amazing.

Mike also did a commemorative hot rod in honor of WWII pilots and featuring Bud Anderson, famous WWII fighter pilot and his plane “Old Crow”. The car is made to imitate the cockpit of a WWII plane and is complete with original aircraft gauges, control stick, rudder pedals, and a 12-cylinder aircraft engine! His other cars were a 1934 Chevy Coupe street rod and a 1937 Ford 2-Door Sedan street rod. After viewing his collection, Mike took us to his pizza restaurant for dinner.

The next day we visited Dave’s shop again to see (and take rides in) his “fleet” of 1933-1935 Chevrolet convertibles. After playing old cars for a couple of hours, we loaded our vehicles for our trip to Hershey. However, we had a few stops to make before heading that way.

Several hours down the road we came to Peter Shay’s place. Pete is a longtime Chevy collector who owns a restored 1933 Chevy Cabriolet. He also has a 40-year collection of 1930’s Chevy parts he is selling. After looking over his car and enjoying snacks provided by his wife, we adjourned to the garage to look at parts for sale! We spent several hours sorting through and making piles of treasures to buy. This was like going to a swap meet with only Chevy parts on display. It doesn’t get better!

The next morning we were up by the Canadian border in upstate New York. We had come to Glen Rarick’s place. Glen has been collecting and restoring early 1930’s Chevrolet & Pontiacs for over 50 years. His buildings and yard were loaded with project cars and rusty parts. He had 15 semi-trailers loaded with old cars & parts. A feast for the eyes of any car collector! Sadly, there were too many unfinished projects in his stable but many rare cars to view. One of my favorites was his 1933 Pontiac Sedan Delivery. This car is being made into a street rod but this rare body was a treat to see.

Our next stop was a museum in Boyertown, PA. They featured cars & trucks manufactured in Boyertown and surrounding areas. There were lots of trucks as many commercial body manufacturing plants were located here.

Our last preview before the big swap meet was the Collector Auto Mall. This is located in a defunct shopping mall. All of the buildings are now filled with collector cars from the 1920’s thru current day. Many of the cars are part of a collection, but some are available for sale and still others are being stored in a climate controlled building for private owners. One of our group found a low mileage 2000 GMC one-ton dually for sale and ended up buying it! It had only 36K on the odometer and was a really clean original truck.

We started our search for Hershey treasures on Tuesday which is setup day. The weather this year was hot & humid, then rainy and humid, then dry and cold – we got it all, thanks to hurricane Michael leftovers. Regardless of the weather, we had three good days of shopping. Thursday was heavy rain and we went back over to Collector Auto Mall to help Gary finalize his purchase of the 2000 GMC truck. That afternoon we got into our wet weather gear and again went shopping at the swap meet. The good news on rainy swap meet days is that vendors are more likely to bargain with you on price. Yes, we got wet but we also found good deals!

On Friday as we were walking around the grounds, someone mentioned that they had seen Jay Leno. He is one of the most prominent supporters of the old car hobby and it was nice to know he was out shopping like the rest of us. I hope he found lots of treasures!

Normally on Saturday we would attend the AACA car show. However, this year there was too much rain and many of the vehicle owners chose not to show up. It is unfortunate as there are usually hundreds of really rare and unusual vintage cars & trucks that come here for judging. It would normally be a great opportunity to see these vehicles all in one place. One of my favorites from previous years was a 1929 Chevrolet Popcorn Wagon that had been in the same family since it was built!

Of course, one required stop before we leave is Hershey Chocolate World. We needed to stock up on candy for those friends and family that could not join us on the trip. Once we had the required stocks of candy we headed out for our last stop to see a low mileage 1932 Chevrolet Coach. A young couple had recently purchased this car and were very excited to have ownership of this car. They wanted to know if it was an all original car as they planned to show it at car shows in their area, including Hershey next year.