Classic car shows are evolving alongside a new generation of car enthusiasts


Vintage car shows have long been a staple of car enthusiasm – a place where gear enthusiasts meet with other enthusiasts to show off their antique rides.

“The mood is usually very, very cold. It usually happens quite early in the morning on weekends,” says Kristen Lee, associate editor of automotive news site, The Drive. “People bring their dogs, they get all their cars polished and they come to park, and they sort of walk around and admire everyone’s commute.”

A recent show in New York featured the usual classics. Ford Mustangs, Chevrolet Corvettes and Chevelles, Pontiac Firebirds and Dodge Challengers of the 1950s and 1960s were all well represented. Cars weren’t the only flashbacks, either – music from Billy Joel and Elvis Presley echoed around the event from carefully placed speakers.

But Lee says if you’ve watched enough of these shows, you might start to notice some trends.

“For me, as a spectator for so long, it’s kind of like a supervised community. Like, no one, obviously, has turned me down, but a lot of the shows that I grew up with were a lot of people from the my parents’ age, ”says Lee, adding,“ It never really felt like something I could participate in. ”

And an older audience tends to favor older cars, says Bradley Brownell, writer on the Jalopnik automotive website.

“There has always been this delimitation line in 1973 with the oil crisis,” he says.

Brownell says 1973 is an important year in automotive culture as it marks the beginning of what some call the “Age of Uneasiness,” a term popularized after President Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech in 1979, despite the makes the word “uneasiness” never appear. in the speech. New federal government regulations designed to tackle poor fuel economy resulted in a 1970s auto market that many complained about was not as exciting as the decade before – and the echoes of that time reverberated for decades.

“Tradition enthusiasts will tell you that after 1973 it’s all just rubbish. ‘It’s emissions control. Fuel injection, you can’t work on it,” says Brownell.

But Brownell is not a traditional enthusiast. He is the co-founder of “Radwood” – an auto show that caters to vehicles that came after the Malaysian era, in particular “between 1980 and 1999”.

And it all started with one of his own cars: a 1983 Porsche 944.

“I loved this car,” he says. “And I have invested so much time, and sometimes money, in this car.”

But the energy that was put into the Porsche was not always appreciated, says Brownell, this is where the idea for Radwood was born.

“I took him to a car show and when I went to pay entry [fee], they said to me ‘Are you sure you want to come to this auto show? You know what we’re doing here, don’t you? Brownell said. “I kind of feel like there has to be a place for people like me, where I have so much emotional investment in this car, and I love this car, but it’s kinda unsuitable. ‘”

He says the types of cars you’ll see in Radwood vary depending on the region the show is in, but can feature everything from Geo Metro convertibles to Ferraris 348s and Lamborghini Diablos. However, Porsche and BMW are often the best represented brands.

“That’s the crazy thing about Radwood is that everything from that time is welcome, encouraged and appreciated.”

Brownell says that on average, every show also features at least one Delorean – the car from the 1985 movie “Back to the Future”. And it’s not just cars that are rolling back their flux capacitors a few decades, according to Lee.

“Radwood kind of embodies a very powerful nostalgic vibe. So people play a lot of 80s music, people dress in 80s clothes.”

The first Radwood took place in Southern California in 2017, and since then it has traveled to more than a dozen cities across the country. Brownell says that over the years the show has drawn car enthusiasts from all walks of life, from “people who weren’t alive when these cars were built to people who owned them brand new.”

Lee says the success of Radwood and similar shows point to a broader shift in automotive culture.

“These new shows seem a lot more inclusive, there’s a lot less access control. It feels like a safer space,” Lee said. “I think it’s – it’s also an indication of how the automotive enthusiasm is changing as well.”

“What we see in some mainstream media and stuff like that – they say ‘car culture is dying, with the introduction of the electric vehicle, car enthusiasts just don’t exist anymore. “And that’s not true.” says Chad Kirchner, editor of the EV Pulse electric car news site.

Kirchner says there’s a new kind of enthusiasm for cars brewing amid the wider shift to electric power in the auto industry. This includes everything from Tesla-specific tuner stores to homemade EV conversions of gasoline cars.

“The people on TikTok that I see electrifying the Chargers and the Challengers and all that stuff, just brewing that,” he says.

Kirchner says the enthusiasm for electric vehicles requires a different skill set than traditional gearboxes may be used to, but it still brings out the same passion for cars that made Radwood so successful.

“Sometimes hacking, sometimes it takes engineering, but what it really takes is enthusiasm,” says Kirchner.

That’s why he recently teamed up with Brownell to create another auto show called “Autopia 2099”. The show, due in early December in Los Angeles, focuses on all-electric vehicles.

“It’s supposed to be a bunch of people hanging out and expressing their enthusiasm for electrified propulsion, whether it’s a brand new Tesla or whatever – maybe someone has a GM EV1.” , explains Kirchner.

“One of the things we want to do is break down the barriers of sophisticated EV technology. We want people who are curious about EVs and how they work and how they are priced to come out and meet people who own them and drive them every day, ”says Brownell.

Brownell says they expect to see everything from Mustangs and BMWs converted to EVs to an electric VW microbus. One car unlikely to reach Autopia 2099, however, is Brownell’s own EV project car: a Porsche Boxster in which he plans to install a Tesla motor. He says the goal is for the car to develop around 1,200 horsepower.

“Partly that’s why it’s not done yet. I’m afraid of what my own brain has imagined.”

Listen to ABC’s Michael Dobuski report on the evolution of auto shows:

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