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Getting your car ready for the show arena!
Classic car shows are hugely popular nowadays, and are to many restorers the icing on the cake to old car ownership, following a lengthy rebuild. During the warmer months, calendars are full to overflowing with events up and down our land, from large one-make jamborees in the grounds of stately homes, to smaller village fetes incorporating a lineup of vintage motorcars.
For these events to succeed, there must be people willing to display their period car. In return for preparing and bringing along an old car, the owner/driver usually gets admission to the show thrown in, though this isn't always the case so check beforehand!
Classes + Condition of cars on display
Many shows often have a selection of classes in which attendees can enter their cars, trucks or motorcycles. Often there is an award for most original unrestored car, the further travelled (to the event), best in class, and car of the show, the latter of which is usually won only be serious concours contenders who have built the car to an exacting standard, the intention being to scoop up awards and trophies wherever it is taken.
Personally I've never really gone in for awards gathering, perhaps it is because most of my cars look all of their years (and more!) I'm not sure, but even if they were mint I don't think it'd really be my cup of tea, but thats not taking anything away from people who are really fired up by it. Whatever level of presentation you are aiming for, some of the hints on this page may well be useful for anyone planning to take along an old car to a show.
Advance Prep work
The importance of preparation before an event cannot be overstated - it's no use dragging your old Herald out from under the Laburnums the night before a show, to really dazzle the assembled throng you need to give yourself a few evenings at least to prep the old girl for display. Make sure the car has had a good wash, including door, bonnet & boot shuts, followed by a quick polish - everyone has their own favourite(s), mine are Mer (a modern polish for very lazy people), or the older style Wax polishes (definitely not for the lazy, but they do last longest).
An area often overlooked is the windows, a quick buff up with Mer or Windolene soon gets them sparkling, and really transforms the shine of any car, no matter how dubious the rest of it looks. Give the chrome a good going over too, chrome cleaner or those soapy wire wool things in the kitchen, will soon have them shining at their best, but remember to give them a proper coat of polish afterwards to protect the new surface. Tyres often let down a car, so a quick brush up with some black boot polish often yields good results - there are many rubber/tyre blackening products littering the shelves of motor factors, but I've yet to find one that doesn't look overly tarty/shiny.
With the outside glistening like a very shiny thing, it's time to turn your attentions to the interior (including the boot!). Empty all ashtrays and door pockets - old tab ends and scrunched-up Mars Bar wrappers will impress no-one at the show, and anyway they look a mess. It's probably a good time to wheel out the vac and give the carpets a good clean, remembering to shake off dirt and assorted undergrowth from carpets usually hidden by mats. The boot polish trick also does the business on black vinyl dashboard tops, and any half decent polish will get the dashboard looking A1 again. Classic car owners fortunate to have leather seats on which to rest their weary posteriors would do well to treat the seats (the cars' - not their own) to some hide food to keep things supple, and a damp rag over door kickplates and A/B posts is a nice finishing touch.
This level of preparation is usually sufficient for someone wanting to display their cherished car without fear of total embarassment, but for concours competition, which is out of scope of this article, the bulling up and elbow grease routine is a constant one. I doth my cap to anyone serious about entering a concours competition. It's not for me, as I've said, but the level of attention to detail required to get an old motor to show winning standards is mind blowing. The downside is that many (but not all) of these ardent polishers refuse to sully their creations by actually driving them, which seems like a shame - everyone to their own I suppose!
If concours is beyond your wildest dreams, you might want to consider a few things that go towards an immaculate presentation. Look at any concours winning car, and everything, the underside and under bonnet areas will be spotless, even to the extent of polishing brake pipes, taking cotton buds to the air filter and any grilles to remove pesky flies / unwanted animals. The truly fanatical would even whip out the spark plugs to make sure they are pristine, but I really think they (or perhaps the judges that encourage this kind of thing) should perhaps chill out a little. It goes without saying that the exhaust system must be immaculately turned out, and many a concours judge will extend a bony digit and inspect the contents of the exhaust pipe to check for non-original (and unleaded based!!) smuts and carbon.
To be considered in any class, the car should at least be to totally original specification at the very least (unless entering a custom car or modified class). Despite actually improving a car in many cases, retro-fitted mods will usually be frowned upon by those in sports jackets holding clipboards. Alloy wheels, when bendy steel wheels were original fit, will be marked down (unless it can be proven that they were period optional equipment). Likewise cupro-nickel brake pipes, instead of the correct steel ones, should see anyone docked a few points, as will alternators instead of dynamos, inertia reel instead of static seatbelts, radial instead of tramliner-specials crossplies, reflective numberplates instead of pressed aluminium ones, and so on. Even if you can't be spotless, at least aim to be original when it comes to award gathering. To the rest of us, who just want classic cars that can be used, such nitpicking is less of an issue and alternators, radials and so on are viewed as sensible, and reversible-if-needs-be, mods that make life a little more pleasant.
While your head is buried beneath the bonnet, give a little thought to the appearance of the engine itself - oil leaks impress no-one (especially 'er indoors on a brand new driveway!), so wipe off any drips from the rocker cover, and while you're at it check fuel lines and the carb to ensure you've not got any very-unwelcome fuel leaks present. Moving around to the rear of your steed, few things impress more than a nicely presented tool roll casually left in the otherwise clean & empty boot area, perhaps with an AA or RAC guide correct to the year of your car, left alongside for effect.
All modern paraphenalia should be removed from inside the car, no matter how smart it is - an iPod may impress the kids, but in the hallowed showcar arena only a Radiomobile or Blaupunkt wireless will pass muster - owners of 70s cars can also have an 8 track in evidence, with a tasteful selection of James Last and New Seekers cartridges to choose from.
Things to take with you
All of the aforementioned are things to think about before setting off, now we turn our attentions to what to take for the day itself. People with rather too much time on their hands may take a lawnmower, so that their car is displayed on perfectly manicured grass, but for the rest of us an essentials list would probably include some rags, a dab of polish and window cleaner, some chairs, a picnic hamper, plus an autojumble 'wants' list, for when sitting behind your car being ogled at by passers-by gets too tedious, and sanctuary is sought in the anonymous rows of oil filters and assorted crusty old bits in the nearby 'jumble. The serious buff will arrive early, allowing themselves plenty of time to jack up all the wheels and clean the tyre treads of foreign matter, and replace the modern tax disc with something altogether more period and pleasing to the eye. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is directions to the show, money (for essential non-essentials) and your passes to get in. If my experiences are anything to go by, a brolly is not a bad idea either.
In these sad days of the compensation culture, some show organisers now insist that showgo-ers arrange their own public liability insurance, in addition to normal car cover. This presumably is to ward against little Nathan bruising his knee on your bumper, and subsequently sueing for loss of earnings in his knee modelling career. Perhaps I'm getting cynical, but it pays to make sure you're not leaving any rusty corners on which people can snag themselves upon, as it'll only cause you headaches if someone does complain.
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