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Austin Healeys lined up at Parksville on Vancouver Island. (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)
Austin Healeys lined up at Parksville on Vancouver Island. (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)

Classic cars

Golden age of summertime car shows Add to ...

It’s almost a cultural cliché these days. The old cars roll in and park, their drivers set up their folding chairs or start polishing, the hot dog and hamburger vendors start cooking, someone puts on some Chuck Berry or Bill Haley, and people file in to gaze at vintage and classic automobiles.

The routine is repeated, literally, hundreds of times throughout the summer across Canada and the United States and, as a way to raise money, draw attention to your cause or just relax and reminisce, vintage car show and shines take some beating. Usually, there’s a charity fund-raiser involved: fighting cancer, raising money for hospital auxiliaries, providing funds for homeless, supporting animal shelters, you name it. If you like old cars, you get to ogle them to your heart’s content while doing some good in the process.

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In fact, we seem to be experiencing a kind of golden age for show and shines. Maybe it’s baby boomers trying to recapture their misspent youth, or a last hurrah and the realization that the internal combustion-engined automobile as we know it may be on the way out, but show and shines are everywhere these days and they cater to every conceivable taste in automobiles. Obsessed with Oldsmobiles? No problem, Oldsmobile owners met this summer in – where else? – Olds, Alta., for their annual get-together. Dig old trucks? Truck and tractor aficionados gathered in Roseneath, Ont., this summer for their annual bun-toss. High on Austin-Healeys? Well, those guys get together at the drop of a tam-o-shanter right across Canada.

In British Columbia, at the New Westminster classic car show and shine in July, more than 100,000 people showed up to check out the vintage iron and the main drag was closed from one end to the other to accommodate everyone. Similarly, organizers of one of the biggest cruise-in events in North America, the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit, which takes place this August, expect at least a million-and-a-half people to show up. Officials there predict 50,000 classic and custom cars – from around the world – will be parked along Woodward Avenue in the motor city.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. People that attend these events – and those that bring the cars – are getting older. At a recent, well-known B.C. show and shine I attended at the Minter Gardens, near Hope, there wasn’t an adult younger than 50 to be seen on the grounds. Grey heads everywhere you looked, and it was actually a bit unsettling.

“It’s true that spectators are getting older,” said co-organizer Erin Minter. “Younger people don’t seem to relate to these cars, which is kind of a shame, because they’re so hands-on and uncomplicated. We still get good numbers at our event, but the average age is definitely getting up there.”

Ditto, says Steve Plunkett, who hosts arguably the biggest classic car show in Canada at the Fleetwood Country Cruise-in, outside London, Ont. “There aren’t as many young people as there used to be.” he concurs, “These days, there are probably more computer geeks than car buffs. I wouldn’t say that this is the last gasp for vintage car shows, but the people are getting older.”

To help attract more spectators, Plunkett brings in musical acts such as Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Beach Boys, Fabian, and so on. He has at least 33 charities doing business at his Fleetwood show, and, in an effort to attract the younger crowd, has a “take a kid to the car show” promotion that is ongoing. “We are doing a real push for this,” he adds. “I want this event to be more than just another car show.”

This year, Plunkett had more than 3,000 cars on display, but even so, says his numbers were down this year – perhaps because of the lousy weather – and he figures that about one-third of the people that attend Fleetwood are die-hard car people.

Throwing another monkey wrench into the mix is the fact that younger car enthusiasts – such as they are – tend to be more interested in fancy wheels and high-powered stereos than high-boy Model Ts or ’55 Chevys – if they’re interested in cars at all.

Generation Y, for example, is notoriously indifferent to automobiles and some still use skateboards or bicycles as their main form of transportation – which, let’s face it, don’t really show that well. All these beautiful cars on display across the country? Says Minter: “In another 10 or 15 years, there’s going to be some real bargains out there,” because younger people just don’t care about them and the people that own them now will have gone to that big show and shine in the sky.

So break out the Turtle Wax, put on the Chubby Checker and enjoy them while you can.


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