Automotive dark ages gets its turn in the limelight

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RADwood cars shows feature the unheralded cars of the 1980s and '90s and, like the celebrations at Goodwood in England, participants and spectators are encouraged to arrive in period-correct attire | Larry Edsall photos

The 1980s and ’90s might be remembered by most car enthusiasts as a low point, perhaps even the Dark Ages of automotive history. The muscle car era was over and engineers had yet to figure out how to use software that was developed to improve fuel economy to make engines more efficient in other ways as well, boosting the horsepower that propels our 21st century vehicles.

But as has been the case since people started collecting cars, newcomers to the hobby most desire the cars that the coolest kids drove into high school parking lots. Regardless of the generation, those were sparkling new cars, sweet coupes and convertibles, not the second- or third-hand hand-me-down sedans and even station wagons that most people were stuck driving.

RADwood presents an array of foreign and domestic vehicles, including many rarely seen any more on the road

Fast forward to late 2016 and four car-guy friends who were high school students back in the dark days of the previous century are listening to a podcast and someone asks a question about where there might be a void in the car hobby. That gets the friends to talking and leads to the idea of staging a Goodwood-like vintage vehicle and lifestyle car show, but in northern California where the friends live, and while we’re at it, let’s try to make it not only accessible but affordable.

To do that, they decided to focus on the cars with which the four friends grew up. Goodwood’s focus is on the glamorous sports and racing cars automotive heyday of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. 

“Let’s do the ’80s and ’90s,” the friends agreed. Six months later, they rented the parking lot of a marina south of San Francisco and staged their first car show, which they called RADwood, “RAD” from the popular slang of their high school days and “wood” as their tribute to Goodwood.

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RADwood Las Vegas was held just off The Strip in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center

A note of perspective: Those who were in high school in the ’80s and ’90s now are in their mid-30s, their 40s and even into their early 50s. 

“We expected it to be us and our friends,” said Bradley Bronnel, who with Art Cervantes, Rick Deacon and Lane Skelton are the four horsemen of what crusty concoursian old-timers may see as the automotive apocalypse. 

Not only did plenty of people turn out for that first RADwood gathering, but they brought an interesting array of vehicles. The automotive website Jalopnik published coverage, and people started asking when the next RADwood show would be held. 

Since then there have been several, including one last year at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The most recent RADwood took place April 27 in the parking lot in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Several more are scheduled this year, including two on June 8 — one in Millville,New Jersey, and the other in Sodegaura, Japan.

Which of the four friends gets to go to Japan? “The ones who speak Japanese,” said Bronnel, who added that he does not and will be at the New Jersey event. 

But while he doesn’t speak Japanese, Bronnel does hope to be in England later this year. Turns out the folks at Goodwood aren’t at all put off by the Yanks celebrating ’80s and ’90s car culture, and negotiations are underway for a RADwood at Goodwood.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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