What Does The Future Hold For Classic Car Shows?
It’s that time of the year again, when procrastinating automotive enthusiasts balk at motel rates in Monterey and hackneyed automotive journalists hash out the same tired lists of things you “can’t miss” (or what?) during Car Week—spoiler alert: the Pebble Beach Concours is on Sunday this year, again! They’ll have some nice cars there? Who would have thought?
You can read any preview article about the week’s events from any other year and just swap out the dates to give yourself an updated guide for 2018, but the fact that we all know what to expect is a testament to how consistently excellent it all is. The various shows scattered on the peninsula and historic racing classes running laps of Laguna Seca never fail to draw the support of spectators and manufacturers, hence you find roachy rooms selling for $200 a night when they’d normally go for a quarter of that. Then again, if you’re staying in, you’re doing it wrong, such is the gamut of things to do and see in the coastal California towns of Carmel and Monterey at the end of August.
That said, I think we’re in the middle of a shift. Car shows like Pebble Beach, the Quail’s motorsports gathering, they’re the old guard, tradition. That’s not a comment on the quality of the venues or the machines that populate them (there are more than a few exciting debuts to be made this weekend for starters), but the only fresh elements of these types of shows are the cars that come to them, and since we’re primarily concerned with the ones built a few decades ago, there’s surely a limit somewhere—the Nth 250 GTO you’ve ogled just doesn’t have the same impact as the first one. So where does the innovation come from? It’s not just venue, but the format, the curation, or, in the case of Cars & Coffee, the lack of it. Those informal early-AM hosted-in-a-strip-mall-parking-lot shows that we collectively refer to as some variant of the C&C name do a great job in capturing the breadth of the world beneath the stupid label of “car guy,” the friends of whom assume he enjoys Aventadors and Model T hot rods equally.
The future of C&C is pretty much written already though: they either fizzle out or gain critical mass, then get canceled, move locations, and the process repeats. The exciting newcomers in the classic car scene are shows like Luftgekühlt (which recently expanded to the UK, and will host its first German edition in Munich next month), and Radwood (which after hanging around the west coast will expand to Atlanta next month). I’m aware that marque-specific and era-specific events have been around for some time, but I don’t think many of them were designed in the same transferrable way as these two have been. What I mean by that is once you’ve established a sort of brand identity that’s based on something other than locale, once you’ve got a group of people who trust you to put on a good exhibition, you can more or less copy and paste it around the world; rather than making the so-called pilgrimage to the event, the event comes to you.
That’s where I think the future of the popular car shows is headed: frameworks with a brand name (Luft and Radwood being prime examples) that stay fresh by not staying put. A known entity that has the flexibility to find freshness by actively going out and getting it. Of course events like the concours at Villa d’Este can’t up and move somewhere else without losing their identities, and they shouldn’t. The established staples of the classic car calendar are considered as such for good reason, and the “traveling car show” format need not replace them, but they might start to chip into their armor a little bit in the next generation.
If you hold something at the same venue year in year out, eventually you’ll start to get a group of regulars that, you know, maybe you might skip this year after spending the last five in row admiring the same stuff. But look at Luft: it’s been one of my favorite shows in LA since it started and before I attended in person, but damn, I’d be even more excited to see what the German version looks like. What do you think? Am I just restating something that’s obvious and already happened a long time ago, or might we be in a transition period wherein pre-war cars on golf courses sell less tickets than a traveling tribute to the ’80s? Apples to oranges perhaps, but I’d love to hear what you think all the same.
Photography by Alex Sobran, Will Broadhead, Thomas Lavin, and Zach James Todd