I'm using my Editor powers to jump ahead of Tristan, because I need to explain to Nick and to everyone else where exactly his culture gone. As Nick pointed out in the opening of last week's blog, you probably haven't gone to a car show lately. And there's almost certainly one or more super good reasons for that. I would bet money that one of your reasons is that car shows are ass and are crammed full of people who are also ass.
Now, Nick started with the big shows, and he's mostly right about those, so we can cover them quickly: Brands aren't seeing a decent ROI from doing 2,000 car shows a year, so they're being pickier about which shows they go to. I think this is actually good, because I'd much rather have a brand not show up than have them half-ass some kind of two-car display, and I mean you, Lincoln and Mitsubishi. The point of the mainstream car show has shifted to be more consumer-focused. It's now about the people interacting with the actual cars they can buy more than it is about the brands stunting in front of each other with plinth-bound concepts that will never be realized. This change makes for a better car show, one that's more practical and more accessible for the consumer. There is one thing I would change though. I need every brand to BRING MORE SWAG. Thanks. Now, on to the main topic, the little car shows.
I've written a few blogs that circle around the fact that most of what constitutes car culture is cancerous. From the minor issues like all brands jumping on two-tone wheels, to the big, systemic diseases like grid girls, brands making a mockery of consumer choice, and the endless corpse-humping farce of appealing to the old crowd. Indeed, that's a big reason why I wanted to do a car podcast and a car blog, because I want to illustrate that things can be done differently, car culture doesn't have to continue to stagnate and die off. But that's what's happening. Nobody goes to car shows because they are a cancer.
Don't get me wrong, I love a good car show. But I have to stress the word good far more heavily than the word car. For example, Cars and Coffee events are not good car shows. The mortality rate is far too high for one, and for two the fact that there ALWAYS are people doing burnouts out of the parking lot illustrates that I don't want to know a single benighted soul who's cursed enough to even accidentally attend one of those things. I make a point to go to at least one little car show every summer, and I can't remember going to a good one. Ever. Some have been decent. Some have been okay. Most have been neutral, bad, or worse. It's all down to the people who go to car shows, both to show their car off, and to look at the cars.
First, the car bringers: They're the same people. All over the US, they're all the same. There's GTO guy. Oh and look he brought a goat Beanie Baby and it's sitting the side of the engine bay, how FRESH. There's ZZ Top beard Camaro guy. There's 26 Corvette guys, 9 of whom have the new-in-box die cast toy sitting on or near the engine from when they went to Corvettes at Carlisle. There's 50 or more handwritten "DO NOT TOUCH THE CAR" sign guys with the quotation marks actually on the sign (Like, what is WRONG with you people and punctuation?). There's "I Polished Up My Daily Driver Nissan 350Z" guy. There's a few "I won a car show in the early aughts and here is my plaque to prove it" guys. There are several 911 guys, but they aren't there for long. There's numbers-matching Mustang guy, and he's next to his son, 90s Mustang guy. There's "I own a Pontiac Tempest wagon but I call it a GTO wagon because I didn't get skin-to-skin contact as an infant" guy. There's a guy who got stuck in the 2 Fast 2 Furious age and his poor Ralliart Lancer has paid the ultimate price for it. There's SLAM NATION guy. Somebody usually brings a Boxster, like that's something the world needs to see.
It's no different with the attendees, fully 87% of whom are "I used to own this car back in the day" guy, with supremely uninterested wife in tow. There's a smattering of children, all of whom are being screamed at for almost touching the cars by "I tied my masculinity too closely to the car I drive, and now I drive an SUV" guy. There are people like me, the casual watchers, who typically get in and out in 20 minutes. There's the conversationalists like Nick, who want to talk about the cars with their owners. To me, that's never a good time either, mostly because half the time the owners don't know that much, and the other half of the time they want to tell some annoying street-racing story that likely isn't true. And...I'm honestly struggling to think of who else goes to these things. I suppose there are some REAL CAR FANS who go there because they LOVE THE ATMOSPHERE, but I tend to think that these people are actually attendee type 1 except they understand how gross it is to go to a car show and pine over a car you didn't bother to keep around. At this point, I have to push back on Nick's arguments a bit. It's not just Snapchatters who have stopped going to car shows, it's people like me who have stopped as well, and I love cars enough to personally generate media about them daily. But I don't go as often as I used to, because I realized that it isn't that fun.
Be real for a second. Does any of the above list sound fun? Of course not! Add in that all car shows occur on days when the air temperature is above 13,000° F, and you've got a miserable day out for the whole sunscreen-parboiled family! I think that if we're all very honest with ourselves for a moment, we can all agree that I'm not actually exaggerating all that much. Yes, there's a little bit of hyperbole for comedic effect, but if anything, those lists aren't funny because they hit too close to the mark. The people and the cars at most car shows are beyond stereotypical and firmly reach into the realm of the parodic, or even farcical. The worst part about this is that there's no reason for it. There's no purpose or explanation. For example, not all Camaro owners have beards, but all the Camaro owners at car shows do. They're also all wearing suspenders! What the hell! And of course you don't see people our age driving classic cars, Nick. How can we? Their current owners refuse to die or sell their cars for reasonable prices. Everybody at a car show thinks their car belongs at Mecum. Every single person would put the phrase "I KNOW WHAT I'VE GOT" in their Craigslist ad. I guess I still have Camaro on the brain because I'm going to use it as a real-world reference point once again. A brand new Camaro 1LS (with the V6) is $28,395. On the Milwaukee Craigslist page you can buy the rusted husk of a 60s Camaro with no back end, no engine, no transmission, and half the body panels for $3200, you can buy a fully restored and functional 1969 Camaro for $54,000, and you can buy a bunch of terrible Camaros that nobody wants for all the prices in the middle. In this extremely real scenario there's only one choice for any Camaro-hunter with a single brain cell in their family tree. You buy the new car, and you never take it to a car show because you're too busy driving it, using the CarPlay to listen to the music you want to hear.
There is no doubt that car culture as it was is dying. It has to die, because it was bad. So bad that it started to die. That's circular logic, but it's also the truth. Nothing was done to car culture. Nobody is sabotaging car culture. It's dying all on its own, exactly like Harley, Chrysler, Buick, and every other thing that couldn't be bothered to modernize when they had a two-decade-long chance. I see this decline to be very explicable, very transparent. Maybe it's because I wasn't brought up in car culture and I chose this on my own, so I have no attachment to what car culture used to be. Maybe it's because I don't have a traditional brand loyalty, and even though I root for Hyundai, I feel no call to defend their brand, no motivation to say that their cars are the best in anything. Maybe it's just because I'm so cynical that I don't much care what 16-year restoration timeline stands between suspenders Rick over there and his 1971. Maybe if he had buckled down a little more he could have gotten that shit finished in a tight 15, huh? I don't think social media is going to save car culture, but I also don't think it's going to kill it off completely, either. What I do know is that this is all transition. We can easily identify the pieces of car culture that are terrible and need to go, and we need to be brave enough to not just call them out as we see them, but also to let them wither and die on their own. I say we see what happens, and maybe we make up a little car show bingo sheet, too. That way we'll all have at least one reason to go to a car show this summer.