One make car shows: Dope or wack?

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

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.


  1. Single marque shows for new cars are weird. Now if older cars are included they can be ok. Did the Audi show have any original Quattros? A 4000S? A NSU? Anything that didn’t start with an A, Q, or S?
    I have been to Corvette only shows and found those enjoyable. It is nice to see the progression of a model.
    On the other hand, I remember when the C5 Corvettes came out in the late 1990s the “C5 Registry” was doing a car corral/show at a Road Atlanta event (back when events there were MUCH smaller and they didn’t charge extra to park in the car corral). I went to pull in the corral in my 1994 Corvette. I was told that I wan’t welcome, it was for C5 Corvettes ONLY. Oddly enough, when the C6 Corvette came out, that particular car corral opened back up to all Corvettes.

  2. Sigh… where to begin. Half the time I really want to dust off my William Shatner “Get a life” impression when I go to a car show, one make or not (though the one make ones seem to be more insufferable).

    But the other half of the time, especially this time of year, I will inevitably drag one of the kids out of bed to go look at cars on an early Saturday morning and then grab some breakfast. I just can’t help it after a long winter. I REALLY prefer to see them moving and the same rarely driven Mustangs and Chevelles over and over get really old, but every now and then there’s an unusual or rare car that’s worth seeing that keeps me coming back.

  3. I’ve been to the Lotus Owners Group meetings a few times. With less older cars I’m losing interest, but I’d go again if it’s close enough I could drive. Besides there is more to do than just look at cars. The British car meet is fun, because while we all have something in common there is enough variety and enough odd balls to keep it interesting.

    1. Are you concerned that someone will drive up in a 1954 Skyliner and go home with a trophy that your car could have won?

        1. But surely your mother left some token with you, say a Crosley Key Fob, so that she could reclaim you after the forces of evil stopped trying to keep you from ascending to your rightful throne? Or was that a different movie?

          1. That’s either a different movie or the nuns kept quiet about the fob and scored themselves a free Crosley.

      1. There are a few of those running around and it’s true that some people in the club are not at all happy with them. Most of us enjoy them and admire the craftsmanship of the more comprehensively “converted” examples. To answer your question, they’re permitted in the shows and allowed to compete for trophies in the modified category along with all the other customized retractables, since really they’re still just Skyliners with Edsel bits attached to them.
        Personally I’m waiting for someone to do up a retractable Turnpike Cruiser.

        1. Especially if that retractable Turnpike Cruiser is based off a PT Cruiser instead of a Mercury!

  4. Depends if you are interested in the make I suppose, I think I could spend an hour and find something worth looking at with most, but for some half a day would go by quickly if the owners were interesting to talk to.
    On the ‘new’ classic car ownership front I spoke to a woman the other day who’s financial advisor had recommended buying one. If you buy the right car at the right time sure, but you need to know what you are doing with so many cars seeming to have peaked after a bit of a bubble over the last few years.

  5. Apparently I don’t live in a populated enough area as I didn’t even know this was a thing.
    Really, unless it was a show only for murdered-out, lifted, bro-trucks, we wouldn’t have enough entries to have a single make show of any kind up here.

  6. I would like to have the Kool Aid concession at a single-make show. Everyone there drinks lots of it.

  7. In my little burg in the Ozarks there are one-make “gatherings” throughout the summer. The best one is the VW weekend with air and water cooled models, all the Types and dune buggies, too. The Scion club, Corvette folks, Mustang people have big weekends with the Miata, Ferrari, BMW, PT Cruiser!, and others in lesser numbers. Since we’re a wacky little town I would expect an Aztek weekend some time in the future. BTW, there was a low mileage Aztek in CL near me last week for $1,200…I missed it…curses.

  8. I’ve been to the gatherings of the local P-club, about a dozen of cars, no audience. Those were nice and social. On the other hand I would never take my car to a show, who would be interested in that heap of todo lists?

    1. I brought my old 318ti and I’ve driven my RSX to the local Cars and Coffee events. They didn’t get a lot of attention, but they weren’t ignored or scorned either. My Thunderbird is a decent driver and a good 20 footer but it leaks about everything and the interior is fair at best.
      The spirit of the Cars and Coffee events is supposed to be bring whatever you’ve got and ours lives up to that, although there is a second in town that is high end cars only.

      1. Our local C&C has recently embraced controversy by segregating show and attendee parking. There’s a good chance that neither of your cars would pass muster, nor would my dd. I’m not going to attend.

        1. As I indicated, we’ve got two C&C groups in town. One is highly organized, with sponsors & everything. It is focused on high end cars and for some events you’ve got to register. It came first, but I’ve never been to that one.
          The other is almost completely non-organized. One guy maintains the web site and made sure there was a coffee place when our default option closed. He’s also organized some open houses after, but it’s largely just a bunch of car guys who show up on Saturday mornings. It’s grown and that may bring issues, but it’s a great thing now.
          Two weeks ago there was a beautiful ’56 Lincoln Premier with factory air, a Morgan, a Yugo yanked from a field (complete with moss), several Hellcats, a Demon, a Ranchero restomod, a crusty early 70s Grandville coupe, a RHD GT-R, several BMWs & Porsches and so much more. It’s fantastic.

  9. I mean, I’ve gone to a few TDIFests, which are all about VW TDIs (which have always been pretty niche in North America), and they’ve had a car show as part of it.
    Basically it’s people cleaning up their daily drivers and their diesel engine swaps. (Some years there wasn’t a requirement that it actually be a Volkswagen engine, just a diesel, though.)
    Prizes usually went to the car with the highest mileage, the most obsessively detailed car (which was rarely the newest car), and the most ridiculous engine swap. Oh, and some years there was a worst car in show, which got you a bucket of cleaning supplies.

  10. West Towne Mall….I used to bowl tournaments at Schwoegler’s Park Towne Lanes way back when I lived behind the cheese curtain, driving a 94 accord coupe….ah….good memories…. 🙂

    1. Never encountered the Cheese Curtain before, had to look it up. Now I know it’s geographical slang, may I have permission to use it as a filthy metaphor?

  11. Depends on the make. I attended a couple of local Alfa shows about fifteen years after they pulled out of the U.S. market. Those were worthwhile, if only because I met local parts hoarders who could help keep my hooptie on the road.
    I got bored and left early, but I do that at all car shows.

  12. The cars themselves are fun, but the more narrow the club, the more odd the flavor of tribalism is that you are wandering into. My experiences with groups of “car people” generally remind me of why I like cars and dislike people that voluntarily organize themselves into groups.

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