I went to a car show the other day. There were around three hundred cars there, of all different ages, makes, models, colours and conditions. Admittedly, some of the exhibits didn’t really interest me – in fact most of them were just the kind of thing you can expect to see in any given 21st century traffic jam. There were gems among the humdrum, though – some strange ‘who on earth would drive that’ spec choices, a couple of rare imports the like of which I hadn’t seen for ages, and more than one car that I thought I was alone in appreciating.
It was free to get in, too, and would have been inexpensive to display my own car if I wanted to – £1.50 for the first hour, 50p for every subsequent half hour, and free of charge after 18:00. Photo access was pretty much unlimited, too – cars far outnumbered the crowd, so shots were all car and no leg and arse. Yes, I rate suburban parking lots among the very finest car shows you can attend – a colossal variety of cars, all presented in the condition that they’re driven every day.
Rarely am I disappointed by a parking lot, because my expectations are pretty grounded. Organised car shows, though, can be another story.
I’ve been to dozens, if not hundreds of organised car shows in my life; many have been excellent, more have been adequate and a fair few have been a little underwhelming. Part of the problem is familiarity. A local car show in the UK will inevitably attract the usual culturally approved British ‘classics’, which means a preponderance of Minis, Morris Minors and MGBs. Even E-Type Jaguars struggle to turn my head these days – park one next to a late ’80s XJS and I’ll be gawping at the buttressed underdog instead.
In many cases, the only difference between a car show and a car park is that the exhibits in the former are usually freshly polished. Their owners are often standing by should you wish to ask a question. Prepare to be either locked into an unfathomably detailed tale about nut and bolt restoration, though, or to be disappointed by the very opposite – an owner who has bought his ‘classic’ just to gain access to the show circuit. I’ve noticed this increasingly frequently of late, it seems that fresh retirees are buying the cars of their youth and haven’t necessarily topped up on the car ‘knowledge’ they built up forty years ago. Some don’t even seem particularly clued up about their own ride. Alas, these days, I seldom chat to an owner unless the car particularly piques my interest. I just tip them a polite ‘nice. Thanks’ nod, and usually receive a knowing smile in return.
At least expertise hasn’t been in short supply at certain single-type events I’ve attended. Ford RS events take geekery to breaking point, in a thoroughly enjoyable way. At events like these, owners and onlookers alike seem to have eyes calibrated in thou and an uncanny ability to identify carburettor upgrades, non-original stickers and outright counterfeits. Impressing the RS guys ain’t easy. Same with Saab people, Impreza fanboys and Mini-lickers. Sometimes, a narrow scope of eligible models can be good news in other ways.
But what about single-marque shows with wider parameters? An all Vauxhall display? A Peugeot-only jamboree? I have to confess, I’ve never been to one – and that’s because I don’t really understand the appeal. The recent ‘Simply Audi’ event at Beaulieu, for instance. It’s open to literally any car with the four rings on its grille. That’s a lot of Audis. Perhaps too many?
“From the diminutive A1 and A2, through the sporting RS models and right up to high-performance R8 sports car, as many as 485 Audis parked up in the grounds of the National Motor Museum to make an impressive display” says the press release. I’m not sure my attention could be maintained in a field of 485 Lamborghinis, or Rover 800s, let alone Audis of all ages.
And of course, every car show has a prize-giving, and Simply Audi is no exception, with their People’s Choice award, which went to a much-modified 2013 A5. Joint runner-up, though, went to Ian Long, who had “driven from Zurich in Switzerland in his brand new 2018 Q7, which he had bought just three weeks before”. Obviously, I wasn’t there to know the exact circumstances, but with 485 cars to choose from, nominating a a three-week old Q7 as ‘best in show’ seems a bizarre choice.
Am I being narrow minded? Probably. Any show that sparks off a bit of community between like-minded car lovers can only be a good thing. For me, though, variety is the spice of life, and row upon row of showroom-fresh Audi’s has less appeal than the West Towne Mall parking lot, Madison, Wisconsin, as shown at the top of this page. Or any of thousands just like it.
(Lede image of West Towne Mall courtesy goodfreephotos, second shot Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2016, third shot Beaulieu.co.uk)