You know where to get new parts for your ride—everything from spark plugs to superchargers. But where do you find a hood ornament for your '47 Studebaker Commander? Or a carb for your Datsun 510? Auto-parts stores can't stock those, as they might sell one per year nationwide. Here's how you can find those rare, out-of-production parts.
All screengrabs and photos by Andy Jensen
Although it was considered a sketchy place to do business 20 years ago, eBay's rating system, USPS tracking, and PayPal-backed security have made it the go-to for obscure parts. Need center console parts for an Opel GT or a Pierce-Arrow V12 distributor? I just checked—eBay has them. One downside to the site is cruising the unlimited pages of parts for “just a minute," then looking up when it's 3:30 am. Another is that not everyone sells nationally or internationally. You may have to check local auctions for hard-to-ship items like body panels.
eBay tips: Use the Advanced search controls to narrow down what you need, and clicking “used" condition seems to get rid of most of the new crud, like keychains and sticker kits. You can also set up an alert for a desired search term, like “Packard Super 8 hood," and it will email you when one pops up for sale.
Craigslist doesn't have everything, but it does have a lot of unexpected deals. You can find everything from running and driving cars from $100 to '80s wheels for $1,000, with a “No low ballers. I know what I have!" warning. Craigslist is a free, local classified ad network covering large and small locales around the world. Finding your local site means most of the listings you're interested in are likely less than an hour's drive away. As with a garage sale, there's no tax, no shipping and handling fees, and you can inspect the item before plopping down cash. You have to be quick, though, as sellers usually just have one of each item, and if it sells, it's gone.
Craigslist tips: Check misspellings of what you're looking for, too. It's amazing how many “Camero" parts are out there. You can use a hyphen to exclude search terms. For example, “Fox Mustang –V6" means you won't find V6 parts.
Usually held in state fairgrounds or huge warehouses, swap meets are like everyone having a giant automotive yard sale in one place. The variety is absurd, from brass-era suspensions to WWII diesel tank engines and turbochargers the size of your head. It's worth it just for the art made out of car parts and the oddity of seeing a dozen Ford Big Blocks sitting on a trailer. It's like eBay in real life. Big meets feature food trucks, public restrooms, and sometimes even live music for a party atmosphere.
Swap-meet tips: Know what you're willing to spend and bring cash, as most vendors don't have a Square card reader. The prices get cheaper the longer the vendors hang around. They don't want to lug those wheels home, so swing back later when they're packing up to score an awesome deal.
No matter the vehicle, odds are someone out there is as into it as you are. Forums are a great resource for fans to talk about their favorite vehicle, from the quaint, old-timey Model T forum to the recently departed enthusiast favorite Pontiac G8. Nearly all vehicle forums offer a classifieds section for buying and selling new or used parts. The good thing about enthusiast forums is the ability to see clear pictures of what is for sale (or request more from a different angle or closer up) and to haggle or negotiate on price or even trade. Most other members are just as big of fans of the vehicle as you, so odds are you're buying a good part from a reputable person. Just in case, it's always wise to get a tracking number.
Forum Tips: Play it safe to avoid getting ripped off. Only buy from established members of the forum. Someone with 2,000 posts and a +5 trader rating is a safe bet. Someone with 15 posts that joined yesterday is questionable.
Local Salvage Yards
“People like to come in and have the experience of walking through the salvage yard," says Lynette Hendrix, inventory specialist at American Camaro and Firebird. “They like to see the old cars, the ones that are still complete. Just being able to look at everything and touch it, customers seem to like that experience."
Located on classic Route 66 for over 30 years, AC&F started out specializing in Camaro and Firebird parts, and later added Corvette and Mustang parts. It can install anything it sells and has upgrade packages, such as installation of an LS1 V8 into a v6 Camaro.
“We recycle 100% of the car," says Hendrix. “They're stripped completely, and the chassis hits the scrap yard for recycling." This helps keep enthusiast cars on the road, and good parts out of the crusher. For hard-to-find and discontinued parts, Hendrix suggests using Google to find your local salvage yard.
Salvage yard tip: “We're on a network, linked to 3,500 salvage yards nationwide," says Hendrix. “Every day, our inventory is uploaded, so they can see what we have and, likewise, we can check theirs. Once we know what you're looking for, we can search other yards' inventory, so we know where to call."
“It's a lot of investigating. There's not just one place to go for old stuff." And the search is half the fun.
Any tips on hunting old parts? Let us know where you like to go, in the comments below.