Sammy’s Tips For Creating Perfect Car Show Judging Classes

June 21, 2010

One of the more frustrating things for collector car owners is when an all-comers type of car show has judging classes created by someone who thinks there are only two types of people in the world: those who drive a Chevy and those who drive a Ford. Most organizers think classes only make a statement about what cars they expect to show up, but in reality these classes also broadcast to attendees and participants which vehicles are most welcomed and appreciated.

Just a couple weeks ago I decided to take my 1976 Ferrari 308 GT4 to an area all-comers show. Upon giving my entry fee (unlike other journalists, I pay to enter my car, because most entry fees go to charities), I was given a list of 24 classes from which to pick two deemed most appropriate for my car. These were the classes: Best Hot Rod, Custom Car, Custom Truck, Stock Car, Stock Truck, Radical Car, Radical Truck, Stock Antique (pre ’42), Pre-’81 Ford, Post-’81 Ford, Pre-’81 GM, Post-’81 GM, Mopar, Orphan, Pre-20s, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, Post-60s, Engine Compartment, Paint, and Pin Stripe.

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even a 1980s GM brand manager) to figure out that the club promoting the show was made up of a bunch of American V8 rod and muscle car-owning folks. Sadly, their lack of understanding about how to put together balanced and fair classes had a bunch of show-goers shoving their cars into unfit boxes. For instance, while there are plenty of non-stock things about the GT4 (like red wrinkle-painted cam and timing covers with polished lettering and ridges), I had to choose Best Stock Car category along with Best Post-60s. A Lancia Beta Coupe owner entered his car in the Best Orphan category hoping that the judges didn’t know the 104-year-old Italian auto maker is still alive, well (albeit owned by FIAT) and mass producing cars for the European market.

So for the benefit of car show organizers, participants and judges…not to mention all of humanity, I present Sammy’s Tips For Creating Perfect Car Show Judging Classes. Remember, this is for all-comers type, rather than marque-specific or specialty events, but the base principles apply everywhere.

1) Create Classes For Attendees, Not For The Sponsoring Car Club’s Membership: Just because the majority of your car club members drive custom Fords and Chevy muscle cars doesn’t mean everyone else does. If you invite everyone, then make sure they feel welcomed…which means if the entry form requires every participant competes in two classes, then ensure any conceivable car has two classes in which to compete. Open a collector car book or simply peruse cars for sale on Craigslist to test the completeness of the classes.

2) Make Even And Fair Period/Era/Decade Classes: The funny thing about car show organizers is that you can tell their average age by the inclusive years of the youngest catch-all era car class. Pretty much anyone over the age of 65 thinks the collector car world ends at 1969, so despite huge representation by vehicles from the 70s, 80s and 90s, these cars often are glommed together competing for a lone trophy. The fairer way is to have a class for each decade (combining all cars pre-1920, as well as on the other end, the cars from the 1990s and 2000s). If you have limited money for class awards, then think about arranging by technological/design era: Brass and Antique (through 1925), Classic Era (1925-1948), Chrome and Fins (1949-1963), Muscle (1964-1971), OPEC Era (1972-1983), LED/TBI/FWD (1984-1994), Performance Resurgence (1995 and newer.)

3) Avoid Double-Dipping: In the case of the show I recently attended, there was really no reason to have Best Custom and Best Radical with individual classes for cars and trucks. Radicals ARE customs, and the chances of having enough radical vehicles to fill one class for cars and another for trucks are tiny. And again, why a class for Best Paint followed by an award for Best Pin Stripe? They are both types of paint.

4) Body Style And Car Type Matter: Most internationally-recognized shows give awards for Best Open and Best Closed cars, so don’t be afraid of having body style awards like Best Convertible, Coupe/Sedan, Wagon. Additionally, it’s fine to have classes for sports cars, muscle cars or pony cars, but it requires looking at #9 on our list to ensure participants and judges are as consistent as GOP election-year talking points.

5) Spotlight Originality/Survivors: A car is capable of going through multiple restorations, but only original once…and like Joan Rivers, restoration isn’t necessarily better — just different. In all seriousness, having classes to recognize original cars is important, since a 30-plus year old car with chips and nicks can’t win a beauty contest against something with a fresh $10,000 paint job with the newest technology. Make sure that it is clearly defined and communicated to judges and participants about what it takes to be entered as original: must it have factory-applied paint, engine, interior, tires…?

6) America vs. The World: When there’s a show on Main Street in the heartland of the US, chances are that foreign cars will be in the minority, so often just having an Import Class is fine. This is also an easy way to cover many types of collector vehicles into one class at smaller shows. If the show draws from affluent metropolitan areas, then it’s might be smart to separate European cars from Asian to accommodate the greater amount of entrants. Just don’t forget to define where Australian, Mexican, South American and other imports go. Finally, communicate where to draw the line on what makes an import, since many American market Ford and GM products have been made in Canada, while Chryslers have largely been made in Mexico. Conversely, many BMWs, Hondas, Toyotas and others have been designed and built in America with more American-made parts than so-called American cars.

7) Recognize Special Owners: Having class awards to recognize original owner cars and teens/students are nice touches. Especially in the case of younger collectors, they don’t (or at least, without mommy and daddy spoiling them rotten) have the money to sink into paint, body that the adults do. A class that encourages younger owners to show their cars, be it a newer vehicle or an in-progress restoration, is in the best interest of the hobby.

8 ) Use One-Year Feature Classes: Most large shows have featured classes that change each year. Pebble Beach might feature Alfa Romeo one year, Packard the next and Ferrari after that. Depending on the cars known to be attending, a local show might have a special extra set of awards, such as a Tri-Five Chevy Trophy this year, Best Mustang next year, Super Six Cylinder Ribbon the following year…

9) Explain And Limit Classes: If entrants aren’t given any explanation of classes, then they’ll make a mockery of them. If you already have awards for Best GM, Ford and Mopar, why not explain that DeSotos, Pontiacs, Hummers, Edsels, and LaSalles belong in those classes, while the Best Orphan trophy should be reserved for the likes of Packard, Rockne, Cunningham, Facel Vega, and other non-Big Three brands. This seems to be especially important for classes like Best Import, Best Sports Car and Best Muscle Car, where everyone has their own definitions. (As the organizer, do you want a Camaro competing as a Pony Car against Mustangs, Muscle Car against Chevelles and GTOs or Sports Car with Corvettes and Porsches?)


10) BE FAIR WITH JUDGING: There’s nothing worse than when people realize the class winners are all friends of the organizers. Pick judges for classes who respect the cars within and have some passing knowledge of the vehicles they are rating. A two-time Concorso Italiano-winning (including Best In Show and two-class wins) Lamborghini Miura was twice sent home from a local show here without as much as a third-place trophy for Best Sports Car. When I mentioned to the ladies at the event tent that they had again snubbed what had been crowned just a year earlier the “best Italian car in the world”, they simply quipped something about liking Corvettes and Camaros, of which there were more than 25 at the show. Of course, the organizer was also a local Corvette and Chevy muscle car restorer.

Remember, a car show is not just about seeing cars we know and love, it’s also about exposing the area to previously unfamiliar greatness. This goes for attendees, participants, sponsors, judges, and organizers alike.


Ford Clips Mercury’s Wings

June 18, 2010

From the files of “Not Surprising News” comes word that Ford has finally decided to wind-down the Mercury brand. The complete lack of news coverage and enthusiast whining is a good indication that not only is this the right move, but one that is a long time coming.

While Ford has sold a number of prestige lines that it previously acquired, this will be the first corporate-created brand to be brought out behind the woodshed and shot since Edsel back in 1960. Edsel might be somewhat synonymous with automotive failure, but one could reasonably say that no other long-surviving marque has seen less success than Mercury.

Edsel Ford started Mercury in 1939 as a mid-level choice between Ford and Lincoln lines to compete against Pontiac and lower-level Oldsmobiles. The focus quickly turned towards offering a little more performance and amenities than Ford brand cars. On the strength of its 1949 products, Mercury soared to be the sixth-best selling brand in America with 301,319 cars. (Ford and Chevy sold over a million, with 520,385 Plymouths, 324,276 Buicks, and 304,819 Pontiacs all submitting superior sales.) Unit sales would eclipse 1949’s figures from time-to-time over the years, but Mercury would never again rank as high in terms of total market share.

Blame uninspiring and poorly differentiated products. To find the last interesting or even somewhat notable Mercury, one would probably have to go back to 1970 with the 375-horse 429-ci-powered Cyclone Spoilers and Cougars. With a few exceptions (such as various Capris and the last version of the Cougar), since then Mercury has been little more than something akin to an upscale trim-level designation to core Ford brand products. The company’s last attempt at an image car was the Marauder, which was little more than a 1990’s police interceptor Crown Victoria with black paint and couple of tacked-on cheap ancillary gauges. The product launched with a thud and faded quickly with a whimper. Since then, the company has offered nothing more than well-trimmed Fords or stripped Lincolns.

So at the end of the year Mercury will cease to produce badges (since they don’t really produce cars.) And its die-hard customers? Ford must have finally figured out what the rest of us have known for decades — they’ll just buy the same vehicles — except with the Ford or Lincoln name, which is more profitable for the Blue Oval boys anyway!

Auto Manufacturers Show It’s Not Business As Usual At Le Mans.

June 15, 2010

Conventional wisdom has always been that racing at Le Mans represents a real-world R+D test bed for the automotive industry. Given the 24-hour format, what works there is supposed to eventually make it down to real production cars us mere mortals can buy.

Last weekend’s annual running of the Rolex 24-Hours of Le Mans reminds that what goes down on Circuit de la Sarthe, though, isn’t always in lock-step with the competing auto manufacturers’ Main Street realities. In actuality, how the manufacturers perform often are in contrast to their day-to-day image.

Case and point is Peugeot. On the French road course its Le Mans Prototypes were the fastest cars in the world, period. Peugeots set the fastest qualifying times, not to mention the fastest race laps twenty-some hours into the competition. This all seems unfathomable given that with the exception of the custom-designed vehicles made for the corporation’s other big racing program, the World Rally Championship, the rest of its cars are by-and-large just everyday econoboxes.

So why didn’t a Peugeot win? One crashed, while a design flaw caused the engines in the remaining cars to break. The last team car died in the 22nd hour of the race while reeling-in the leading Audi.

Speaking of Audi, what its cars lost in raw speed to Peugeot, they made up with insane reliability and fuel economy. Interestingly, this is the same company that for years has scored very low in Initial Quality and Vehicle Dependability studies. In the latest JD Power surveys, Audi rated just two out of five stars on Vehicle Powertrain Quality. As for the fuel economy, even with its popular diesel models (with the marketing power of its podium-sweeping TDI racers), Audi’s American-market fleet averages only 18 mpg and 24.7 mpg highway…or roughly the same as my 2002 Corvette.

Which brings us to those Bowtie Boys from the General Motor’s sports car program. This year two ZR1 Corvettes participated at Le Mans. The first car broke a piston early on. The second car was forced off the road and into the wall by the hard-charging second-place Peugeot in the 18th hour. The never-say-die service mechanics replaced just about everything on the rear (suspension, dry sump oil reservoir, rear wing) of the car in under 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the amazing repair work was for naught, as the car retired just a few laps after returning to the race with a broken piston just like its sister car.

So let’s get this straight — Chevrolet, the company recognized world-wide for bulletproof engines and crappy dealer service every other day of the year exhibits the dead opposite at Le Mans?

Maybe Le Mans simply needs to be recognized in the future for what it is: the automotive manufacturers’ version of Halloween. It might not be the other 364-day-reality for the auto makers, but on this day they can come however they want.

It’s Always Been Chevrolet, So Just Relax!

June 10, 2010

As further evidence that Americans like to worry about insignificant things when there are much more important issues demanding of our time and attention, today General Motors backtracked from a memorandum that was leaked yesterday regarding the usage of “Chevy” versus “Chevrolet”. Apparently, the marketing department wanted to clarify that all official communications should refer to the brand as “Chevrolet”.

And then the shit-storm hit with a vengeance. From talking heads to Skeeter the toothless El Camino driver, a bunch of know-nothings started screaming about what a mistake it was for GM to instruct to minimize the official use of the Chevy name. I’m sure there are some out there who think that this is a big socialist plot by our Kenyan President at the helm of Government Motors to destroy all that is good and godly in ‘Merica.

Not surprisingly, GM issued a press release containing one part apology and another clarification in hopes of receiving forgiveness from all those die hard Chevy fans, which evidently are different from Chevrolet fans.

DETROIT — Today’s emotional debate over a poorly worded memo on our use of the Chevrolet brand is a good reminder of how passionately people feel about Chevrolet. It is a passion we share and one we do not take for granted.

We love Chevy. In no way are we discouraging customers or fans from using the name. We deeply appreciate the emotional connections that millions of people have for Chevrolet and its products.

In global markets, we are establishing a significant presence for Chevrolet, and need to move toward a consistent brand name for advertising and marketing purposes. The memo in question was one step in that process.

We hope people around the world will continue to fall in love with Chevrolets and smile when they call their favorite car, truck or crossover “Chevy.”

I’ve spent plenty of years doing marketing, branding, imaging, and the like. In the past I’ve taken GM to the woodshed for its piss-poor marketing efforts, but today I’m going to come to its rescue. The fact of the matter is that Branding 101 indicates that names need to be consistent. This is exactly what GM was doing: requiring that official materials and communication use the name “Chevrolet”, which is the very name put on all the products the company sells. While there have been “Chevy” badges here and there, “Chevrolet” has always been the primary name on its vehicles since 1911.

This doesn’t mean that the nickname Chevy becomes verboten. It just means that any mention of the car by the company, advertisers, promotional partners, and dealers needs to use the big-boy name, not the nickname. One might also speculate that since Chevrolet is more formal, it helps to imply a larger degree of sophistication or seriousness, which might be needed to prepare for the single most important and significant automotive product launch since the self-starting Cadillac: the Chevy Volt.

I can use the name Chevy…I don’t work for the company, and neither do car clubs, enthusiasts, NASCAR zealots, and other bowtie-tattooed true-believers who all can continue to use Chevy, even if GM requires Chevrolet to be the only name specified for official communications.

Let’s congratulate GM for doing something they should have done a long time ago…and then let’s focus on much more important issues, like how we’re going to get all that oil in the Gulf out, refined and into our cars.

GM Melts Down Again On Windshield Washer Fluid Heaters And The Resulting Recalls

June 8, 2010

Today GM issued a second recall for the heated windshield washer fluid system found in Cadillacs and Buicks. In a small number of cases the system was causing fire.

While it is a small feature, it has been one of those little things that made a good luxury car stand above its peers and build model loyalty. Being able to melt away ice is an extremely nice touch…assuming it doesn’t burn your vehicle to the ground.

Yet when it seems that GM is finally pulling its head out of its collective ass, it goes and falls back into old habits. When the system was first recalled for fire dangers two years ago, dealers installed fuses to cut power in the event of a short. Turns out that this was a knee-jerk bandage that nobody had tested fully for efficacy. (This is what I now refer to as a “floor mat fix” for Toyota’s stupid assumption that tossing floor mats into the trunk would solve unintended acceleration problems.)

So now that the fire risk is still there, GM is simply disabling the feature “under warranty” and paying people $100 for the inconvenience. This is so typical of GM and Ford — if something doesn’t work and it might cost time and money to fix, simply take the most immediate and short-term cost-effective path. When Ford recalled Expeditions for faulty cruise controls, the fix was to disable them. After years of listening to thousands of fifth-generation Corvette owners complain about faulty column locks not releasing steering wheels, GM didn’t fix the steering lock, rather they updated the fuel management system to ensure that nobody could actually drive when the column lock jammed. Now many of these Corvette and Expedition owners are former GM and Ford clients.

As for the $100 rebate, one has to wonder if this is less than the price paid by buyers of cars with the feature…and before people start writing in about it being “standard equipment”, the price of all features are simply built into the price — usually with a nice markup.

If GM wants to be treated like a big-boy company again, it needs to stop making childish mistakes. BMW, Audi and Mercedes wouldn’t disable any feature with which it found problems, much less one considered a competitive advantage, so why would GM? Instead of wasting money paying $100 to each owner (although I understand that given the mediocrity of some of the so-equipped models that the number of owners is relatively small), cancel the country club weekend, have the executive assistants hold all calls, and actually FIX THE FREAKING PROBLEM. After that, spend the next week testing it until everyone is dead-ass certain the issue is gone for good.

At the end of the day, if GM is to revolutionize the world with the Volt plug-in hybrid technology (which is slated to eventually power every front-wheel-drive car GM produces,) it needs all the consumer confidence it can get. How can buyers trust a car running on troublesome and fire-prone lithium ion batteries at high voltage if it comes from a company which is either incapable or unwilling to make high school techonolgy-level hot water bottle heater circuits work safely?

The Automotive X-Files

June 3, 2010

The Xiali TJ 7100 (aka Daihatsu Charade)

As any reader of The Four Wheel Drift knows, I love to write about automotive names. Since I also like to discuss worthless automotive trivia, I’ve decided to combine the two topics for today.

Here is something nobody really needs to know: fewer automotive brands start with the letter X than any other in the English alphabet. I would have guessed Q, but it turns out that X marks the spot. While there have been hundreds of models starting with X (such as the KTM X-Bow or Nissan Xterra), there have only been two real automotive companies starting with this letter. On the other hand, nine marques have started with Q.

The first X-car was the Xtra, which was a three-wheeled cyclecar (ala Morgan) made in Surrey, England between 1922 and 1924. Available initially as a one-seater powered by a 270cc Villiers engine, a two-seater was added within the first year, as was the option of an eight-hp JAP engine. There are no definitive records on how many cars were produced by Xtra.

The best-known and highest production X-car is the Chinese Xiali. Tianjin Xiali FAW Automobile Co. Ltd. started producing cars in 1987 based on the Daihatsu Charade. These TJ7100 hatchback models and TJ7101U sedans became popular home-market taxis. Since 2002, Xiali also has mass-produced vehicles based on Toyotas, such as the Vitz and the Echo.

Often cited as an X-car, the Xedos was produced in Japan 1990-2000 as Mazda’s luxury line. (The Xedos 9 was known as the Mazda Millenia here in the States). Unlike cars from Lexus, Infiniti and Acura, the Xedos was actually still a model line under the Mazda brand (similar to how Hyundai markets its current Genesis), and therefore it really doesn’t count as a separate brand or company.

The closest America came to the X Files was with two separate companies, XTC and Xillion, both of which sold kits to replicate Ferraris with Pontiac Fieros. Neither can really be considered true auto manufacturers…or in good taste, for that matter.

For the record, Quadrant (1906-1908 in Birmingham, UK), Quagliotti (1904 in Italy), Quantum (1985-present in Devon, UK), Quantek (1977-1980 USA), Quantum (1988 in England), Quantum (1962-1963 in USA), Queen (1903-1906 Detroit), Qinchuan (A Chinese company purchased by BYD in 2003), and Qvale (1998-c2004) make up the world’s Q-cars.

GM’s Continues Its Superball-Like Rebound

June 2, 2010

I said it once and I’ll say it again: “don’t count out GM.” Today it announced its fifth consecutive month of double-digit sales gains with a 32-percent gain over May of last year.

I’ll still hold to my past statements and say that this certainly could have been done without the government bailout, but it is nice to see that the company is finally getting its act together, continuing its rebound and positioning itself to regain a global leadership position. I’m actually looking forward to two major GM events this year: a) the public offering of new GM stock and b)the release of the Chevy Volt.

Here is the full release:

Chevrolet-Buick-GMC-Cadillac Post 32 Percent Sales Increase in May
• Fifth Consecutive Month of Double-Digit Combined Sales Gains for GM’s Four Brands
• Calendar-Year-to-Date Sales for GM’s Four Brands are up 31 Percent
• GM Crossovers Sales Are up 81 Percent Year-to-Date

DETROIT – For the fifth straight month, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac together posted a double digit sales gain, with combined sales increasing 32 percent over last May. Year-to-date sales for GM’s four brands have risen 31 percent to 874,749 units – an increase of 206,994 units compared to last year, which is almost twice the volume lost from brands the company has discontinued.

According to Steve Carlisle, vice president, U.S. Sales Operations, GM’s brands have outperformed the market this year on the strength of the company’s newest products. Year-to-date, combined sales of the Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Camaro, Buick LaCrosse and Regal, GMC Terrain and Cadillac SRX and CTS Wagon are up 323 percent.

“Each of our brands has new products that are being received well by customers. In fact, these new vehicles now account for about one in every four retail sales in the U.S.,” said Carlisle. “With each brand launching new vehicles in the next few months, we are optimistic about the remainder of the year.”

Since 2005, crossover sales as a percentage of industry sales have almost doubled. During the same time, sales of GM’s crossovers as a percentage of the company’s sales have more than tripled. May sales of GM’s crossovers – Chevrolet Equinox, HHR and Traverse; Buick Enclave, GMC Terrain and Acadia; and Cadillac SRX – were up 83 percent compared to May 2009, and are up 81 percent year-to-date. Through May, GM leads all automakers in total crossover sales.

According to Carlisle, the company’s crossover growth is an example of its ability to quickly adapt to shifts in the marketplace. “We’re a much leaner and more agile company today and can take advantage of movements in consumer tastes,” said Carlisle.

Chevrolet dealers reported sales of 167,235 – 31 percent higher than May, 2009. Retail sales for the brand were 19 percent higher for the month. Retail sales for Chevrolet’s popular full-size pickups, Silverado and Avalanche, increased 14 percent, while retail sales for the Suburban rose 73 percent. The Chevrolet Silverado, Equinox, Traverse, Avalanche, Malibu and Camaro all posted year-over-year retail sales increases of 10 percent or more (read more).

Buick sales rose 37 percent for the month to 12,582 – the eighth consecutive month of double digit year-over-year sales increases led by the LaCrosse and Enclave. Retail sales for Buick rose 46 percent during May. Buick LaCrosse retail sales increased 191 percent for the month. Year-to-date sales of the LaCrosse have increased 162 percent (read more).

GMC sales of 30,160 were 26 percent higher than last year, while retail sales for the brand were up 37 percent. Retail sales of the GMC Terrain continued to gain momentum, with sales increasing 350 percent for the year-to-date (read more).

Cadillac sales increased 54 percent to 12,328, while retail sales improved 43 percent for the month. CTS retail sales improved 7 percent for the month, and year-to-date sales of the SRX are 439 percent higher than a year ago (read more).

Month-end dealer inventory in the U.S. stood at about 408,000 units, which is about 22,000 lower compared to April 2010, and about 267,000 lower than May 2009.

May Key Facts:
• Eighth Consecutive Month of Combined Sales Gains for GM’s Four Brands

• Chevrolet: Total sales up 31 percent compared to a year ago; retail sales up 19 percent; Chevrolet Equinox retail sales increased 228 percent; Camaro retail sales continued to set the pace for the sport segment with 8,402 deliveries; Chevrolet Traverse retail sales were up 11 percent for the month, and are up 10 percent for the year; Silverado retail sales were up 11 percent for the month.

• Buick: Total sales up 37 percent; retail sales up 46 percent; Buick LaCrosse retail sales rose 191 percent and are up 162 percent for the year; Buick Enclave retail sales rose 14 percent in May and are up 12 percent for the year.

• GMC: Total sales up 26 percent; retail sales up 37 percent; GMC Terrain retail sales were up 569 percent for the month and 350 percent for the year; GMC Acadia retail sales increased 18 percent for the month and are up 24 percent year-to-date

• Cadillac: Total sales up 54 percent; retail sales up 43 percent; Cadillac SRX retail sales were up 605 percent for the month and 439 percent for the year; Cadillac CTS had its best month of the year, with retail sales up 7 percent.

• GM Full-Size Pickups, Full-Size Utilities and Full-Size Luxury Utilities sales rose 17 percent for the month and are up 9 percent year-to-date

• Fleet sales for GM’s four brands were 83,305 for the month.