Vintage Nike Custom Sneakers
Lindy Darrell is one of the foremost NIKE vintage collectors in the world. With a hankering for nylon Nike runners from the ‘70s, and track and field SMUs in particular, he has a knack of uncovering super rare ‘barn find’ sneakers in the strangest of places. As a side project, Lindy and his buddy Jeff have been producing insane custom vintage sneakers. Removing the old soles and replacing the fragile foam with new EVA gives the old beaters a new lease on life. As he says, ‘you can run a marathon in them!’ Intrigued by these oddball Franken-creations, we asked Lindy to show us how it’s done!
Hey Lindy, what’s up? It’s been quite a few magazines since we talked!
Staying busy in the vintage sneaker game and on the prowl 24/7, hunting, buying, selling, trading and of course sniping. It’s been a good year and I have been very fortunate to find some real heat in the SMU market. At this point, my addiction is being fed, but I guess I’ll always want to find that grail. My best finds were a number of SMU track spikes and I had a three month period where it seemed like they were just falling in my lap.
Where the hell are you finding this stuff? I’m guessing it’s not on eBay?
I’m finding these things in a number of ways. I still have friends from back in the 1970s ‘running boom’ that for some reason, kept stuff tucked away in their closet. Many of them live in Eugene, Beaverton, Portland... places where you might find a few pairs from years past.
I use eBay a lot, but most of the time you better be willing to dig ‘very deep’ in your wallet. There are still a few collectors out there that want these relics as much as I do. That’s when the pain sets in! Most of the really good SMUs seem to be in Japan in the hands of collectors. You see a lot of them on auction sites in Japan, and they fetch insane prices! Perfect example of this is the collection of Takatoshi Akutagawa (author of the Blue Ribbons book) which is now at the Nike Archives. The collection of SMUs he had was insane! Words really can’t describe it!
Do you have to trade some of your heat to clinch a big deal?
I will always be willing to trade, if there is an SMU involved. What I seem to get myself into, is one of these crazy shoes will surface and I will need quick cash. I then have to sell a pair from my own stock to make it happen. I don’t like to do this, but you gotta do what you gotta do! I have made some good trade-offs, although I wish I could get some of them back.
If you don’t mind me asking, what are these old running spikes worth?
You know, that’s really a tough one. I guess it all depends on how bad you want them. I have seen the SMU spikes bring $100 to $500+ per pair, depending on the condition. Most of the spikes I have are deadstock to mint. Some of them I got right, some I had to pay monster bucks for. I have a few pairs of AtWest spikes that I would be hard pressed to sell, ever.
Ok, run us through some of the key pickups. Start at the top!
I have a friend that was a very good distance runner. When he was in high school back in the late ‘70s early ‘80s he wrote to Nike. They endorsed him and put him on the list. His name was Chris. He had a size eight foot. Thinking he was a woman, Nike thought he was a ‘stud female’ athlete, and for two whole years they sent him the most incredible SMUs you have ever seen. I was able to get my SMU Columbia and SMU Mariah from him. I would have to say the best deal I ever made, was from a guy that lived in Exeter, NH. His brother worked for Nike and had left him a bunch of things in his basement. They were just tennis shoes to him. I was able to land the motherlode from this guy! The LDV nylon and Internationalist that he sold me are one-of-a-kind prototype SMUs for sure!
Are they all holding up ok? Can they be worn?
I wouldn’t recommend wearing any vintage sneakers, should you want to keep them in collectable condition. In many cases, it can be done, but the shelf life is not that good. The glue, nylon and foam just starts eating itself over time. I keep my shoes on a slat wall with shelves and they are holding up real nice. I try not to pick them up much. I only do this because I’m trying to preserve this bit of history.
Sorry if we ask an idiot’s question, but how do you know when you’ve got an SMU on your hands? Are they more valuable than a regular release?
In the late ‘70s, the SMU was born. They were made in the US at the Nike factory in Exeter, New Hampshire for endorsed athletes and teams. Many were prototypes, but for the most part they were the same shoes sold to the pubic, with different colorways. Many nylon/foam companies would send Nike rolls of different colors to try and this was used on the SMUs as well. I saw a pair of Roadrunners that were in the Jamaican colorway and had RASTA on one shoe and Man on the other! These were made for the late Bob Marley. Eddy’s ‘Elton John’ Cortez are pretty sick as well! Nike made a lot of these types of SMUs, but you just never see them.
How do you determine rarity for this super early stuff? There’s no known production figures are there?
It’s rare enough to find a good deadstock standard production shoe, let alone an SMU! My thinking is the ones that are still around, people are keeping them in their collections. Many of them were probably worn out and ended up in the garbage. I spoke with a guy last week who told me his wife got sick of looking at a pair he had in his closet. She tossed them in the trash! Just like flushing five notes down the toilet! She never knew...
I’d love to see the OG Mariah back on the shelf. Did you see the recent shoe they’re calling the Zoom Mariah?
I’m with ya on the OG Mariah. Problem is, the original Mariah had the blown polyurethane around an air bag. This was very expensive for Nike to make. First generation AIR, I believe the OG Tailwind was the most expensive running shoe made at that time. They could make the original Mariah using EVA, much like the Eagle because they both had the same upper. I have seen the Lunar Mariah. I like it. I like the Lunar and Flywire technology they have produced. I love to see cutting edge stuff again.
I don’t think a lot of kids would know these models. Is that part of the appeal?
I’m sure they don’t. We are talking thirty to forty years ago on some of this stuff. Sneaker culture is alive and well today. I think it’s awesome that we have a young group of sneakerheads out there.
I really respect all of it but my main goal is to show and tell where and how it all began, and try to help preserve the history of these vintage kicks.
What’s up with these new hybrid Frankensteins we hear you’ve been working on? They sound crazy.
My friend Jeff and I have been customizing and rebuilding vintage sneakers. He does outstanding work. We have been doing a bit of everything from customizing track spikes to waffle road shoes. We rebuild the original Nike Air midsoles, giving them a second life. They are as good as new when redone. We have made some real crazy shoes using 100% vintage stock.
How tricky is it to cut up old shoes and sew them back together? Sounds finnicky...
Not at all! You just remove the outsole and midsole and get it down to the upper. If you are working with a spike or cleat,
you just remove the plate as well. Get the shoes lasted-up and have a go at it. It works out very well. These shoes are as good as new. You could run a marathon in them.
Really? I thought they’d be kinda fragile?
When Jeff rebuilds a shoe, it will last as if it were brand new!
He worked for Tred2 back in the ‘70s and has resoled tons of shoes. He is a pro and has a lot of old Nike factory stock which keeps the shoes vintage OG. We have done some things for many vintage collectors around the world and all are very happy with the results.