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10 Commandments of the Car Show

Outside my living room windows at this moment, the first few signs of spring are just beginning to appear here in Michigan. The last of the snow has melted, regular walkers and bicyclists have reappeared on our quiet street, and recent rains have been washing the seasons salt away from our roads. Our summer cars will resume road-insured status on April 1st, and I’ll probably get after dusting them off from a long winter's slumber sometime next week.

One thing any good car enthusiast does as Winter begins to transition to Spring is to plot out all the car shows they plan to attend in the coming season. I’ve already identified several shows I will be at this year, and a couple more are sure to fall on my calendar as soon as their dates are announced. From the first dust-offs to the last of the season’s cruise-in’s, rallies and color tours into late autumn, there is no better place for a gear head to connect with their local classic car culture than a car show.

Having attended and volunteered at more than my fair share of shows, and having had the privilege to act as a judge in several, I can’t help but occasionally notice behavior that’s frankly, inappropriate, for a show. Like other types of public events, there are unwritten rules for good etiquette, a way to blend in with the crowd, and there is also behavior that will cause you to stick out in ways you may not wish to be remembered. Below is a list from my observations “on the show-field” that come to mind:

  1. Thou shall not be a “know-it-all”: You’ve likely been to shows where there is one guy going around reassuring everyone within earshot that he’s got his facts straight. Need to know how many Maverics Ford built in 1972 or which engines were offered in Chevy II’s in 1965? They can give you an answer. They feel it necessary as sort of a measure of manhood to be the expert of the show. The problem with these types is that many times they don’t have their facts straight. One of the reasons I love car shows is that there is always something to learn, and shows are a great way to meet people and learn all about cars. Having said that, you learn a lot more by listening, and everyone has something to learn. There is hardly anything more garish to gearheads than someone who is spouting off incorrect information with authority. Best to be quiet and thought a fool rather than speak and confirm it.

  2. Thou shall not criticize others cars: I hear a surprising amount of this as I’m milling about. This sometimes falls under the “know-it-all” category, and sometimes it’s just boorish behavior. Mr. Encyclopedia Bonneville just decoded your trim tag while looking under the hood of your car and, unsolicited, gleefully informs you that your black paint is not correct, your car was originally painted Primrose Yellow. Or maybe they tell you your wheels are incorrect. Or ask why you haven’t replaced the headliner yet. Whenever I hear comments like this I’m always tempted to ask “where’s your car?” Hardly sporting on my part, since I’m paid to identify faults and imperfections in classic cars. Luckily I have the brains to keep my mouth shut unless I’ve been hired. Looking for the best way to alienate people at a car show? Run-down someone else’s car.

  3. Thou shall not complain: Spectators or exhibitors, it doesn’t matter. Some folks need to take a breath and find more important things to worry about. “Why is the registration tent all the way over there?” “Why can’t our club all park together, there are only 40 cars in our group?” “Why do you have so many judging classes?” “Why don’t you have more food vendors?” “Why didn’t you do a better job advertising the show?” It’s easy to criticize something you wish were different, and whining to someone else can often bring a nice feeling of accomplishment. What’s harder is actually being involved actively in a car club and putting on a successful car show. Lots of people who are very devoted to the hobby give up lots of their free time (for free) to plan, find volunteers, reserve vendors, seek approvals, run setup, teardown and cleanup, solicit and gather door prizes, register show cars, produce advertising, promote the show, collect money, direct traffic and a myriad of other minor details which all come together to make for a nice Saturday or Sunday for you and all the other spectators and exhibitors. It’s great to identify opportunities for improvement, and if it’s important to you, please get involved with the club putting on the show. Otherwise, just enjoy yourself.

  4. Thou shall not touch: I can’t believe I really have to say this, but there’s always somebody who can’t keep their hands to themselves. Someone stayed up late or got up early, preparing their pride and joy. They got to the show early, got out the spray wax, polishing to perfection, chasing a trophy or just doing it for the pride of ownership. Then you show up, licking the last of the elephant ear you just ate off your fingers when you spot that shiny tail fin you just have to run your hand down. Or you try to squeeze past someone looking at the car next to you and your belt buckle or purse clasp glides across the paint. “Please Don’t Touch” stickers for classic cars are still popular sellers, and it must be because people still occasionally insist on touching cars that don’t belong to them at shows.

  5. Thou shall take a chance on chancy weather and show up: See the note above about all the work that goes into putting on a show. Unless it’s going to rain buckets all day, just hop in and go! A couple of years ago, the Gilmore Car Museum showcased a temporary, invitation-only exhibit that my friend John Lacko curated; ‘The Golden-Age of Sports Cars’, with about 30 beautiful classic sports cars that John sought and hand-picked to display through the winter. Among the cars in the exhibit was a gorgeous Mercedes 300SL Gull Wing. In April, when the exhibit ended, there was a small open house at the museum to “see the cars off” as they were being picked up to go back to their homes. Of course, being April, the open house was on a gloomy, rainy Sunday afternoon. Many of the cars went directly to their waiting enclosed trailers, but the man with the million-dollar Gull Wing? He jumped in and drove it back home, to Detroit, in the pouring rain. Your car won’t melt. Don’t stay home just because there’s a 30% chance of showers.

  6. Thou shall not drive like an idiot: I love a good burnout as much as the next guy. I really do. Right time and place though. If you need an example of what I’m talking about just YouTube “Cars and Coffee accidents”. Making a nuisance of yourself with your car near a car show creates problems for the people who worked to put the show on. Someone gets annoyed, and who do you think hears the complaints? Not to mention the risk to pedestrians and property. You really don’t want to be the driver of the next crashed car leaving a car show uploaded onto YouTube.

  7. Thou shall pick up after yourselves: Yes, all of it. Leave your parking spot as you found it. Teardown and cleanup has enough to worry about without having to deal with the 12 empties you and your party left in the bushes.

  8. Thou shall not complain about admission fees: As a show volunteer that has stood at plenty of show entrances and collected exhibitor fees, I really can’t even pretend to care that you think the $12 fee to show your car is too expensive while you sit in your $50,000 weekend toy complaining to me about it. Car shows have expenses to pay. Believe me; your entrance fee is not lining the pockets of the people putting on the show.

  9. Thou shall treat event volunteers with respect: If I could present anyone with a “Car Show Jackass of the Season” award, it would have to be the guy who threw- literally threw- a very nice award plaque onto a table in front of two volunteers during an awards ceremony at a show I attended last year. He then threw a profanity riddled temper-tantrum in front of hundreds of people directed at the two women standing at the table handing out awards, storming off before anyone could respond. The problem? Through a miscommunication, his “Best in Class” plaque had accidentally been given to someone else. He had received an “Honors in Class” plaque instead, and he’d actually won “Best in Class”. I’ve chased a few trophies too, and if I take first place, I’d like the award to reflect that. Having said that, this guy’s behavior was totally out of line.

  10. Thou shall gracefully accept the results if your vehicle is judged: You win some, you lose some. I’ve been there too. I once showed an antique motorcycle at a judged show that was original and unrestored, with very nice patina, but not perfect by any means. About 50 feet away another gentleman was showing the same model that had been meticulously restored to near perfection. For whatever reason, the judges awarded my bike one of the three trophies in a class of about 25 bikes, and he didn’t get one. It happens. There is sometimes no rhyme or reason to it. To the other exhibitors’ credit, he was a total gentleman about it, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. We had been talking about motorcycles all day, and he came over and shook my hand and couldn’t have been more gracious. Sadly, it doesn’t always work that way. As an occasional show judge myself, I’ve had to defend my calls on a couple of occasions. Whether you win (which is highly unlikely) or lose an argument with a show judge, there are rarely any real winners when disputing the results of a judged show. Be gracious in victory, and in defeat.

See you at the shows!

Happy Motoring.

John Hansen is an automotive writer and owner of Michigan Automotive Inspection Services, which provides professional pre-purchase inspection, consultation, and appraisal services for classic automobiles located all over the United States.

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