3 Ways to Rev Up Your Next Car Show.

Car show season is about five months out of every year. By my non-scientific estimate, that’s 22 or 23 weekends a year that orphan car fans have to show off their wheels and edumacate the public. Each car show is a fantastic opportunity to promote your car, your club, and your hobby.

So why is it that almost every car show that I attend (with the exception of the annual Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show) feels like a sleep walk through the Wal-Mart parking lot? The cars are cool, but they’re mostly unattended. Signage and information about them is sparse. I keep hearing the same 1950’s music over and over. It’s the car show equivalent of
Groundhog Day.

You’ve proudly restored your cars to show quality. Now it’s time to fix up your shows. Here are a few ideas.

1) Add vintage car commercials.

If your orphan car show features automobiles that were built in the 1930s or later, chances are that someone has collected vintage car commercials for your marques.

Make a mix tape that features those commercials. You can play
Rockin’ Robin or Great Balls of Fire if you want
to, but throw in a few vintage car commercials in between the tunes. (I guarantee you’ll have people running to the DJ booth asking where those commercials came from!)

Make sure the radio commercials are specific to the cars in your show. It’s embarrassing to play a bunch of vintage Pontiac commercials at a Studebaker gathering.

Need a bonding or recruiting experience with a son or granddaughter? Ask THEM to create your mix tape. Kids these days are scary good and wicked fast at mixing tracks using audio software like
Pro Tools or GarageBand. (Don’t know what those tools are? They don’t know what a limited slip differential is, either. So let’s call it even.) Here’s the step-by-step:

1) Tell them what you want for your play list. (Eg. 1960’s rock-and-roll with a mix of vintage car commercials)

2) Tell them how to get the media. (Apple’s iTunes is a good start. So is your vintage CD collection.)

3) Tell them how you want the media arranged. (Song-Commercial-Song-Commercial-Commercial-Song, etc.)

4) Give them a deadline.

They’ll burn a CD for you faster than you can light a gasoline fire.

Gathering the vintage car commercials will be more difficult. Ask members in your club for any recordings they’ve collected over time. Ask marque club fans on internet bulletin boards for recordings. Ask your marque club’s librarian if there are any commercials in the library.

(If all of that fails, you can ask me,
Todd Ruel, for some help. I’ve been collecting orphan car audio for over 10 years, and I have some ridiculously rare recordings that would spice up any orphan car show. But try the stuff above first, okay?)

2) Conduct guided tours.

Have you ever heard of flash mobs? That’s the term for ad hoc crowds that gather spontaneously.

Cars shows are similar. I call them
flash museums. They’re events where classic car fans gather for a few hours to show off their cars, and then they drive off into the sunset. They’re five-hour museums in a parking lot.

One thing that brick-and-mortar museums do is guided tours. They escort visitors through the facility and point out things that are rare, important, and special. Tour guides provide context and meaning. Why not do the same thing with car shows?

Every marque club has an expert with the gift for gab. Ask those experts to step up and act as tour guides at your next annual marque club national meet.

Then organize a starting point. Have your tour guide start each tour in the same fixed place. Run the tour every hour or half hour until the event is done. You’ll provide so much meaning and entertainment for members of the public who just stopped by to look at those cool old cars. You might even recruit a few new members into the club. (New members and additional money, folks. Some call it “life blood.”)

Here are some down-n-dirty instructions for creating your tours:

1) Choose the right tour guide (or guides). Make sure this person knows his/her stuff and is outgoing/friendly.

2) Select a fixed starting point. Create a large banner or sign that says, “
Nash Tour Starts Here”. With a sign, visitors know that (hey!) there’s a tour, and they know where to gather.

3) Do some homework before the tour starts. Collect one or two facts about each of the cars or the owners. Write them down on index cards, so that the tour guide has crib sheets to refer to.

4) Keep the tours short. Thirty minutes to an hour. Maximum.

5) Allow for questions. They’re a great way to encourage interaction and build interest. But keep the answers short. Nobody wants to hear a college lecture while standing on the asphalt in 85-degree heat.

6) Keep your guests’ interests in mind. Not yours. Your narration should be simple and direct. Don’t go crazy with technical explanations. Don’t start a conversation with car owners. Stay focused, and keep your audience entertained, informed, and moving.

Tours are easy for your car club, because your members already know most of the important knowledge about the cars. Banners are $50 or less, and the rest of the event is free. (You could, however, charge each visitor a quarter or so for the tour in order to pay for the banner. Most passersby would cough it up readily if you had a cute grandchild collecting it.)

Flash tours are a great way to educate and entertain visitors at your flash car museum.

3) Set up a turntable.

I’ve been videotaping revolving cars at the North American International Auto Show for 12 years. Every year I say to myself, “Self, wouldn’t it be cool if a classic car show had a turntable?” The answer is always, “Duh. Of course!!”

An automobile turntable always creates an image of class and prestige. Imagine the orphan cars at your next show spinning around on one. So why not rent one, and give it a try? Bill Osborne of
TurntableWorks in Placentia, CA, told me how you could do it.

1) Rent a turntable large enough for the largest car at your show. For instance, if your show features
Packards or Duesenbergs, you might want to rent an 18- or 20-foot turntable. (However, 14- or 16-foot turntables are probably fine for most shows.)

2) If you want to DIY the turntable construction, get some transportation for the pieces. Osborne suggests an8’x12’ trailer. You could also rent a
low-deck U-Haul truck for about $79/day. If you would rather have the rental company construct the turntable onsite, that’s possible. Just realize that they charge extra for that service.

For DIYers, make sure that you can move and lift the turntable pieces yourself. Osobrne’s turntables are designed so that two guys can lift each of the heaviest parts.

Construction of the turntable should take no more than 60 minutes if it’s your first time.

3) Make sure you have electricity available. Osborne’s turntables, which are designed for a variety of applications, run on everything from 110 volts to 220 volts.

4) Decide what your background and/or skirting will be. Will you have curtains behind the car? Will the skirting around the turntable be metal, fabric, plastic? The point is, you’ll want to make the area around the turntable look special while hiding the turntable’s guts. (You want people to focus on the car.)
Turntable rental rates

A turntable won’t be cheap. It can run anywhere from $500-$1000/day. But if you’re the organizer for your car show, here’s my suggestion for making your money back. Charge each car owner for a few spins on the turntable. Here’s how:

1) Figure out how much time it will take to get each car up on the turntable, spun around twice, and back off the platter.

2) Figure out how many times per hour you can do this.

3) Charge $25 or $50/car. (That’s cheaper than a lot of the vintage parts they’re willing to pay big bucks for.)

4) Videotape the car spinning around on the turntable. Then give the tape (or DVD) to the owner as a souvenir after his ride on the turntable is over. (I bet you’ll see a TON of these videos on YouTube within the week.)

If you make more than the cost of the turntable rental, then cha-ching! You’ve just put some jingle in your pocket while giving orphan car owners a better souvenir than all those award plaques that shows hand out like candy.

Mental gears turning? Great!

These ideas run the gamut from simple and cheap to ambitious and not-so-cheap. You can hate all of these ideas. But if they inspire you to create a better orphan car show experience, then my work is done.

Now it’s your turn to give me an earful.

If you take any of these ideas and run with them, I want to hear about it. If you have your own brainstorms and experiences, I want you to share them with me. Use the Comments section below, and tell us all your stories of triumph or your cautionary tales. The point is, we can all create better car shows when we share our ideas.

How will you fix up your next orphan car show?
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