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.