The show must go on – see you there!

Forget the queues – and the occasional overpriced can of pop – car shows have made a most welcome return in 2022. And Paul Cowland is very, very happy about that.

While the recent pandemic wasn’t exactly a bunch of fun, it did have one rather unanticipated benefit for the classic car community. When Boris told us to wash our hands and lock our doors, those who had a project behind the garage decided this would be the ideal time to get it out and get it done. Those who didn’t go and bought one. The myriad of companies that supply the various widgets and coils to make them work, or even work better, had a great day – with many, and I kid you not, reporting record sales in theirs all time ledgers. The scene thrived, with more cars being bought, repaired and cleaned than ever before, accompanied by the late-night aftermarket cash register ringing.

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Only one important ingredient was missing – car shows.

The old saying “You don’t know what you have until you lose it.” Has never been more aptly applied than at car shows. Funny how we all took them for granted before lockdown, isn’t it? But there’s nothing quite like denying something you crave so you want it even more. To that end, since we’ve all gotten back to “business as usual” in the show scene, I’ve been filling my journal and tank every week or so to make sure I’m enjoying as many as possible. The enforced break makes me even more grateful for the hard work of show promoters and organizers around the world.

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Apparently it’s not just me. When you take the time to chat with fellow enthusiasts at shows like Hagerty’s very own Festival of the Unexceptional, Radwood and the Hillclimb at Shelsley Walsh, and extravaganzas like the Goodwood Revival, it’s obvious there’s an almost insatiable demand to get involved Bring them together with other clan members, ideally just meters away from fried food, and discuss really important global automotive issues. After all, how are people supposed to learn that the easiest way to tell if an X300 model Jag is a 6 or 8 cylinder model is by the shape of its front turn signals? These are the crucial facts that the scene must share among themselves…

Besides the cars, for me at least, it’s the people who attend car shows that make them the most exciting days. If you want to only Look at beautiful machines, go to a museum. But if you want to see desirable and interesting cars and learn a fascinating backstory while making a new friend or two, then your next auto show is the best choice.

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This summer I met the most wonderful people. The lovely guy who had a great story to tell about cramming a 4AGE, 16-valve, twin-cam engine into his Toyota Tercel; the incredible heroic stories behind the saviors of many of the FOTU jewels and the efforts they have made to ensure otherwise scrapable vehicles do not meet an untimely end. Every car has an owner. And every owner has a story.

Don’t even start me with the cars and owners I’ve met at Radwood! The cinematic story behind the Turbo Technics-tuned Civic, the myriad drool-worthy Saabs and their restos, and the myriad “Where’d you find that?!” moments. It was a nine hour day that felt like it would go by in 15 minutes.

Cars are interesting in their own right, but the story behind each car is almost more fascinating than the machine itself. I’ve lost count this year of how many restoration photo albums I’ve flipped through with proud owners, collections and treasures on phones shown (to my great appreciation) and how much kind advice and tips I have given and received to enhance our collective knowledge. Wondering how this rearview mirror clip fits your car without damaging it? Chances are that the owner of the almost identical one on the showgrounds has already done this job. It’s amazing what you can learn just by taking a moment to say hello—and just ask.

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Of course, an added bonus of today’s car shows is the opportunity to actually interact with random people you feel you really connect with in the virtual world, perhaps via Twitter and Insta, and turn those digital friendships into real ones. I’ve been privileged to do this with several people who I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with online during lockdown, and as you might have guessed, they’re even more charming in real life.

As the 2022 show season draws to a close and many classics begin their winter SORNstice, many of us will start thinking about events we could attend next year. The greatest thing we enthusiasts can do for the scene we enjoy is support the hard-working – and often unrewarding – promoters, organizers and staff who create these mobile meccas where we petroleum pilgrims can worship together.

So sign up for these mailing lists, follow these show pages and we’ll see you on the lawns and streets of the UK’s best shows. If you want me, I’m either around the chip van or with the other E36 owners to figure out the best way to remove the aluminum C-pillar side trim without bending it.

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