When it comes to finding a deal, I’ve never found a better option than hunting the aisles at a swap meet. I’ve been to my fair share of such spendthrift gatherings, wandering up to trailers piled high with delectable wares, all full of possibility. Rusty, nearly unidentifiable parts sit directly adjacent to new old stock pieces. The thrill of the hunt in the air.
Swap meets can be addictive. When I need a fix, I mark my calendar for the swap at Barber Vintage Festival. My grading scale for a swap meet is multi-part: prices, depth and breadth of selection, weather, and access to food. The annual fall Hershey swap is a destination for many enthusiasts, but I contend that Barber is swap meet Valhalla.
Each year in October, those with high-test pumping through their veins converge on the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, to race, sell, buy, and generally indulge their motorcycle-loving brain. The main attractions at Barber are the world-class museum with over 900 motorcycles on display, and the dozens of classes racing on the 2.38-mile road course, but while you’re there, you’re missing out big time if you don’t walk through the rows of parts and people at the swap meet.
First off, the selection is stunning. From Harley-Davidson to Triumph, Honda to Hodaka, there are parts for whatever brand you fancy. There were plenty of full motorcycles for sale as well, including a space chock full of Japanese domestic market two-strokes right next to a handful of chopper builds in various stages of completion. To be fair, the range is wide, but the depth is a bit shallow—if you are looking for a specific part, you might not strike gold. Chat up the vendors, though, and at like point in the right direction for what you need, even you can’t go home with it right then. You’re almost better off entering the Barber swap meet with an open mind and a willingness to take a chance on something unexpected.
The weather is great, as well. It’s hot (this is Alabama, after all) but the Barber facility has something the endless parking lots of Hershey lack—trees. Shade makes the conditions significantly more bearable, even if the air temp makes it feel like you’re standing in a sauna.
And then, the prices—my absolute favorite part. At swap meets in general, not all vendors are actually eager to sell. At Barber, it doesn’t take long to find a deal. The prices are reasonable, especially on Thursday evening when most people are just setting up. So reasonable, in fact, that I purchased not one, but two running and riding motorcycles while walking the grounds.
I scored a pair of matching motos from the same seller, purchased on two different days. Walking through on Friday, the gas tank of a dual-shock Husquvarna caught my eye, and upon walking up I found a Honda CB125 engine neatly swapped into the frame, I had to have it. A similarly styled 1972 Honda SL125 sat next to the Husky-Honda and I simply overlooked it. When making a final pass through the swap on Sunday, though, it was still there and stood out to me as a neat little build with a lot of potential. Into my truck it went. To be clear, I didn’t take more than I could spend, which was a mere $1300. I even had money left over to buy a celebratory round for my friends.
Which brings up the most important item when grading a swap meet—access to food. Walking around haggling for every bike part in sight burns a lot of calories. Refueling is key. The swap at Barber is laden with food vendors mixed in throughout the grounds, meaning I never had to backtrack to get grub. If you go, don’t skip Rusty’s Bar-B-Q truck. Their homemade sauces alone are worth the price of a sandwich.
So if you like bikes, racing, cheap parts, nice people, and great food, make the trip to Barber Vintage Festival. This year was the second year I have attended, and the second year I have left with a motorcycle in hand. Meet me there next year. Third time’s the charm, right?