Car shows are strange places. They’re filled with hot dog vendors, teeming with floral-shirted, fanny-packed sweaty people, and sprinkled with DJ’s playing songs that are, at best, tangentially related to cars. And all recorded before the year 1979. Because, you know, Baby Boomers. Do you get it? Baby Boomers like car shows, and think new music is dumb. Guys, do you get it? The joke is that people in that age demographic prefer classic rock. Do you get it? Are you sure? Guys?
Occasionally at a car show, amid all the plastic trophies and cotton-candy machines and face-painting booths and the “Do you come with the car?“s, you’ll run into an automobile or two. We’re back home, or at least I am, in Pennsylvania, the greatest commonwealth in the union. This is actually my hometown, Newtown, Bucks County, which is famous for many things, including housing the then-General George Washington on his way to the battle of Princeton, and being the main filming location of M. Night Shymalan’s smash hit Signs (well, it was a smash hit at our local West Coast Video circa 2002, I can tell you that much). What was I talking about? Oh right, cars.
The weird thing about car shows is that, despite the bad music and the fact that they are seemingly all sponsored by overblown American masculinity, you’ll often come across something truly special. Or at the very least, have a unique experience of some kind. Like these two Camaros (a Z28 and an SS): they’re owned by the father of a guy I went to kindergarten with. I hadn’t seen him in years. We had a great conversation about pace cars. That’s the kind of small-town Americana moment that car shows facilitate so well. It’s worth it to muscle your way through the Crocs and the people asking if you know what Fiat stands for (Fix It Again, Tony. Honestly, can we put that joke to bed already?).
I know I talk about typefaces all the time, but look at this one! It’s off a 1971 Plymouth Duster, and it’s just the coolest thing since Hugh Laurie’s jazz career. They could’ve messed this up so easily, made it Comic Sands or something, or worse, not even tried at all, but they didn’t. They really thought about what a Duster would look like, and you know what? They pulled it off. This word looks like what it is, whatever that thing may be. It’s kind of like how the word “blob” sounds blob-y and “point” sounds pointy. You don’t know why it works, but it definitely does. Also, look at the orange peel effect on that car. 1970s paint technology at its finest right there.
Oh, the Triumph Stag. The convertible that wasn’t, really. It had scaffolding around the passenger compartment. Great name though, and it had a V8, which was was odd (though not unique) among British sports cars. It was plagued with reliability issues too, specifically the timing chains and the water pump. The 3.0 liter engine was a powerplant that, and I’m quoting Time Magazine here, “utterly refused to confine its combustion to the internal side.” But that sort of thing appears to come as standard equipment on cars from the United Kingdom, so to me it’s a wash. James Bond drove one too, in Diamonds Are Forever. I like it, but it’s no TR6.
Shifting gears a bit, this is a 1980 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. But it isn’t just any Cadillac. This hulking black boat belonged to one Frank L. Rizzo, the, um, controversial mayor of Philadelphia from 1972 to 1980. His son, also named Frank Rizzo, bought the car for his father as a retirement present: a gift for “the man who had everything.” This model Fleetwood had a wooden steering wheel that tilted and telescoped, leather finished in a color called “licorice,” and most importantly, a 6 liter V8. Six liters- that’s huge. But, because this was an American car in the 1980s, it made a measly 145 horsepower. So, not very powerful, and I can only assume not very efficient either. But it was just about as imposing as a car can be, which I suppose was kind of the point. Another fun fact: Rizzo was a big fan of cigars- because of course he was- and whenever he polished off one of those fancy wood-finished boxes, he used it as storage for spare fan belts and such. Say what you will about the guy, but at least he was organized.
Keeping with the extravagant luxury theme for a bit, this is 1936 Auburn Phaeton Sedan. Now, Auburn’s big showstopper has always been the Boattail Speedster, a big, fast, Gatsby-esque thing. This is a sedan, which is a little less well known, but no less interesting. You see those silver pipes that look like they plug into the back of Neo’s head when he enters The Matrix? Those are actually there to dissipate the heat generated from the supercharged, 288 cubic inch V8, which made about 150 horsepower. Which is five more than the Cadillac. Which was built 45 years later. 45 years, and we somehow lost 5 horsepower down a seat cushion or something. I think that’s the Cadillac’s fault though, because any horsepower rating over 100 during the 1930s was pretty good. I’d love to find some more Auburns to talk about, but they were pretty expensive when new (think like an American Rolls Royce), so they’re rare today. Still, stranger things have happened.
The end of this block was just Corvettes. That’s it. One model of car. How’s that for timeless influence? Almost all generations were represented too, with the exception of the C1, but that’s to be expected. It’s really interesting to see how the Corvette has evolved over the years, from a boulevard cruiser designed to take down the Ford Thunderbird into a dedicated sportscar, or even supercar if you ask some people. It all happened somewhere around the often-maligned C4, but that’s a story for a future post. I’ll take a ’65 Stingray in red, if you please.
What’s this strange little thing, you may ask? Okay, confession time. I saw this and my initial reaction was: no way. Cisitalia. I’m out. It can’t be. This is too much for my addled brain to handle. I might vomit. But it wasn’t a Cisitalia, so I didn’t vomit. What it is in reality is a TVR, a British sports car manufacturer that seems perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy. They were under Russian ownership for a time, and now there are rumblings that there will be a “new” TVR with help from Gordon Murray and Cosworth. We’ll see. This particular TVR is called the Vixen, is from 1968, and looks quite nice in brown. Behind it is a 1965 Renault Dauphine, which had the engine in the trunk! Here’s a better picture.
Alright, enough rambling, let’s get on to what you’ve all been waiting to hear. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Man, how many Matrix references has this guy made so far? or This is a long post, why am I still here? I could be doing something productive like reading a book or holding my children. But I can read between the lines: you want to know what my “Best in Show” is. Alright already, I’ll tell you. Or rather, I’ll show you and then tell you. Here it is:
Oh yes, look at that beauty. This is a 1950 Crosley Farm-O-Road, which, in addition to having one of the greatest names ever affixed to a wheeled vehicle, has to be one of the tiniest off-road work trucks ever made. That’s right, this little guy can handle itself pretty well off on road or farm, mostly owing to its four-wheel drive system. Okay, technically only the rear wheels received power, but there were four of them! That’s what I like about the Crosley: it has a sense of humor. It doesn’t take itself so seriously. This was a car that weighed just a touch over half a ton in a market saturated by trucks the size of Neil Patrick Harris’ ego. It’s tiny and goofy, but it owns that tininess and goofiness. Other highlights include a removable bed, the fact that it comes from a company that originally made refrigerators, and a 63-inch wheelbase. So today, I present the Crosley Farm-O-Road with this: a photograph of a trophy that presumably went to a completely different vehicle. What an honor.
Alright, this could go on for days, so let’s wrap up. Car shows are surreal, dream-like places. The modern world seems to have been forgotten in place of a pumped up fever-dream about a version of the 1950s that never existed. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, because every once in awhile you find something really cool, like a trunk-engined Renault or a Farm-O-Road. They’re like yard sales for cars. I leave you with this, a 1969 Shelby Mustang GT350 in front of the oldest still-operating movie theater in the country. Hooray for Newtown, and hooray for Pennsylvania. It’s good to be home.
- This car show benefits the small businesses of Newtown, Pennsylvania, so in the future I expect to see all of you there. All of you.
- Other highlights from the show included a man dressed in old-timey Army fatigues explaining a Willys Jeep, a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere that I mistakenly thought was a Fury, and a Rita’s Water Ice.