Car Shows, Through the Eyes of the Guy Who Owns the Car

Let’s talk about car shows. That richly American practice of a bunch of car owners taking their ride to an organized showing of vehicles. They come in all sizes, shapes and types: classic cars, hot rods, sports cars, foreign cars, rare cars, and race cars. Car shows offer something for most everyone.

Journalist Allen Fennewald described it pretty well. “Car Shows are exhibitions of technological advancement and appreciations of the past. They are times for the mature to reminisce while the youth catch glimpses of the world that was, through automobiles that remain like four-wheeled time capsules.”

For the young’uns, these time capsules are fascinating. Cars were started with cranks. Really?

That shifter on the column needed to have that clutchama thing pushed in to work. That sounds hard.

There was no Sirius radio, or any radio at all for that matter. How is that possible, Grandpa?

That foot button thing on the floor, what was that for? That would be a dimmer switch for the headlights, Junior. (Unless you’re referring to the foot engine starter.)

The relics of our history are as confusing for the young as the understanding of a self-driving car for the oldsters.

Kids going with grandpa to a car show have lots of questions. What’s a Packard? How do you say Studebaker? Why didn’t you keep this car, Grandpa? It’s really cool.

I don’t have any proof, but I bet every mature person attending a car show has a car in their memory they wish they’d kept. Maybe even three or four.

For Grandpa, a car show can be the proverbial walk down memory lane. So much of our growing up happened in the family car. Remember the first time you drove alone? The sense of accomplishment, of arrival? It was a powerful moment for many. Not that we understood, we just knew that things had changed for us.

It happened on our journeys, short and long. Coming of age was often associated with our “firsts” involving a car, our first license, our first date, the first car we actually owned. Even our first “fender bender” or ticket had profound significance along our pathway to becoming a full-fledged grownup.

Car shows allow the exploration of those kind of memories.  

Car shows can be divided into several general types. Cruise-ins are the least formal events. They amount to car owners cleaning up their car and gathering to display their work. They have the feel of a social gathering rather than a competition.

Judged car shows either include individuals with a great deal of knowledge about the class of vehicles on display or depend on the participants to choose amongst themselves class winners.

Classic car shows get pretty picky about things like how rare the vehicle is and the quality of the restoration work.

Car shows that invite modified vehicles are really displaying the owner’s vision and personality. Like hot rods with fantastic paint jobs and souped-up engines that make men drool.

If you plan on attending a car show, strive to be a good attendee, here are some useful suggestions:

  1. Keep your hands to yourself and be careful zippers and buckles don’t come in contact with the vehicles.
  2. Keep kids under control.
  3. Avoid public criticism of any show cars.
  4. Never try to educate an owner about his car.
  5. Don’t photo bomb any photographers working at the show.
  6. Don’t try to one up the car owner.
  7. Don’t be rude to businesses that surround the car show site.

My brother, Will has been a presenter at many local car shows over the years. He maintains two vehicles, a 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe and a 1990 Fox-Body Saleen Mustang Convertible. They’re both, to my untrained eye, beautiful machines.

When I bluntly asked him why he participated, he first admitted it was his form of entertainment, a hobby he really enjoyed. But as he spoke of his experiences it became obvious that this was more than your normal hobby. It served as a unifier and binder for his own family as they shared in the car show presenter experience. It was also a profound base of his social life. He looked forward to seeing old friends, other worshippers of the wrench, and catching up on their success and trials, the process of rubbing shoulders with likeminded people.

Will’s passion spilled over into my family. When my grandson Clayton was eight years old, Will offered him a ride in the top-down Saleen. Uncle Will wasn’t shy about opening her up as we drove through the foothills. I remember Clayton holding on tight and screaming deliriously from the back seat. Ten years later my grandson is still convinced the black convertible he rode in was the Batmobile. A precious memory for us, a bi-product of Will’s love of cars.

That familial remembrance has been part of Will’s devotion to his cars. It’s really a family devotion. His wife enjoys going to shows, his girls weren’t shy about helping to get the car ready for a show. As they grew older they would come to a show and spend a day or afternoon. These are moments Will confesses he treasures.


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