Wisdom > Rear View

Advice for all of you who like joining car shows

If the objective is to impress judges and win awards

Automobiles displayed at car shows should be special—things people don't see every day. PHOTO BY CITO BELTRAN

“Why did I lose?”

My friend was so sure he would win a prize at the recently held Pampanga Motor Show at Pradera Verde in Lubao, especially when half of the cars in his group or class were mostly new models and not classics. For starters, he had an iconic Corvette that had been meticulously restored inside and out. He had brought the car all the way from Southern Luzon on a car carrier just to join said car show. For good measure, he even set up his own tent separate from the group presentation. So why did he lose?

Well, he should have won except he entered his car in the wrong category.

My friend’s automobile would have been a runaway winner if he had joined the Classic Car or Classic Sports Car category. Instead, he joined the Sports Car category where his car’s advantage as a classic took a nosedive in the company of European supercars. He also miscalculated things by isolating his car in a separate tent instead of placing it in the middle of the pack. Had he done so, the judges would have had to compare his apple with the oranges and the grapes, so to speak. But because he was in a separate corner, he could not stand out by comparison—he simply stood alone.

Have someone guarding your prized possession at all times. Literally every second it's on display for everyone to see. PHOTO BY CITO BELTRAN

Lesson: When joining a car-show competition, make sure you are in the right class or category. And that is just one of the many things to consider. Many enthusiasts—especially owners of old cars—tend to jump right in and register their prized possession as “classic” or “vintage car” without much thought. When it comes to automobiles, the required age for a car to be considered “vintage” is a lot older than that of vintage wine. I don’t want to start an online debate, so just google how old a vintage car is supposed to be (in official terms).

As far as classic cars go, it is not just about the age and the brand, but also about prestige and the popularity of the model during its time. An old car is not necessarily a classic, and the more doors that go into a car, the lower the chances of it being considered a classic. There are exemptions, of course, but if you seriously want to compete, first try to learn the technicalities and the culture of car shows.

What's the story behind your car? Let the people (especially the judges) know about it. PHOTO BY CITO BELTRAN

In one “car show” I attended, the first thing I noticed was that many participants did not even bother to clean, wax or wipe their cars—especially the mudguards and the tires. They simply drove onto the parade grounds, parked their cars and left them there for the day. Sorry, but many contestants lose for simply being sloppy or for poor presentation. Some really nice cars lose points or don’t make it to the winner’s circle just because their owners didn’t even take the time to remove ugly (read: dilapidated) license plates. The experts always take these off and place decorative or vanity plates. Also, you want to remove your car’s license plates to protect your privacy.

Your automobile may be badass, but damaged paint job has no place in a car show. PHOTO BY CITO BELTRAN

You could easily tell who the experienced owners are: Those who have one or two attendants constantly wiping the dust off their cars and closely watching people who come near. Be very careful about leaving your car unattended or unguarded, especially in car shows where there is a lot of human traffic. Many owners have found their cars burglarized or vandalized, accessories peeled or broken off, seats and paint scratched or scraped. Always lock your doors and place barricade tape three feet away and around your car. Some vandals even drop cigarette butts into the fuel tank, which will eventually clog your fuel line and give you a lot of headaches. During one big event in Manila, I found the emblem of my 1965 Mercedes-Benz 600 damaged. Someone must have tried to twist it off to steal it, but then accidentally broke it and just left it.

Sure, it helps if your car is one of the most beautiful automobiles ever made. But judges will still look at the smallest of details. PHOTO BY CITO BELTRAN

You don’t necessarily win for having a “brand-new look.” The older the car in terms of age, the better it gets for having the patina in the metal or the antiquity in the paint, the glass and the upholstery. But all that needs to be put together by making the extra effort of telling the story of the car as well as the history of ownership and things of that nature. Cars can’t tell their own story, so you have to tell it for them. Believe it or not, the backstory influences judges especially when the scores are too close to determine the winner. This helps a lot if you are entering a theme or tribute car.

Make sure the accessories and design elements you add to your car are period-correct. PHOTO BY CITO BELTRAN

When we assembled an all-aluminum handmade 1965 Mustang Fastback, we decided to throw in a Nissan Skyline RB25 engine to make it a tribute car to the Fast & Furious movie franchise. Our entry won for being the “Most Radical Ride,” but it did not win “Best Overall” because, according to the judges, I used the “incorrect engine.” I was not around to present and explain the concept as a tribute car; I was inexperienced and I failed to put up a banner to explain it all. I have since made it a point to write a short history on a banner and place this next to the car.

Let your car stand out from the competition by placing it next to its rivals. PHOTO BY CITO BELTRAN

If you’re not much of a storyteller, then use accessories. I know of a regular competitor who always sets up his car like a grand exhibit. He puts in period-correct seats, coolers, banners and props to help the audience (and the judges) imagine how the car would have looked like in the mid-’50s on the beach. The “muscle car” guys always have that double-dice ornament hanging from their rearview mirror, or whatever popular accessory might be for the period. Some guys even use eight-track tapes, cassette tapes or old magazines for that retro vibe.

In the end, have fun and treat your fellow car-show participants as friends. PHOTO BY CITO BELTRAN

While you’re at it, please pay attention to detail. Some judges I know will deduct points from great cars because the owners had written the wrong year model on the information card, or used anachronistic hubcaps, ill-matching tires, modern stereos, incomplete trims or torn upholstery. All these do not make your car vintage or classic; they simply make it amateurish.

Regardless of the outcome, respect the judges’ decision, learn what you can improve upon and take advantage of the opportunity to meet and greet as many participants as you can. Because, at the end of the day, those are the people who form your community—they are your car family. Last but not least: Have fun!

Cito Beltran

Cito is a classic-car enthusiast who likes restoring neglected automobiles. He also writes an opinion column for The Philippine Star, where he shares fatherly wisdom with anyone humble enough to listen. He jots down his car-inspired thoughts in the ‘Rear View’ column.