By Louis C. Farah
The smell of freshly cut grass, the bright sunshine and the roar of a throaty engine signals the start of yet another season of classic and vintage car shows across the country. And nowhere is that experience more prevalent than right here in sunny Southern California.
Blessed with incredible weather all year long, our state is home to literally hundreds of car clubs. We have the luxury of gathering together most every weekend to celebrate vintage cars. Perhaps an even better advantage for West Coast enthusiasts is the fact that cars last a lot longer in our dry climate, which translates into a wider variety of classic cars from virtually every automotive genre.
One can join a number of clubs that celebrate cars produced by General Motors, Ford, Mopar and a variety of makes and models. However, we as professional car enthusiasts are not committed to any one manufacturer. We celebrate a particular style of vehicle:
The professional car.
The vintage hearse, limousine, flower car and ambulance is what we concentrate on. There were literally dozens of professional car manufacturers throughout the past 90 years, each with their own particular style and features. Just like vintage Chevys and Fords, when these cars were first introduced, they were nothing more than an average everyday transportation or utility vehicles. As in the case with vintage and classic cars, they really didn’t become “collector cars” until many years after their initial introduction to the general public.
Perhaps the most commonly used phase is “who knew these would become classics?” And that’s true. Certainly nobody realized in the early 1970’s that cars from the 1950’s and 1960’s would become big money collectibles. By the 1980’s, 1957 Chevy Bel Air’s were reaching $30,000 in value. Today, they are fetching prices that are twice that much and more, depending on rarity. As time goes on, we are now seeing prices rise in the professional car market.
Which leads us to the classic and collectible hobby of today.
One thing that all car clubs have in common is the pastime of the traditional car show. Here in California, many of these shows concentrate on drawing the largest number of participants as possible. By opening the doors to any classic and/or collectible car, the average car clubs sees perhaps 200 to 300 cars on display on any given weekend. Even such specialty clubs that feature Ford or GM products exclusively see a sizable turnout due to the high number of classic car enthusiasts in the state.
As everyone knows, the ultimate classic car experience is displaying your car at a show. That’s where all of your hard work and hard-earned dollars pay-off. It’s a rite of passage that completes the process. You buy the car, spend endless weekends and every spare moment of your free time lovingly restoring the car, with the ultimate reward of parking that little jewel among the hundreds of others cars to be admired and photographs by collectors and enthusiasts.
I have found that the greatest advantage of being a classic car enthusiast is the fact that parts and services are relatively inexpensive here in Southern California. I recently purchased a highly collectible 1977 Superior Cadillac Transport ambulance with low miles, which was also an ambulance that I drove personally back when it was new. (Obviously sentimental value played a big part of this purchase). The car was in relatively good condition. However, a number of small rust holes developed near the edges of the hood. I simply went to Cadillac King (a local salvage yard in the San Fernando Valley) and purchased a replacement hood in excellent condition for $200. Easy fix. I’ve had great luck with paint shops, mechanics, local auto parts stores and other related services in the past, which is a great motivator to even more restoration efforts.
LET’S HIT THE SHOWFIELD!
You’ve been anticipating the big day for weeks now. In just a few short days you will be joining hundreds of other people sitting under the shade trees of a local park or sharing the asphalt at a hotel with your pride and joy. People are going to be looking and inspecting your car. Is it ready to be shown? With a little preparation, that professional car just may be the hit of the show.
You could take your car to a professional detail shop and spends hundreds of dollars to make the car stand-out, but what fun would that be? Half the fun is getting there, right? Somehow it seems much more satisfying when you do the job yourself and enjoy the fruits of your labor. With that being said, here’s a short primer on how to get ready for the car show.
Be prepared to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 at your local auto parts store like Peps Boys and Trak Auto. You want to buy a good high-foaming car wash solution; a quality wax, chrome cleaner; tire/interior dressing, glass cleaner and a can of carpet and fabric cleaner. I would also visit your local hardware store and buy a couple of small-sized paint brushes. You are planning on “showing” your car, so make sure that it’s “shows” well.
Start by washing the entire car, literally inside and out. Open the hood and apply some commercial engine cleaner everywhere. Let it sit for a few minutes, then hose it off. Start the car and let it idle for a few minutes to dry all parts of the engine and electrical system. Spray a little Armor-All on the plastic parts, hoses, belts and other non-metallic surfaces. Use a clean, dry cloth to completely wipe the engine compartment to remove any excess Armor-All and dirt. Make sure that the engine compartment sparkles. There’s nothing worse than a killer appearing exterior, then you or somebody else opens the hood and sees a dirty engine compartment.
Next, concentrate on the exterior. Use that foamy car wash on the body; tires (including whitewalls); wheels; front and rear wheel wells and all visible areas underneath the car that can be seen. And scrub hard! Get rid if all of the dried-up and spattered bugs, road grime, tar, bird droppings and other foreign matter off of the paint. If it’s been a while since the vehicle has been waxed, use some polishing compound to buff out and even the paint throughout the body of the car, then apply a complete coat of good quality carnauba wax. Using a soft towel, remove all of the wax residue and bring-out the shine. Q-Tips are great for removing wax from those small areas that a cloth towel can’t reach.
If your car has a vinyl top, apply a good quality protectant. If the color has faded, there are a number of spray paints on the market that are designed for leather and vinyl that will make your roof look brand new. These are also carried by local auto part stores, and I’ve had great success with these products.
Don’t forget to use a good tire dressing as well. Scrub those whitewalls as well as the rest of the tire. You want the tires to shine and look consistent across the entire surface of the tire.
There has been a number of debates regarding the use of Armor-All and other products like it. Many believe in the long run, these preparations actually damage tires and other surfaces. I’ve been using these products for over 20 years and have never had a problem. Moderation is the key to using any product on your car. I wouldn’t suggest the use of anything on a daily basis, but occasional use should not present a problem.
Your next task is to tackle the chrome. Remember, that’s where the most shine of your car comes from. Dupont makes a great chrome cleaner product that removes pitting while bringing out the dazzling highlights of chrome wheels, bumpers and trim. It will take some elbow grease and time, but it is well worth it. Use a scouring pad or even steel wool for those hard-to-remove spots.
Now for the hardest part, which really is more time-consuming that difficult: The interior. A simple vacuuming of the carpet just won’t do. You’ve completely detailed the rest of car, so why scrimp on the interior?
Vacuum the entire vehicle: Front, rear, between the seats, under the seats and common areas. Apply a quality carpet cleaner. Let the cleaner dry completely, and vacuum again. Invest a few more dollars and buy a can of spot remover.
Are your seats fabric, or leather? Clean them! However, if your seats are fabric, don’t overdo it on the cleaner. Wet fabric takes a long time to dry, and you might get moisture streaks or marks. Unless it is extremely warm outside with relatively low humidity, it’s probably best to apply a light coat of cleaner, allow it to dry and vacuum the residue.
In regards to vacuums, there are a number of shop vacuums that are very strong, can be used for wet and/or dry applications and are relatively inexpensive. A good shop vacuum can usually be purchased for less than $40. You can use it for dry vacuuming, and just in case you overdo it on the fabric and carpet cleaners, it will suck up quite a bit of moisture.
Now it’s time to dress the interior. It doesn’t matter if it’s Armor-All or other preparation. Apply an even coat of your favorite product to the dash; door panels (after you’ve removed all of those scuff marks); kick panels; center console; steering wheels and any other surface. It’s also a good idea to apply an even spray across the entire dashboard including into the air conditioning vents. Take a clean cloth and wipe down all of the surfaces of the dash to bring out the shine and remove any excess product. That’s where the Q-Tips and paint brushes come in handy.
You can use the Q-Tips and small paint brushes to clean the A/C ducts where a lot of dirt and dust accumulate. Wipe the louvers of the A/C ducts with a small brush, use the Q-Tips to swab the opening of the vent areas and make sure to turn on the air conditioning with the fan on the “high” setting to blow any excess back through the vents.
Can you guess what parts of the interior are usually forgotten 99% of the time when one details a car? The headliner and sun visors! When is the last time you cleaned those areas? Chances are, you never have. Depending on the material, clean those as well. I’ve owned a variety of classic cars, and most people don’t realize that sun visors fade, regardless of whether they are vinyl or fabric. There are spray paint products that can renew the color, so make sure you don’t forget these areas.
Mcguires makes a spray product called “Final Inspection” that is outstanding. It can be applied once you arrive at the show field, and used to clean and shine your car. It is specially designed for painted surfaces and chrome. Most everyone loves to buff their cars to a luxurious sheen while admirers walk by and comment on how great the car looks. You spray it on, wipe it off and your car glows in the sunlight.
So far we have discussed the cosmetic side of showing your car. Not enough can be said about the importance of the mechanical side. You want to make sure that your vehicle runs well, and most important, doesn’t drip fluids. Nothing is worse than having a fantastic looking car displayed with coolant, oil or transmission fluid spewing from underneath the car.
Half of the fun of owning a classic car is getting ready for the show. The other half is being on the show field and showing your car. There’s a certain pride when people comment on how nice your car looks, and knowing you were the one that made it look that way.
The same is true in a competitive setting. Although originality of the vehicle and condition play a major part in scoring, the most important aspect is how well your car “shows”. A car that is dazzling in appearance can detract attention away from a number of deficiencies, not to mention the influence of dozens of spectators can have on the judges. If a large number of people are continually ogling and complimenting your car, that could sway a judge or two. A car that looks great, regardless of where it places in competition can still be a favorite among the attendees of the show. I would rather have the car that everybody liked and admired than get a trophy any day if the week.
An investment of approximately $40 will pay big dividends in the long run. It doesn’t matter whether you are taking your car to a show for display purposes or vying for an award at a major competitive event. Making your car look the best that it can be is a major part of “pride of ownership”. With the number of inexpensive and easy-to-use products on the market today, there’s no need to pay big bucks to have your car professionally detailed and prepared for the big show when you can do it yourself. Properly prepare your car for the coming classic car show season and do it the right way.
Reprinted with permission from the May 2010 Issue of the “Professional Car Collector” magazine. The official publication of Professional Cars International. PCI Club Information can be found HERE.
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