The Top Wrench opines.

Stop complaining. Start making it better.

Good advice. I’m taking it to heart.

I go off on these angry rants about how classic car fans moan about the graying of the hobby. I complain that these fans don’t realize that their exclusionary behavior and adherence to the way car clubs have always operated keeps them stuck in their own doom loop.

But Gandhi is right, folks. We must become the change we want to see. So I’d like to tell you about a few things I’m doing to create the kind of classic car hobby that I would really love to see.

I’m very excited to announce that I’m creating the soundtrack for
The Citizens Motorcar Company-America’s Packard Museum here in Dayton, Ohio. This is the ambient audio that you’ll hear as you wander through the museum.

My pitch is to create dozens of modular radio spots that vary in theme and tone. There will be spots about Packard’s history, the cars in the museum, and upcoming events at the museum. We’ll also try to get some celebrities who are Packard fans to do some short announcements for us. (Edward Herrmann and Jay Leno, you don’t know it yet, but you’ll be receiving some scripts.)

All of the spots will be modular. They’re not dependent on each other and can be played in any order at any time. We’ll then put these spots on an iPod that’s hooked up to the sound system. We’ll put the iPod on shuffle, and just let them play. Whenever content needs to be added or deleted, we’ll simply modify the playlist in iTunes.

The tone of the spots is very contemporary. I don’t want the museum to sound like it’s stuck in the 1940’s. So I’m writing scripts that will be performed by younger people in their teens and twenties. I want the personality of the spots to alternate between the museum and younger people who would be visiting it and learning about Packards for the first time.

Stay tuned for more news about this project as it inches forward. I’ll use this blog to link to some of the spots after I’ve produced them.

My second effort is more humble but no less important. Remember the Carillon Park orphan car show that I
recently complained about?

I’ve decided to get involved in organizing the event. The show is a coupling of two different marque clubs (AM C and Studebaker). I’ve organized a post-mortem meeting to talk with the guys from each of these clubs about the most recent show. My goal is to deal with a change in management at
Carillon Park and to see how we can make next year’s show better.

I’ve never helped to organize a car show before, but I’ve decided it’s time to get involved. Although many fans avoid car shows, I think they’re still the best way to entertain and educate the public about classic cars. They’re great recruiting tools, and I intend to make our local event more attractive to the public. Fingers crossed.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing to spiff up the hobby. Please leave some comments here, and keep the dialogue going.


I see dead newsletters.

And they don’t even know that they’re dead.

I’m paraphrasing a famous line from the movie
The Sixth Sense, but I’m dead serious. Car club newsletters are dead as the trees they’re printed on.

Newsletter editors: it’s time to stop printing newsletters and start cultivating your community online. You can lower yearly dues dramatically and keep your fellow car fans informed with news that’s day old instead of dead weeks ago. (The Nash Car Club of America has an email list that sends out emails to and from members daily. There’s a lot of great discussion back and forth about parts, car shows, history and philosophy. It’s a great way to connect with others.)

Marque club officers: it’s time to start using tomorrow’s technology to celebrate yesterday’s technology (our cars). If you want to recruit a younger generation, use the tools that they’re using: Facebook, Twitter, discussion groups, etc. All of the objections you get about communicating online keep you stuck in the past.

It’s time to make a statement by declaring that our clubs will only survive if we start recruiting younger members. An important way to do that is to meet them on their terms, not yours.

It’s time to make the hard decision to step aside if you are unwilling to make these changes.

Our cars are from the past. Our enthusiasm about our hobby doesn’t have to be. We need to change now, or our clubs don’t stand a ghost of a chance.

Sign Up!

I’ve talked about the need to market your orphan car at car shows. Today, I want to share an idea about how to do that.

Recently, I learned about Steven Tuck. He runs a business in Tampa, FL, called Let me tell you, this guy does outstanding work. Check his site. You’ll see.

Taking your car to a car show and simply abandoning it is a huge missed opportunity to educate the public. But a good car sign can really help raise awareness about your wheels. And a GREAT car sign shows that you’re proud of your work and want to share it with others.

Steven’s efforts fall into the “great” category. The graphics are sharp and professional. The information on each sign is clear, concise, and minimal. (With good graphic design, less is more. Information is easier to digest. Steven follows this rule religiously.)

Each sign is 21” x 28”. He does the printing via a dye sublimation heat transfer directly onto aluminum. Steven says, “They are very durable, as durable as the paint on your car and will not fade. You can clean them using quick detailer like your vehicle’s paint.”

The price for this fantastic, permanent marketing piece is $300. Pay once. Display it forever.

The result will be an increased interest in your car. And that’s ultimately what you really want, right? (Make sure you’re there with your car to answer all the questions that people will have.)

How you present your car is as important as how you fix your car. That’s how you keep people educated and interested. It’s also how you pass your car down to the next generation. (They can’t want it if they don’t know about it.) Let Steven Tuck at Car Show Signs help.

How do you market to orphan car geezers?

I was selling at a car show here in my home town of Dayton, Ohio, yesterday.

It wasn’t a good day. The weather made car owners hesitant about whether to show up or not. Many didn’t. As a result, the show was sparsely attended.

And there I was with a killer booth and lots of great orphan car t-shirts with a modern sensibility to them. I even had a sound system playing vintage orphan car radio commercials. I thought I had a can’t-miss formula for success. I sold one shirt.

Selling at Carillon Park 2011

Even though I was right near the action, very few people came over to look at the goods. One AMC guy came to my booth and growled that the prices for my tees were too high. He proclaimed that this was the time of year when his club sold all their tees for $5. My brother replied to this guy, “That’s not very profitable is it?” Not what AMC Guy wanted to hear. He grumbled about how my shirts looked old. My brother dryly told him that they were printed just yesterday. AMC Guy stomped off in a huff.

I’ve encountered this attitude a lot with older orphan car fans. They get calcified in their thinking. They relish in finding ways to exclude others like hot rodders, for instance. They treat car shows like complete narcissistic exercises instead of opportunities to educate the public. Regardless of who’s selling what (if anything), they grumble about price.

Somewhere along the way, they’ve turned into geezers.

Let me be clear about something. If you have a body that’s older than 50, you might not be a geezer. You might enjoy taking chances, trying new things, breaking routines, welcoming new people into your tribe, accepting people for who they are, and buying things. If those traits fit you, you’re not a geezer.

But if you’re older, and you put on your Hate Face more often than not, you’re a geezer. Rest assured, I WILL stay off your lawn.

So after a dismal selling experience yesterday, I asked myself over and over, “How can I reach these people?” I love their cars just like they do, but I don’t seem to fit in with them. (Yup, lots of soul searching and existential angst yesterday.)

Unfortunately, I don’t think I can change their minds. I think I need to find ways to move forward and reach young people by using new methods. I need to talk about the orphans that they know: Pontiac, Plymouth, Saturn, Oldsmobile, etc.

And I need to help create a new car show experience. To me, the car shows where people gather in parking lots and plaques are handed out like business cards are boring and wasted opportunities. Too much turning inward.

I haven’t settled this issue for myself yet. So I’ll turn to you. How do you deal with older orphan car owners? Can you show them a better way? Can you sell them anything, even ideas? What are your stories and your solutions? Should we just ignore them and focus on younger car fans? I’d really like to hear your stories before I become a geezer myself on this issue.


An Open Letter to the Mechanic

You’ve done your job, sir. You’ve rescued that orphan car. You battled the Rust God and won. You’ve wielded Vulcan’s hammer to forge new parts from shapeless metal. You’ve vanquished the Beast and restored the Beauty. Your blood, sweat, tears, grease, and sacrifice are noble and heroic.

But I’m sorry, pal. You gotta stay home while your friend takes the car out and shows it off.

Here’s the thing. You’re a mechanic. You’re brilliant at what you do. But different jobs require different skills. Now that the car is done, you need to hand it over to your friend, the marketer.

The marketer goes to car shows and shakes hands. He talks to people. He tells stories about the car. He gets people excited and interested. Sometimes, he even thinks up promotional stunts to keep people engaged.

You think he’s a show off. You think he’s full of crap (or worse). You don’t trust him as far as you can throw a Studebaker V-8.

But what do you do when
you go to car shows? You sit in a lawn chair behind your car. You don’t talk to anyone you don’t know. Matter of fact, you’re hardly ever there with your car in the first place. Sorry, genius, but you’re a buzzkill at car shows.

Trust the marketer to do his job. He’s really good at informing, entertaining, and educating. In the words “car show,” you bring the “car”; he brings the “show.”

I know it’s hard to accept, but the marketer is as important as you are. And here’s a thought: if both of you start working together, I’ll bet you go a lot farther with that classic car than either one of you could alone. Teamwork gets better mileage.

So at the next car show, let the marketer take the wheel. You provide the fan belts and fan blades. Let him provide the fans. Together, you’ll be cool.

Turn outward to get the turn out.

Classic car fans are deeply concerned these days about declining club memberships and apathy among young people.

Part of this is natural. It’s difficult to get young folks excited about cars they didn’t grow up with or have a personal connection with.

But I think a humongous part of this decline is staring at us in the mirror.

When you go to a car show, do you look forward to it primarily as an opportunity to connect with old friends? Or do you think about it as a way to recruit new members?

If it’s the former, then you’re really just organizing a cocktail party with cars. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but when you turn inward toward each other, you won’t really recruit many new members.

If it’s the latter, then you’re thinking about growing, expanding, and perpetuating your hobby. Turning outward toward the public now may be the best way to make sure you still have your orphan car show 10 years from now.

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?

Restoring your orphan car isn't the end. It's just the beginning.

Finally. After a coupla years, you’ve attached that last bit of trim to the Lark Daytona. That 455 V8 in your Olds 442 now kicks ay-ess-ess. The sunroof on your Mercury Bobcat is finally sucking in sunshine instead of just sucking.

Time to celebrate a job well done, right? Um, yeah, kind of. I definitely want you to pour a few brewskis down the personal fuel line. You’ve worked hard to turn that hunk of rust into a certified head snapper. You deserve it. But that job well done is actually just a job well started.

You thought this was a sprint? Uh-oh.

Keep a hand on the neck of one of those brewskis. You’re going to need some medication. Because here’s what will happen if you follow the path of 99% of all the other guys who have restored their classic cars.

You take that beauty to the very next car show you can attend. You park it on the show field. You spit. You polish. You open the hood. And then you just walk away. Maybe you sit stone faced in a lawn chair behind your car all day. Maybe you drift away to talk to your friends.

Your car sits there all day unattended while dozens of potential fans walk by and wonder what it is. You have an opportunity to tell your car’s story. You have a chance to tell your own restoration story. But no one will ever hear it. Why? Because you just walked away.

A few weeks later, you and your Studebaker or Oldsmobile or Mercury friends get together and moan about the fact that there’s no fresh blood joining your clubs. Friends, the reason why is staring at you in the rear view mirror.

Put away the DIY Mechanic. Become the Salesman your hobby needs.

A car show is the only the second greatest opportunity you have to generate excitement and enthusiasm for the hobby. The number-one-with-a-bullet way to attract/seduce/recruit others is you. Your excitement, your passion, and your story will infect others like a virus. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s profoundly powerful.

Smokey the Bear solemnly says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Smokey’s a chucklehead. I want you to get out there and play with matches. Talk to people at your next car show. Light a few fires in their eyes. Unpark the car, and take folks for a ride. Ignite some passion.

Be the orphan car salesman that your club desperately needs. Stay with your car. Talk about it when people ask, “What’s a Pacer?” Or “Who was Henry J?” Tell them a story. Whatever you do, don’t park and walk away.

Stay tuned in the coming months for more ideas on how to celebrate your orphan car and how to recruit more people into the hobby. Remember: you’re not just fixing up a classic car and keeping it running. You have to keep your hobby running, too.

Big, Epic Welcome!

Welcome to Gone Autos, the web site that gives you tools for living the orphan car life!

What does that mean? It's Rambler simple. We want to help you
enjoy owning and showing your orphan car.

We want to celebrate you and others like you who have chosen the road less traveled in the car seldom seen. We want to tell the stories of these cars in unconventional ways. We want to help you tell friends and strangers what's so special about your orphan wheels. And we want to help you profit from this noble hobby of yours. Think of Gone Autos as your orphan car marketing department.

I Declare

My name is Todd Ruel, and I run Gone Autos. (Some of you may know me from my previous orphan car site: Torq-O.)

In a classic car world filled with DIY mechanics, I've often struggled to find my place. Ready for some heresy? I don't like fixing cars. I hate trying to figure out what's wrong with my 1961 Metropolitan.

I'd rather figure out ways to display cars and tell others about them. I'd rather be trying to recruit younger people into the hobby. I'd rather be meeting people and making connections through these orphan cars that you and I love.

That's just what I'm going to help you do with Gone Autos. I declare that I'm going to do my best to help you succeed at the final and critical step of owning your orphan car: enjoying it and teaching others why it's cool/rare/sacred.

Together, if we succeed, our passion will inspire others to join us. (That's how you get younger folks, folks.)

I Have Special Powers

It's true. I've cracked the code. Studied the patterns. Gulped down the magic potion. And here's the Wisdom of the Ancients, my friends: promoting your orphan car is as important as fixing it up. And here's the chaser: you have to promote it on your audience's terms. Not yours.

Gone Autos will not be filled with book reports about classic cars. We won't load the machine gun with statistics and fire at will. No more dreary text-and-pictures monographs. We won't let spreadsheets filled with gear ratios and model year changes get in the way of telling a good story.

Instead, we'll use tools that fire the imagination. Blogs are okay, but we're going to tell stories with podcasts, videos, comics, and more. And we'll do it with a contemporary sensibility. We're going to speak the audience's language. Not ours.

My special power is the ability to produce cool car stuff that you might hate. But the people you want in your clubs will love it. If you hate change, you will hate this web site.

But I also have the power to help you tell your story. To help you communicate. To help you get others as excited about your cars as you are.

And Together We Can Grow

I can drive down this road alone for awhile. But it's a lonesome highway without you. After getting comfortable with Gone Autos, I hope you'll find what we offer useful. And meaningful. And fun. I hope that maybe, just maybe, you'll stick with me for the long haul. Together, we can ignite the same passion in future generations that we felt when we were their age.

So climb in. Have a look at the map. Let me drive for awhile and show you the sights. It's going to be a weird ride at first. No one has done classic car appreciation this way, and this crate doesn't have seat belts.

After a few hundred miles, if you like what you see, you can slide over and do the steering. I'd love to see what you could produce to help drive Gone Autos forward.

And if I Fail?

Then I’ll just try something else! Success or failure, I promise you'll be entertained.