Journal: What Does The Future Hold For Classic Car Shows?

What Does The Future Hold For Classic Car Shows?

By Alex Sobran
August 21, 2018

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

Join the Conversation
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Xander Cesari
Xander Cesari
5 years ago

I think there are some insights to be gleaned from the shows you’ve mentioned.

1. Cars and Coffee showed us that sometimes less is more. A show doesn’t have to be all day, it doesn’t need a DJ or a raffle, or even trophies. Over organizing sometimes just gets in the way of the cars and meets can be as barebones as a reserved parking lot and still be a massive success.

2. But on the other hand, Goodwood Revival and Radwood have shown that sometimes you don’t have to make it all about the cars. Even with little organization, the celebration of a culture or era gets everyone involved and sets the tone in an awesome way.

3. Luftgekühlt’s latest in LA shows that setting matters, even if it’s unconventional. The rise of Instagram as well as fine publications like this one and Speedhunters have put such a focus on quality photography that a show with interesting backdrops, plenty of room for taking photos, and few glaring shot-ruiners like cones, tent stakes, etc are going to get a lot more play on social media.

Just some random thoughts. There’s a lot more here to think about, like how Gridlife ties cars into a music culture and strengthens both sides of the event.

I’m hoping to see a rise in rallies, like a few car clubs still do. Point to point tourism that visits amazing driving roads, beautiful settings, and activities beyond standing in a parking lot that might keep non-automotive enthusiasts willing to come out. The Bugatti community has continued to make rallies one of their main forms of get-togethers and I’m surprised that more drivable and affordable car clubs haven’t replicated the same.

5 years ago

For myself, and the few that I associate with on a regular basis, it always comes down to driving the cars, as they were meant to be driven. With enthusiasm. With respect. With some kind of passion for what they represent as glorious works created by lesser known artists, either individually or as teams. Moving, breathing animals, captured in the specific amber of time the appeals to our individual cravings.
A rumbling V8, as healthy 6, a high strung 4. They all have some private appeal built into them.
A sleek feline form, a blocky utilitarian simpleness, a highly sophisticated and elaborately festooned exterior. Sometimes obvious, other times more stealthily constructed.
But the common factor they all retain is that they were meant to be driven. Surely they can all be regarded in a static display, but they create the most excitement when they are started up, warmed up, moved down the aisle and set free to display their abilities, both good and bad.
For it is in our flaws that we see our true potentials.
Break them. Fix them. Drive them again.

Too much coffee, sermon now concluded. Go in Peace.

Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer
5 years ago

I’m likely in the minority of Petrolistas in that I have so much fun with my own automotive interests that run the gamut from sim-racing and scale models to road trips over to the west coast to watch vintage race meets that I rarely go to any kind of car show save for a couple of local charity events in my Arizona town.
As much as I love the world of enthusiast cars the biggest charge I get is simply driving my current fave on a good road. Even exceptional car shows leave me feeling a little flat compared to a fine day behind the wheel.

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka
5 years ago

Trying to prognosticate the future of classic automotive values , shows or events or trying to guess what the future of classic cars in general may be ( relegated to museums / collections etc ) is like trying to predict the financial or political future of any given country or the world . That is to say it is an exercise in abject futility and a fools paradise . One ‘ Black Swan ‘ , one change in attitudes or worse one solitary catastrophic event and all your efforts will be in vain

Suffice it to say though what with major ( excessively well heeled ) collectors across the globe selling off large portions of their collections – the rapid rise of ‘ counterfeits ‘ proliferating the market ( in all collectable markets from art- to wine- to cars ) – major political and economic instability across the globe – along with a rapidly rising intolerance for the level of pollutants classic cars leave in their wake my best advice would be ;

Enjoy them while you can and don’t worry about the future . Unless that is you’re one of those making the mistake of thinking the purchase of a collectable automobile can in any way shape or form be considered to be an ‘ investment ‘ . In which case worrying would be very appropriate indeed .

As for me ? I’ll once again be attending my favorite classic car event next month looking forward to what this year may bring but with the assumption that this could be the last .

5 years ago
Reply to  Franz Kafka

I somewhat agree with you Franz although my outlook is not quite as bleak. I’d like to add that rather than expecting the shows or events to somehow dazzle us every time, it’s also about the gathering of people and being able to converse with those people without fear of sending them into a coma.

Alex, I don’t feel that innovation is necessarily the right approach to tackle any cynicism we may feel after much exposure. It’s great that some shows are doing fantastic new things, like Luft, but tradition and heritage also warrants consideration. That said, there’s nothing wrong with incremental changes to reinvigorate a staid formula.

Petrolicious Newsletter