Editorial: Are New Cars Ruining Old Car Shows?

Jim Sutherland
by Jim Sutherland

Over the years, I’ve attended thousands of “old car” shows. At the most prestigious of these events, eligibility rules are clear, consistent and cast in concrete. Meanwhile, at the bottom end, the cars on display have grown to include brand new Chevy trucks and late model imports. As long as it has four wheels, it’s in. What kind of twisted logic allows a post-millennium car or a brand new truck to qualify for a car show when some poor schmoe who put thousands of unpaid hours into his ’57 Ford has to park away from the show in a dusty parking lot? I know: times are tough. If you want to shoot ducks, go where the ducks are; the money’s in the mods. But once again, we’re looking at an auto-related industry where the relentless pursuit of short term gain threatens long term survival.

Commercially, the lack of temporal quality control is lethally short sighted. I know of one show that takes place in a small town of 5000 people that routinely brought hundreds of cars and tens of thousands of dollars into the community. Over the years, they had a few bad weather weekends. As classic car owners don’t like to risk their ragtops to the slings and arrows of outrageous hail, the weather “inspired” the organizers to lower the bar and raise the gate.

Suddenly, dramatically, you saw a shift in the show’s philosophy.

At first, the show dedicated a side street to newer mini-trucks and cars-with obscenely loud sound systems. The peaceful family affair was turned into a cheap carnival overnight with moronic, pounding crap loosely called music dominating the atmosphere. A formerly peaceful summer day, once a benign, positive celebration of the car, became yet another example of hi-tech audio torture.

Not to go all get off my lawn on you, but the change came complete with what’s called a punk-ass attitude. Hats were turned around or tipped to the side like Gomer Pyle’s at the gas station in Mayberry. We lost a car show and gained a hip-hop Woodstock.

Needless to say, the show fizzled. It’s now a fraction of its former size. The revenue dipped to catastrophic levels; turns out the“hats worn funny” guys with the hellish music turned up to 120 decibels don’t like to spend money on restaurants. Or hotels. The best they can do for the local economy: pick up a case of beer for the trip home.

The guys that used to go to this event set up show-and-shines closer to home where the greed factor isn’t an imperative. Something was lost at that point because the show in the small town was always unique. The town was full of old main street buildings that readily lent themselves to that trip down memory lane.

This trend continues to spread. And I’m not happy (in case you missed it). I don’t care if these new car drivers worked ten jobs and every holiday to pay for their tricked-out Accord or brand spanking new Silverado—they still have a bog standard vehicle, not a Boss 302. Come back when you restore a notchback ’66 Mustang with a three-speed manual and a six-cylinder motor. Or similar.

Enthusiasts who are living in new car world have shows every day of every week. They’re called dealer’s lots. Or parking lots outside the Higgly-Piggly. I know I speak for every car owner in the free world when I ask for a hard-line adherence to the 25-year rule. In other words, bring that 2009 Mustang back in 2034. Until then, leave it in the dusty parking lot outside the show because you haven’t paid any old car dues. You’ve simply taken on monthly payments for a soulless clone made out of 90 percent plastic. That hardly qualifies as earth-shaking (although the sound system might), and it leaves you outside the fence in the “real” old car world.

It’s an unarmed fence. But don’t be surprised if somebody snaps at some point and unloads a few rounds of 12-gauge buckshot into a Honda with a brutally loud sound system at a so-called old car show. I’m not advocating violence, but I am saying that when worlds collide, bad things happen. Alternatively, hopefully, a little dignity and respect go a long way.

[Read more of Mr. Sutherland’s work at mystarcollectorcar.com]

Jim Sutherland
Jim Sutherland

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  • Tincanman99 Tincanman99 on Aug 05, 2009

    I date to say this but this sounds like generational whining to me. Its that boomer versus gen X versus gen Y thing regurgitated again. Everything after 19XX is not worthy of being a cool car. I enjoy seeing cars of all different years. I appreciated custom street rods of the Chip Foose variet, restored muscle cars and current cars that have been customized. Realize that for gen X & Y muscle cars where just old beat up cars you bought for a pittance to drive to death. We never saw nor remember these cars in their hey day so do not have the scentimental attachment to them that the boomers have. A Chevelle SS 396 was just a big old sedan that slurped lots of gas ;) . This same attitude is the reason that Classic Rock stations survive. You mean music stopped being played after 1975? :) - rock died. Of course not than lets just adopt and accept that some new things are good too.

  • BigOldChryslers BigOldChryslers on Aug 06, 2009

    @tincanman99: I'm guessing from your comments that you don't actually attend car shows. I must disagree with you. I see people of all ages driving into car shows with their classic cars, although younger people are much more likely to show-up in a custom, hotrod, ponycar or muscle car than a fully restored vehicle from the mid-50s or prior. I don't know how old Mr.Sutherland is, but I'm no Boomer and I don't want to have to step around a bunch of new cars to see the good stuff at a show. One of my coworkers, who's even younger than I am, is currently shopping for a 1st gen Riviera to park in his garage. Another picked-up a nice Cutlass last year. If you look to the west coast, it's young guys that are driving the "old skool" and rat rod scene. As someone already commented, some of their shows have strict year rules (1964 and prior) to stop cars from the muscle car era from entering. My guess is that they were specifically looking to exclude the Mustang***, since the first year for the GTO was 1964. ***Based on their VINs, the first model year for the Mustang was 1965. Mustang was unveiled to the public before the official start of MY1965, so Mustang enthusiasts refer to the early ones as MY1964 1/2.

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