Counterparts and Compatriots at the Car Show

As car show season this year winds down, I couldn’t help but look back and think of all the interesting, and weird, people I’ve met. This is the first season where I was able to bring my own pride and joy, the ’67 Volvo 122S, and become a participant in the car show itself, rather than being a spectator as I’ve been in the past 26 years of my life. Rather than being the guy drooling over cars and walking around asking the questions, I was now expected to be the one with the answers. With this new increase of social interaction amongst fellow car enthusiast, I could not help but begin to see archetypes of personalities with the people I talked with.

Straight outta Gothenburg

Going to my first car show as a participant was on par with my first day of High School. It was as if my ’67 Volvo was going off to its first day of school. Will it be accepted by the other cars? Is it too “weird” or "foreign" to be at this show? Will anyone find my car interesting? Will people scoff at it since it’s still a work in progress and not pristine?

For whatever reason, I hadn’t predicted the anxiety that came with my first time presenting my own car. I was nervous enough to show up over an hour early for the registration time, which was still 3 hours prior the actual show start time. Needless to say, I drove away with window number one for the spectator voting identification.

Becoming a participant allowed me to change my perspective and realize how much of an arrogant piece of work I was when I was a spectator. It is really easy to walk around and point out the imperfections and the ‘that’s not factory’ pieces in cars; scoff at cars you wouldn’t necessarily buy or maintain, let alone bring to a car show; or verbally state what cars suck and why. I was kind of a douche. But now that I was a part of the show, I became self-aware and it made me hyper-sensitive to hearing people walk by my car and say those things.

I was pleasantly surprised. It solidified my belief that car people are good people. I have come to find that a person who knows about cars; who knows how engines actually work; who actually works on their own car; will appreciate almost anything with a motor and wheels (and some things without). The ones who I was worried about are actually few and far between. These personas to watch out for are the ones who get all of their information on cars from magazines, sales brochures, and watching movies; who have a ‘cousin’ that dropped that an LS1 engine into a Geo Metro because they couldn’t afford a Camaro (yea…right); who has the tagline of ‘a friend, who knows a guy’ whenever they talk about stories of cars.

After a season of being a participant in about a half dozen car shows, and hearing people discuss cars in an open format, you start to see the same people over and over. They may wear different cloths, have different names, or live in different places, but they are eerily, the same people. These auto owners fall into similar archetypes regardless of what genre, market, or type of vehicle they own.

The Car Owners.

The “Immaculate from factory” owner: These guys are the original and only owners of their cars; They bought them having the idea in their head that these will one day be classics. They will buy the car as a long term investment, leave the original plastic around the floor mats, and never let it see the light of the sun, except for car show day! Now, this group is actually pretty cool. I say that because you get a chance to see what may be a future classic if it’s a modern car (modern in my opinion is anything made in my lifetime, which started in 1990). The other awesome thing is, if it isn’t necessarily on the flight path to be a classic car, for instance, say a flawless 1992 Pontiac Grand Prix SE coupe, you get to ask the owner why they decided to keep it so clean. And you will get interesting and sometimes bat-shit crazy answers on why they are keeping it unmolested. I came across a factory fresh, less than 40,000 miles, early 90’s Toyota Tercel. The owner’s story was he got it from his late grandmother who passed away in 2001. She barely drove it, but it was the highest end model and, according to him, a rare teal blue with dealer installed graphics. He kept it clean because, as he put it, you will never see one this well kept (which as of 2016, I believe is true). It reminded him of the 1990’s and his grandmother. Now on the flip side, sometimes you find a car that the owner bought brand new, kept it immaculate and it truly is a classic car which means this owner scored big time. I feel the more common cars that fall in this group are the “special editions” of popular cars for that time, a good example is the Buick GNX. Cars that already had a history of prestige, but that additional kick meant it was something to hold on to. However, it still warms my heart to walk by and see a spotless 1984 AMC Eagle.

You can almost smell the fake trees they cut down for those panels on this beauty

The “Never finish a project” owner: The true car guy that can’t close a project to save his or her life. I would argue this persona lives in most car enthusiasts. Always on the look out for the next cool, unloved car that needs some TLC. Now, to credit this person, they see potential in all. Whether it’s taking an old Jeep J-truck chassis and engine, then throwing an AMC Ambassador wagon body on it to make the ultimate family hauler, mud flinger; or just getting a fleet of old mustangs sitting in the field behind their house to move under their own power: these guys flirt with the “what if” tag line in the automotive world. I love talking to these owners at car shows about their projects. They are the ones towing the project into the car show to show it off, usually going home with the “Best Unfinished” trophy in hand. Sometimes the best conversation with these guys are about the project they didn’t bring to the car show, but don’t worry, they will bring it next time.

"Almost done, just need a drivetrain, paint, interior, glass..."

The “Frankenstein” owner: The ones who actually finish their crazy project. Make a rally-spec Porsche 914? Why not! Put a LS1 engine in a Chevy Chevette? Hell yeah! Turn a Jeep CJ-5 into a rat rod, low rider?? Of course! The sky's the limit. Most of the explanations behind these automobiles of majesty usually begin with a “well, I had a [insert car/engine name here] laying around, so...” Ingenuity knows no limit with this master builder. It’s amazing to see how someone can make components that have no business being together work in such beautiful harmony. A lot of the time, these cars are overlooked for the pure fact that items aren’t factory, but they are a work of art.

Lead Sled

The "Brand Loyal" owner: This is the more common persona at car shows. You see them pull up in their [insert classic car here] and pop the trunk to reveal every piece of memorabilia for their car or car company known to man. First thing pulled out is the home made stand for that sweet “Parking Only” sign for their respective car company or model. Ever walk into a truck stop and wonder who buys the Ford-branded, iPhone home charging station complete with LED lights, a cigarette lighter, and an ashtray that’s at a $40 markup compared to an normal iPhone cable? Yea, that’s this guy. But if there is one thing these owners have, it is an unlimited knowledge about their brand, or car. If you have a question, not only do they have an answer; but they actually talked to the engineer who designed it and have the factory worker who installed it in their phone contacts.

Smells like melted tires, stale cigarette smoke, and shame

The “Everyday driver” owner: This is my favorite group. The underdogs of the car community. They are the ones showing off their cars with scuffs, imperfections, dents, and unfinished pieces at the car show. They drive this car every day for the love of the automobile. It may be their only means of transportation but, every zip tie, every duct tape piece, and every bungee cord has a story. And this guy will gladly tell you how it came to be.

Driving it like its 1974

The “My penis is kind of small, so I straight piped my exhaust and floor it wherever I go” owner: Self-explanatory. The guy (and it’s always a guy) who tries to assert dominance by revving their engine to an auditory level where no one in 50 yards can have a conversation or they try and do a burnout as they leave the event. Sure enough, youtube is full of their videos of crashing their ride over curbs, losing control in traffic, or just looking like morons.

Smell the muscle...

Lets shift gears. There is a whole other dichotomy to the car show than just the people bringing their rides. There is also the Spectators:

“Horsepower is everything”: A keyboard warrior on the internet, in public this persona tries to impress their friends (or worse, a romantic counterpart) with rattling off arbitrary numbers and figures for each car they walk past at the show. Most of the time this person doesn’t drive a car that would be considered noteworthy. However, they almost always have the “one-up” story for whatever vehicle is before them. “Oh, is that a fox body with the five-oh? Well, my cousin’s best friend’s uncle, whose co-worker owns one of the exact same year as yours but with nitrous, forged pistons in the brake calipers, a dana 44 rear end, and converted it to all wheel drive. Have you ever thought about doing that?”

"This is the older Jag with the 3.8l? The 4.2l Series 1 was WAY better..."

The “Molester”: No matter how much the courtesy is understood at car events; no matter how many signs you post around your car; no matter how many times you ask them not to; this guy is going to touch your car. He or she will open your driver’s door to look inside, regardless of you rolling down the window. They will wiggle at parts and physically inspect your engine bay. For some reason, they think, because they are a car guy and not just any normal spectator, they are above the courtesy “no touch” rule. You will get fingerprints on your paint and windows.

"Do you still have the factory tire repair kit? Let me check..."

The “Uninterested Wife/Husband”: The unsuspecting bystander. The wife or girlfriend (in rare instances a husband or boyfriend) who tells her husband that they “never do anything together.” Little does she know, she signed up for going to a car show that weekend. So she walks hand in hand with her husband, trying to humor his geeking out over displacements and engine models. Her total judgment of the cars are determined on whether it’s cute or not. This means the Lady’s Choice award is usually reserved for Volkswagen Beetles or two-tone 1950’s Chevy’s.

"Where are all the cute cars?"

All jokes aside, car shows and car people are fantastic. Whether it’s to go see the cars, or just people watch, it’s a great way to use a Saturday afternoon. There are many more types that can be broken down from the dichotomy of car shows, and I am guilty of more than one of these I brought up. But really, you meet fantastic people, from various backgrounds sharing the love of cars. Where else can you see a 2000 Honda S2K parked next to a 1967 Charger? They bring people together, and sometimes those who would never cross paths outside of that setting. It’s a beautiful thing, all for the love of automobiles.