Confessions of an Import Carlisle first-timer

Photography Credit: Tim Murray

Back in 1987, my wife and I acquired a 1960 Austin Healey 3000 that we adored. We loaded our kids in the jump seats and bombed around the Northeast–often in search of parts.

Around this time, I learned that there was a killer import car swap meet in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and I swore that I was going to go there “next year” to pick up parts for the Healey.

Never went.

Fast forward to the early ’90s when I acquired a “free” 1972 MGB that needed everything–all available at Import Carlisle.

Never went.

Picked up a ’76 BMW 2002 in the late ’90s that I wanted to autocross. Heard that everything I needed was at Import Carlisle.

Never went.

Started vintage racing a BMW 2002 in 2004 and met lots of fellow racers who got parts at Import Carlisle.

Never went.

I contracted “Fiatitis” in 2013 (which I still have) and bought a 124 Spider and an X1/9. All my Fiat buddies said that Import Carlisle was the place to get everything I needed.

Never went.

So this March, my friend Tim Suddard asked me if I wanted to go with him to Import Carlisle. Did I need parts? Not really. Did I need to sell stuff? No. Did I want to go to Import Carlisle? Absolutely!

[Swap meets: How to buy and sell like a seasoned professional]

We arrived late on a cold, rainy Thursday afternoon and unloaded Tim’s trailer of stuff, and I was having second thoughts about this trip. The place was pretty empty, and I was beginning to think that maybe the internet had rendered Import Carlisle passé.

Photography Credit: Tim Murray

Friday was even colder and wetter, but we got to the fairgrounds early (Carlisle veterans know that the pickin’s are better then) and started shopping.

British marque parts seemed to predominate, but BMW, VW, Saab and Volvo vendors were well represented as were all of the Japanese brands. There were even enthusiasts selling Citroën, Renault, Peugeot and Fiat parts, as well as the usual array of tool, shop supply, and detailing vendors.

Need an owner’s manual for your 1961 Wolseley Hornet? There were at least two vendors to choose from. Yes, it rained all day, but apparently that’s typical for Carlisle, and the veterans were quick with a Carlisle weather joke.

Photography Credits: Tim Suddard

The weather was better on Saturday, and the crowd swelled, as did my waistline. Central Pennsylvania is known for its Amish-influenced food, and Carlisle certainly celebrates that tradition with a wide array of locally prepared delicacies.

I was able to walk some of those calories off in the acres of car displays. There were hundreds of cars of every make and type imaginable, and it occurred to me that Carlisle is as much about swapping information and knowledge as it is about swapping parts.

Photography Credits: Tim Suddard

While the internet may have changed the way we get parts for our cars, there is no replacing the immeasurable value of meeting like-minded enthusiasts face-to-face. I learned things about my current cars that will help me operate and maintain them, and I got to talk to experts in marques that I hope to learn more about in the future.

Going to Carlisle next year? Absolutely, and I hope to see you there–especially if you’ve got parts for my Fiat 131.

Photography Credits: Tim Murray

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J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
5/14/24 1:29 p.m.

BTW:  Downtown Carlisle is awesome to visit, too. Great shops and restaurants. Love Issei Noodle.

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