Reprinted with permission from the November 2010 Issue of the “Professional Car Collector” magazine. The official publication of Professional Cars International.
Car shows are no longer reserved for mainstream classics anymore. At least not in California. If it rolls and has an engine, it can be seen at a variety of venues throughout the year.
Case in point: During the weekend of this year‟s Summer Meet 2010, Dean Newman and myself made the trek to the weekly car show at Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank with our ambulances. This location is affectionately referred to as “Bob’s Toluca Lake”, and it is the oldest surviving of the five original Bob’s Big Boy restaurants built and operated by the man himself, Bob Wian.
This weekly extravaganza Is organized by the Road Kings Car Club of Burbank, which has been in existence since 1952. Many years ago the club decided it was time to host a weekly car show for classic and collectible car enthusiasts in the greater Los Angeles area. With the blessing of general manager Mark McCabe, “club night” was launched in 2003. To say it has been a success would be an under-statement. Club night brings the maximum allowable number vehicles for display every week, which is 150 cars. Perhaps the most notable attendee is Jay Leno, host of The Tonight Show. Filming of the show wraps-up around 7 PM, and with NBC Studios a few blocks away, Jay usually makes it to the show around 7:30 PM.
Crowds gather early in the afternoon to jockey for the prime display spots, the best being the inner drive-in itself. By 5 PM, the lot is full, closed-off to any further traffic and the show begins. Incredible classic cars, mostly all of which are restored to perfection, can be viewed while gobbling down a Bob’s Big Boy double-decker hamburger, fries and a cherry Coke. It is a bit of Americana that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
On this particular evening, we displayed my 1977 Superior Cadillac Transport ambulance and Dean’s 1960 Cotner/Bevington Chevrolet ambulance. Both cars were the hit of the evening.
Rarely does one see a restored and fully functional ambulance at a main-stream car show. We were surprised by how many people were impressed with the cars, curious about their features and eager to hear about their restorations.
I’ve learned through years of vehicle displays and car shows that most enthusiasts are open to just any vehicle that has been faithfully recreated back to the day it was new. Perhaps the fastest growing field is the display of ambulances, funeral cars, police vehicles and fire apparatus. People want to know how they function; why they were built the way they were built; what makes them unique from other classic cars; what does it cost to re-store the vehicle. The same questions that they ask each other about run-of-the-mill Chevys and Fords are the same questions that Dean and I got at the show. People wanted to know where we got the cars from; what condition they were in when we started the restorations; how much trouble was it to put them back into the authentic condition. The interest in our cars was high, and even more importantly, people really appreciated the cars.
Professional car clubs tend to keep to themselves. Many believe that the average person thinks that we’re weird: Well, some of us are! The Halloween crowd tends to not take the hobby that seriously because they are looking at the fun aspect of owning and showing professional cars, mainly hearses. Rather than be scorned by classic car purists, they would rather stay within their own ranks where they are most comfortable.
However, there is a growing breed of professional car enthusiasts that take great pride in their restorations and don’t have a problem mingling with traditional car club circuits. Some of the largest car clubs in the country welcome professional cars including the Cadillac-La Salle Club and the Packard Club of America. In fact, last year a Packard Henney hearse won Best-Of-Show at the Packard Club’s National Meet. If the car is done right, people will pretty much accept anything that rolls past them.
Although there are a number of car clubs here on the West Coast that cater exclusively to a single marquee, the most popular organizations are those that have opened their doors to virtually any classic car that shows up, and with good reason. The more cars you allow to be displayed, the more people that will show up to look at them. It’s like one-stop shopping: The more selection you can see at one show, the more you’ll patron-ize that event. In the world of car shows, the biggest crowds show-up at events that feature the most cars.
When it comes to classic cars, there really isn’t any type of vehicle that turns off the public. Perhaps the most interesting cars I‟ve seen during the past few years are hearses. Yes, hearses. People do not look down on those that own them, and the mystery of a funeral car is what drives people to take a closer look and ask about the car, especially if it is a vintage car from the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. Much like your standard ’57 Chevy Bel Aire or ’66 Ford Mustang GT Fastback, rare professional cars invoke just as much interest and awe as a red 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible.
In promoting Professional Cars International, I’ve attended a number of car shows throughout the greater Southern California area with very positive reactions when I arrive with one of my classic ambulances. Older people remember when passenger car-based ambulances ruled the streets, and many can even cite the name and description of the ambulances that served in their neighborhoods when they were growing up. The night that Dean Newman and myself attended the show at Bob’s Big Boy, scores of people discussed ambulances they remembered from Schafer, Goodhew, Professional and a variety of other ambulance companies that served in the Los Angeles area. Even more surprising was the fact that Linda Snyder-Smith, daughter of the late Harry Snyder (owner of Snyder Ambulance Service in Burbank) was at Bob’s that night for Burbank High School’s 50th reunion.
Even though 150 cars of all types were displayed in the parking lot of Bob’s Big Boy, all of the buzz that night surrounded the ambulances that Dean and myself had brought to the show. Classic car enthusiasts that were used to seeing vintage Ford, Chevy and Mopar products for years were blown away by the detail and quality of our restorations. You could truly say that are cars were one-of-a-kind and the interest and questions we got proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Of even greater benefit to Professional Cars International is the fact that we have established a real presence in the local circles of the classic and collectible car hobby. People know our name and they know our cars. Our reputation was initially based on the quality of our ambulance restorations and the respect that people have for paramedics and firefighters, my chosen profession. Once we were firmly part of these groups, it was easy to introduce the funeral car side of the equation. It didn’t take long for people to realize that an ambulance is nothing more than a hearse with a raised roof, emergency lights and a siren. The premise of a professional car is simple. It is designed to carry a body in a supine position, whether that body is dead or alive. In regards to an ambulance, a gurney is used to remove the patient and a cot bar is used to hold the gurney in place. In a hearse, a casket is used to remove the deceased, and bier pins are used to hold the casket in place. It’s all relative, and easy to explain when you have a captive audience.
More and more classic car clubs are also creating new categories for display and judging. Many shows and events are no longer delegating ambulances and hearses to the “unusual” or “special interest” categories. They are considered classic cars just like every other car that is there. As more of these cars show-up at local events, a fairly good number of them will receive awards, and more importantly, recognition.
One of the best examples of the gen-eral acceptance of professional cars as true classic cars occurs every year at our Summer Meet/American Heroes Air Show. When we first launched our participation in this event, only a few ambulances attended the show. Now it is the professional cars that lead the Rollin’ To The Rescue Code 3 parade that kicks-off the festivities every year with the sounds of sirens filling the air and the glow of red emergency lights.
And talking about publicity, we were prominently featured on the Los Angeles television show “Out and About With Roger Martin” highlighting the cars of Professional Cars International at our Summer Meet, and an interview extensively discussing PCI. You can’t buy that type of publicity, and our being on the show was the result of the producer seeing for himself the impact our vehicles had on the general public as we arrived to start the event.
Acceptance of ambulances and hearses has not been limited to just Professional Cars International. We’ve been hosting events for the past 15 years, and during that time we’ve had the good fortune of being joined by the Phantom Coaches Hearse Club, the Vintage Hearse Association and the Graveyard Mafia. Together all four clubs have gained acceptance among the classic car crowd and we’ll continue to expand our horizons by hosting the upcoming Guinness World Records attempt for the World’s Longest Hearse Parade tentatively scheduled for March.
Which leads me back to the original premise of this article. It is relatively easy to align your organization with like-minded people from other car clubs. Much like PCI has done in the past, we partner with other car clubs by sharing the costs associated with hosting the event, providing advertising to our 600 member base and developing press releases for the local media to get as many people to attend the venue as possible. The more cars, the more people. The bigger the event, the more attention you get. The more attention you get, the more credibility you establish with the public.
An even greater number of benefits come your way when you take the time to build relationships within the classic car show circuit. We buy tons of food, drinks and dash plaques for our shows, which, in turn, results in a number of corporate sponsors donating money to the cause because of the business you constantly give them. Nowhere has that paid-off better than our biggest corporate sponsor, the Burbank Holiday Inn Media Center. The discounts they give our guests on their rooms coupled with their willingness to donate their rooftop parking structure for our events is immeasurable. It is the perfect facility to host a major automotive event, and our guests love the service, value and view the hotel has to offer.
The hotel always given us the run of the building and the facility during an event; they host a party with live entertainment in their lounge for our guests; they provide free overnight parking for professional cars being displayed at our shows. This is a shining example of what a club can realize when they actively participate in the local classic car circuit because more people means more money to operate with. When you get such value for your dollars, you can afford to change less for registration fees. In the case of Professional Cars International, we have amassed so many corporate and private sponsors that our events are absolutely free to our guests. That includes refreshments, drinks, food, parking and dash plaques commemorating our shows.
Professional Cars International has become a strong participant on the classic car circuit. We are constantly branching-out in different directions to obtain the most publicity for our hobby, seeking opportunities to broaden our horizons in providing our membership more features and benefits than any other professional car club and providing a much more enjoyable experience for everyone that attends any of the events that we are hosting.
Hey, this hobby is supposed to be fun!