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Home Events Things to consider when displaying your classic car at a local show

Things to consider when displaying your classic car at a local show

Observations from behind the camera and the reporter’s notebook

(Editors note: During the month of June, the ClassicCars.com Journal is publishing a series of stories about displaying your car at car shows and concours. Today, Larry Edsall offers his suggestions for displaying your vehicle at a local show. If you have a story about showing your classic, please send it to us at journal@classiccars.com.)

Only once have I displayed a vehicle at a car show, and it was pretty much by accident. It was back in the 1990s when I was an editor at AutoWeek magazine and my test car for the weekend was a Nissan Figaro, a cute little convertible with right-hand drive.

There was a weekly cruise-in at the A&W restaurant not far from my home and as I drove through the parking lot, someone pointed to an open place and suggested I pull the Japanese-spec vehicle into that spot and take part in the show.

Needless to say, the car – one of the few of its kind in the entire country — drew a lot of attention. 

Hey, it’s a local show, so you don’t need to Q-tip every details and remove every blade of grass from the tire treads as you do to please the judges at Pebble Beach

While I have driven a lot of classic and collector cars, the closest I’ve ever come to actually owning one was back as I graduated from college and bought a spanking new 1969 Ford Mustang fastback. Cool car at the time, collector car now, but in my second year of ownership it was hit broadside by someone who ran a stoplight. 

Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, except to my Mustang. 

My experience displaying a car at a local show, let alone at a prestigious concours d’elegance, might be limited, but as an auto writer I’ve attended probably hundreds of such events and, from my journalistic perspective, I have some ideas to share about displaying your vehicle.

An information sheet can help others appreciate your car and what you’ve put into it

For example, unless you’re going to be with the vehicle from show start to finish — which isn’t going to happen because you would want to see the other vehicles at the show, chat with friends, grab some food and use the rest room — be sure to put a card in the windshield identifying the year, make and model. It’s up to you if you want to add additional information, such as your name and contact information, and notes about the engine, changes you’ve made, etc. 

Some shows require such ID cards. I encourage it simply because when I’m at a show, I won’t photograph or write about a car unless the information is available. Besides, there might be someone at the show who loves your car even more than you do but you missed out on a sale because they couldn’t find you on the spot to make a ridiculous purchase offer.

While I like to see vehicles with period objects such as a picnic basket or portable record player in the trunk or truck bed or cargo floor of a station wagon, don’t overdo it. And never, ever display your vehicle with one of those silly child-sized stuffed dolls leaning up against a bumper, at least not if you want anyone to take your car seriously.

One more note regarding people photographing your vehicle at a show: When you park, be sure to properly center your steering wheel. This enhances not only the look of the dashboard, but the appearance of the entire interior, and shows that you really care how the car is presented.

An early edition of ‘Travels with Charley’ on the front seat of a car makes for a nice period-correct touch

Now this next suggestion may be more of a note for car-show hosts than for participants, but from time to time during the day, close the hoods on all vehicles for maybe half an hour. I know, there are those among us who love to see the engines, but there are those, including the people who designed the cars in the first place, who cringe at the way an open hood violates the styling they worked so hard to achieve.  

Count those of us who do car photography along with the designers. At least a couple of times during the day, please close the hoods and let the lines of your vehicle’s beautiful design be displayed and appreciated.

One more thing: Remove any “look but don’t touch” signs or stickers from your vehicle. What they say is “Keep away, I’m the only one who is entitled to appreciate my vehicle.” 

Instead, you should encourage people to experience the car up close, especially children for whom a brief seat behind the steering wheel might inspire a lifelong interest in automobiles.

Cars Shows & Concours Series

Stories all about showing your car at car shows and concours.

Larry Edsall
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.

64 COMMENTS

  1. I say leave the “look but don’t touch” sticker in vehicle. Sorry, but I don’t want someone else’s body on my vehicle. Enjoy looking at it but don’t touch. It’s called RESPECT.

  2. Generally, I bring coffee from home with me to the car shows for a couple of reasons.

    One, it’s a lot better and cheaper than spending the money at some overpriced coffee shop.

    Two, it enables me to interact with my fellow enthusiasts who park near me as well as keep tabs on the people who are passing by while my car is at the show. It never ceases to amaze me at how rude, arrogant, and generally disrespectful some people can be to another person’s property.

    I’ve posted the “Look but don’t touch” signs and someone with their leaking soda or greasy cheeseburger will still try leaning over the engine and/or interior “just wanting to get a look.”

    Oh, and don’t get me started on children. I could write a book on how some people have absolutely no parenting abilities.

    • Great comments. Paying to show can be quite expensive just to try and get a trophy! I don’t pay. However, sometimes the money is actually donated to a charity. Are the attendees asked to donate? Don’t know. There is a truck show every year in Ashland Ohio that doesn’t charge the participants to show, but attendees make a donation of food or money to enter. It all goes to the food bank.
      I agree to don’t touch without permission. I have an unrestored truck and people assume it’s okay to use the hood as a lean on. I’ve also watched them try to use it as a desk and kitchen table! I don’t have a $10k paint job,,,, but some common sense please! BUT the interior is far from perfect. So kids sitting in it, have at it! Watching a little kid with that big ol grin is the best trophy there is. Just make sure to check the wheels!

    • Ronald: I’ve also wondered why people have to pay to show their cars but not spectators, except at the big concours for which people might pay several hundred dollars to be admitted. My assumption (which may be incorrect) is that the fee charged to those showing vehicles basically covers the costs of setting up the show, providing trophies, etc.

      • Most of the shows I attend are benefits for various charities or raising money to fight various diseases and the profits go to them. Cruise ins are usually free.

      • As for your “allowing interaction” with my vehicle and ignorrant people…
        I suspect that YOU have probably never paid THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for just your paintwork !?!
        After you do that…THEN maybe you’ll understanding the adage: “You shouldn’t judge your fellow being, until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins”.

    • My thoughts exactly…in sports, the athletes never pay to play, why should car owners pay to draw other people in? Biggest petpeve of my life…Grrrrrrrrr!

  3. Can confirm. I managed to trace my love for classic cars back to a video my dad filmed on an old film camera, where he put me, who was less than 1 year old at the time, behind the wheel of an early 60’s car.

  4. Apparently the editor has no idea of the labor or cost put into restoring a classic. Though I do not have display Look no touch sticker, but understand why some do.I don’t allow anyone to sit in my car, because everyone wants to try every knob to see what works. Most people respect your car,but there also others that don’t have a clue when leaning over look or take a picture that their purse,camera case,fanny pack or belt buckle rubs across the car.
    I will also display a book of the total rebuild of the car. And if someone really wants to make a ridiculous offer,they will wait for you or come back to your car. Majority people will be enthusiased with information you offer on your car. But there will someone that thinks they know more about your car than you do.Its nothing worth getting worked about.

  5. Leave the look dont touch signs. Growing up around classic cars my whole life I was taught to enjoy looking, but don’t touch things that are not yours and Dont stand on the running boards (we had a 34 buick lol) . As a owner now( 67 mustang) I believe it even more. That is my pride and joy sitting in that spot. Detailed every spot before showing so please keep your kid from inside my car unless you have my permission.

    • I have a 27 ford roadster w full fenders and running boards. And have come back to my car to see people standing on boards posing for pics. Many dings in the custom candy paint from 5 yeats af cruises and shows.

  6. I was very lucky as a 4 year. We had just moved to a house near the Lake in Oakland. I remember walking one evening to a place called the EXPO, there was a show called the Oakland roadsters show. I am 78 and still recall that evening. It was my first car show. Now it’s called the Grand National Roadster Show, no longer in Oakland.

  7. I think people need to watch their kids around these cars. I have seen them stand on the running boards of a car and slide down the fender of a car. When a person puts a lot of time and money in their car they want people to respect their property.

  8. I do agree with the hood down. I understand the time and money put into the engine bay is what owners want to show off, but most cars look much better with the hood down. A car show with” hoods down only “might become a cool thing!

  9. There is nothing I hate to see at a show more than bicycles. Please do not bring them near a car show!

    I take many pictures at car shows, some of which are published, but never of a vehicle with the hood open.

    • Have they made the “Flower Mound” into a parking lot, or a skateboard park yet? When I moved away from Flower Mound, about 30 years ago, you could actually SEE the mound. Last time I drove by I could barely see it!

  10. 100% correct let the kids in the car for a picture for the parent’s.
    Or that pretty gal for the dreaming owner. Style beats econo slush box can you call them car’s.

  11. Let me get this straight – I pay to attend a car show, the visitors don’t pay, I’m suppose to let some slobbering kid get inside my $50k+ car. F that.

  12. I never leave my bonnet up. It invites people to steal that hard to find bit that they need for their own car. I know. My friend lost parts from his including the petrol cap. I lock my car at all times because some people think it is their right to sit in the car as it is on display. I have had to turn some very rude people out of my car, complete with their lunch. Hot mugs of tea on my dashboard, no thank you. Kids kicking the seats and rubbing chocolate into my seats and carpet, no thank you. Helping themselves to the odd souvenir from my car, such as a magazine, my lunch or age related artifact. Again, it has happened to me, but now I lock it. Having said that, if I am near my car, I will allow people to look at the engine. Children are welcome to sit in and pretend to drive, pull up the back blind etc. My car is a 1935 Austin 10 Lichfield 10/4, and I also have a 1956 Austin A30 Hybrid. I am happy to share my car, but only under my supervision.

    • Cindy: I agree that it’s the car owner who should invite people as he or she selects them to experience a vehicle up close, which is another reason I encourage car owners to stay near their vehicles as much as possible during a show. I understand locking your vehicle when you’re not present and am also happy to read that you allow visitors inside when they are respectful. — Larry

      • In your first comment you were saying wander around and visit your friends and check out all the other cars you never encourage somebody to stay next to theirs and they should people are rude people are creeps and thieves I have a 46 Chevy halftime that I drive a lot I came out of the bank and somebody’s head the car door open and they’re still there looking at the inside of my truck been lots of places and came out in my door has been open one door or the other people have no respect for other people’s property I like to go to car shows but I’m not interested in putting anything I own in one I also have a beautiful 72 javelin SST I get plenty of comments without going to the car show

  13. Closing the hood is a challenge, shows that judge cars require the engine bay hood to be open, some shows want the trunk open as well. Keeping your hood closed is one way of saying “don’t judge my car”. Typically in Ohio when judging is over you will see a quarter of the cars close their hoods, that would be the optimal time to come and see the cars as they are intended to be seen, ready to move.

    This may be why I like the cars and coffee format without the judging, I usually keep the hood closed the first hour I show up at a cars and coffee.

    I wrote up an info sheet about my car and laminated it for setting in the front window., People ask about the modifications or are not aware my 78 Trans Am has fuel injection or why the brake booster looks like it’s from a truck (hydroboost), it is easier to show it on a sheet than explain.

    “Look but do not touch” is a fools way of thinking people care once they read it. The ones who care don’t need the message and those who don’t are going to ignore it. Ask a bouncer at a strip club how well the sign works there. LOL

  14. I am a female car enthusiast. I grew up in a car club and was taught early in life to respect ” the cars “. Today I own. ’68 deuce and show it often. I am sorry, but the world to day has little respect for anything, let alone My car. She is my pride and joy. Unfortunately, I do spend most of my time at the car at shows. Baby strollers, bikes, belt buckles, all scare me !!! Not to say that I don’t promote kids interest in classics, I very much do ! If dad’s talking to his kid about my car and they are interested, I’ll put the kid in for a picture, or even start her up for them. All I ask is for Respect, and it’s lacking in today’s society, and that’s just sad.

  15. Last weekend I showed my car, 1967 MGBGT… a guy spilled Coke on the passenger side exterior paint. Coke and paint DON’T mix. Be prepared!

    My Rules: (1) “Look But Don’t Touch” ! (2) If you have your kids with you and you want a photo of them in my car, ask… I’ll agree, if reasonable… but, no touching still. (3) I encourage viewers to ask questions, young adults especially, so we can pass our appreciation on to younger generations.

  16. I took my 69 Plymouth to car show and when I see a little kid with the look in eyes. I let them sit and act like they are driving it then parents take their picture .I think the purple is what draws them in .but I do think hoods down is a good idea show the curves

  17. What a fool! Anyone who encourages people to touch or get into your classic car should never presume to know anything about car shows! Owners spend thousands of dollars on their cars and you tell people to get behind the wheel! Find a subject you know something about to write on!

  18. He says take down any sign that says look but don’t touch what a fool you are, yeah that’s what I want people leaning on the car touching the car opening the doors getting inside get out of here you’re crazy pal

  19. I know what you are saying. However, I have been restoring these classic vehicles for over 40 years. I Hate seeing owners using a California car duster or equivalent to clean the vehicles when they get to there spot. You people are F…ing Crazy!! I have to ask Every person who brings their vehicles to me to do. And EVERYONE says they have one. ……AND it’s Black in color! I tell them “you came to me because of my reputation, I’m not going to let you scratch a 15k paint job!….Throw it away!!” Having the vehicle parked in your garage, lights on, you see a ton of “spider webs” all over the surface. It’s NOT spider webs folks, it’s fine scratches from your stupid dust mop! AND only wet sanding and polishing will remove them. Let’s hope you have enough clear coat on your vehicle to keep doing that!! I’m one of the Best at what I do, so Listen Up!

  20. Look but don’t touch signs are absolutely necessary!! Again, leading to the California car duster or spraying and wiping the paint. The minimal dust that settles onto the vehicles while people walk by or a slight breeze blowing, if people lightly touch or rub their hands/fingers over the surface, it causes fine scratches. Again, the only way to remove them is to polish it. A very good restoration job will cost a person an easy 30-50k. Why would I want to let some ignorant person/people damage it and not be financially responsible for it!!

  21. Most of these ideas I already knew since I ve been showing old cars since 1993
    Thanx for pointing out the hood thing and the weepy dolls!

  22. You know nothing of local car shows. And why would you begin commenting on local car shows and then talk about elite shows like Pebble Beach. All you want are eye balls on your article. Lame as it is.

  23. Saying he never owned a show car, then proceeding to criticize the ways of those who do exhibit says all we need to know. The thousands of dollars and hours of effort can be undone by one casual first-timer plopping their kid on the bumper for a picture. I suppose you’d also think it’s wrong for dog show exhibitors to stop kiddies from petting their “cute doggie” on the way to the ring after hours of bathing, brushing, blow drying, snipping, plucking, powdering, and spraying? Ignorance is no excuse. Flippant judgements are unacceptable and downright rude to those who’ve dedicated their lives to preserving rolling history.

  24. I never used -Look but don’t touch signs “until a non car person sat on the fender if my car and took out 5 huge chunks of paint with the rivets on their jeans.
    It isn’t the car folks that are the issue. It is the friends if the car folks who attend and haven’t been explained the common rules and courteous behavior of attendance who cause the damage. So for them I now have signs.

  25. I have to laugh at those disgusting car owners who put those the signs in the window depicting a child pissing on a blue oval of a Ford. Really shows their ignorance of appreciation for other car makes.

  26. Like Bill said. That dog doesn’t care about the cars, he’s just gonna put paws and claws on the paint or at the very least piss on the tire. I see dogs at classic boat shows and think the same thing. Leave the don’t touch sign on. Just don’t have a fit when someone does. You drove your vehicle on public roads to get to the show didn’t you? Food and drinks near a vehicle a no no also agreed. As are bikes and belt buckles. An information sign is a good idea. Basic info and then if they need additional info they’ll usually ask.

  27. This didn’t happen at a car show but I was driving my black 68 convertible corvette it was a Saturday morning and I stopped at a parts store and when I came out of the parts store there was a guy leaning and sitting on the front fender of my car. I couldn’t believe it and I went off on him and he thought I was a maniac. He said it’s just a car. It’s idiots like these that ruin it for everyone else. It might have been just a car to him but it was much more than that to me and that is total disrespect for other people’s property.

  28. I let everyone sit in my car and get their pictures taken, that’s why I have it to share with people and put a smile on their face. Other wise people should just lock them away in your garage and look at it yourself, if you can afford to have the car you can afford to have it cleaned, I share mine with everyone.

  29. I have a 62 Chevy impala convertible it gets a lot of attention. When a family with kids come up to look and the parents want a picture with the kids standing by the car. I give them the chance to let the kids in the front seat and take the picture. It just made the kids and the parents day.

  30. It’s obvious he has never owned a classic car! Everybody knows the old story about the hot girl leaning up against the car is she’s talking to you next thing you know she takes her butt off the car and leaves nice deep scratches in the paint from the metal rivets on her Jean pockets!!!! Kids greasy, sticky, filthy fingers all over your interior!! Not to mention finger marks all over your beautiful glass!! Usually what I do when I have my car displayed at a show is I put signs up saying please touch me get in it rub up against it and put your hands with rings on your fingers so you can put deep gouges in my paint! What a fool!!!!

  31. Be careful if food trucks are around. I had my car at a show for about 5hrs and I got ready to leave you could see Grease splaters on my car. I wasn’t very happy

  32. I’m overwhelmed by the response to this article, and after reading through the comments, I’m wondering if the car show hosts are doing enough to inform visitors in regard to being respectful of the vehicles. There appears to be much more disrespect and even damage taking place at shows than I’ve observed in person. Are show organizers doing enough to remind visitors to look but don’t touch unless they ask and receive approval from the car owners?

  33. You sparked quite the debate in comments. 1. I always keep the hood down, makes for great pictures.. until someone shows interest.. 2. I’ve been to lots of car shows and have not suffered a scratch (although old guys in wheelchairs and walkers are starting to concern me). 3. I never register and don’t want votes (let the others get the trophy) , I’m just here to have a great time. (It’s not like I’d win anyway; I kept the hood shut and didn’t bring any stuffed animals)
    – 1969 R/T

    • Jeff This is my first ever year to show a car, I am learning a lot and don’t expect to win. I enjoy being around car people and having someplace to drive to since I don’t take it on errands.

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