Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed a shift in attitude at some car shows and events, and I like what I see. Doors are opening, literally.
When I first started going to car shows and even entering my car in them, it was with Corvette clubs in Texas. The cars displayed ran the gamut from Corvette’s long history. Cars fully restored to better-than-new condition sat next to brand new models and some so modified it was hard to tell what hadn’t been changed.
One behavior I saw consistently was the “look but don’t touch” attitude. Cars had signs on them, some cute, some threatening, advising people to stay away from the vehicle. Owners clearly spent a lot of time preparing for the show and didn’t want that ruined. I understood and shared the desire to not have a child wipe chocolate covered fingers on my windows, or worse. Being in Texas, having paint scratched by the ever-present dinner plate belt buckle was a real threat.
Years have passed, and I have attended hundreds of shows covering all makes and models with varied levels of seriousness. At the Concours judged level, the do not touch attitude is alive and well. Understandable since judges will ding an entry for the slightest cosmetic flaw. Also because some of these cars are, unlike those Corvettes back in the day, worth well into the six figure range. If you have a Concours level car, and that is your passion, you have sunk hundreds of hours into preparation and do not want someone to be careless with it.
Then there are the people with velvet ropes and obstacles set up to keep people a few feet away from their car. It’s one thing to not want people to lean on your car with riveted jeans, or jacket zippers, it’s another to physically block people from admiring it.
However, the attitude I see growing, and the one I have accepted myself, is much more open. The openness is not from a lack of concern over the vehicle, but rather the desire to be a good example.
Every car enthusiast has a moment, or a series of moments that cement their love of automobiles. My experience was heavily influenced by TV and movies of the 1980s and 1990s. But there were also occasional rides in cool cars from friends and relatives. Some of my friends were much wealthier than my family, and it wasn’t uncommon to find a BMW, Corvette, Porsche, or Jaguar in their garages.
I was also lucky to have an aunt and uncle who always had something much more fun than our family cars. There were a few Toyota Celicas and even a Pontiac Fiero, that to my adolescent view of the world was the coolest thing ever. These opportunities to look at and ride in “exotic” cars as a kid, paired with a natural desire to go fast, paved the way to a life long obsession with cars and motorcycles.
But what if I never had that opportunity; if my friend’s parents never gave us rides in their Porsches and BMWs? What if my aunt and uncle didn’t take me for rides in their cool cars? What if I went to a car show and every car had a sign that told me to go away? That doesn’t encourage and foster interest in cars.
I am not saying you need to let everyone climb over your cherished ride. Just be inviting, and observant of people when you are near your car at a show. Open the door, allow a child to sit in the seat, explain to them how things work or what the features are.
In a recent article by McKeel Hagerty on his company’s website, he summed this up with a great term, an “acorn story.” Instead of being aloof or standoffish, provide the acorn moment. You never know what will cause someone to fall in love with the automobile. But it’s much more likely to happen through kindness than a “No Trespassing” sign.
The next time you’re at a car show, or a Cars and Coffee, keep an eye out for families wandering around. If a kid shows an interest in your car, if you see the wide eyes of wonder and excitement. Be the one who asks if they want to sit in the driver seat, show them something cool about the car. Maybe they get some dirt on the floor mat, or the seat. It can be cleaned, it’s a car. Your gesture might be the spark that ignites that child’s love of cars, and sets them on the enthusiasts path.
I’ve been humbled by the generosity of many people in my life, and that has shown me I can do better. I’ve seen owners of literal one-of-a-kind, priceless cars usher kids into the driver’s seat to foster their enthusiasm. No car is exempt from these gestures, just owners. I know I’d rather be the acorn story for a future enthusiast, than a jerk with a clean car.