How to put on a local antique auto show

March 1, 2008 | By Stephen Side

Whether you own a vintage vehicle or are an enthusiast who doesn’t yet have a special ride, visiting a cruise-in should definitely be on your list of things to do during the coming warm months.

Each summer my wife and I travel about three nights a week to various locations to “show off” the 1930 Ford Model A Coupe that I restored from a bucket of parts.

When we go to a show or cruise-in, people stop by the car and my wife says that my head swells out of my hat with pride. On our hood we display a photo album that shows my step-by-step restoration project. People are normally amazed that my car started as a collection of old parts.

This, in essence, is what makes going to a car show so much fun. Not only can you show off your car, you get to see other restoration projects. And if you have something that is just not quite right with your vehicle, you may come across someone else with a solution that worked for them.

But what if there isn’t a good show in your area...or there just aren’t enough of them?

Well, last year we visited one that I think serves as a good example of a well organized, well-run community show where people were having a good time. Studying this one will get you started on the path to organizing and running a show of your event where your guests and you, too, will be reminded of why you got into this hobby in the first place.

Yellow 1955 Ford F-250
A special 1955 Ford F-250 is shown in action. Uncommon vehicles such as this one are bound to draw spectators as well as truck enthusiasts with questions.

Ingredients for a Good Show

Every show has its own merits—some good; some not so good. One of the places we traveled to last summer was Adams Center, New York, which I have to say was one of the best cruise-ins we have ever attended. We had heard that it was fun but the location was a little farther than we normally travel so we had never made the trip. But this time some of our friends were going, so we thought we would tag along.

Monster Car
At this show, the organizer’s “Monster Car” provides rides for the kids in attendance along with the occasional ride for some not-so-young “kids.”

Although we had gotten an early start, as we pulled into Ally Auto Sales, owned by Dan Hotis, we were surprised to see that several gorgeous vehicles already were present. There was a huge grassy area, large enough to accommodate close to a hundred cars, and people had already begun registering their vehicles and buying raffle tickets. Folding chairs littered the lawn and it kind of reminded me of an old-fashioned ice cream social. The band had already begun to play and the music was exactly what you would expect to hear for the time period of the vehicles in attendance. Next to the band was a classic 1940s pickup converted into a concession stand owned by Dave and Robyn Bartlett of Belleville, New York. The aroma of onions and peppers filled the air and a line of people had gathered. Homemade lemonade completed the meal and if you really wanted to stop the craving in that sweet tooth there was cotton candy as well.

1930 Ford Model A Coupe
The author’s 1930 Ford Model A Coupe, which he built from a collection of parts, keeps company with muscle cars and foreign vehicles at this show.

Dan had built a customized Monster Car for the kids to ride in and as the night wore on and the crowd increased, kids lined up for a ride in the tall, brightly colored car. Making it a family event definitely improved his attendance. Several people even brought their dogs. Dan’s fiancée Debbie was in charge of the 50/50 raffle and as she sold tickets she chatted with each person. I have heard that on certain nights Debbie takes a turn at driving the Monster Car for the kids.

As we strolled among the vehicles we chatted with everyone about their treasures. The photos of restoration projects were amazing and every car had a story. And if you were in the market to purchase a vintage vehicle, several people had cars for sale.

Q & A With the Organizer

Toward the end of the evening I had a chance to get Dan to one side and ask him about the planning and work that go into a successful cruise-in.

What made you decide to start doing cruise-ins?

I wanted to bring more people in to my car dealership and this was an enjoyable way to do it.

How did you get started?

Word of mouth, mainly. We also printed up flyers and took them to other car shows and had people pass them out for us.

So word of mouth and flyers is all you have done to get this going?

Yup. I put up a few flyers, handed out flyers to people who came to my show and had them take them to other shows and put them in cars and then it went from there. I wanted it on Monday nights. Not many people have much to do on Monday nights, so I thought that would be good. It has worked out great.

What is the first thing you need to do when organizing a show?

Well, secure a spot with plenty of room for lots of cars. If you do it right you will have a lot of vehicles. If you make it fun, more people will come each time. What kind of people attend your show?

We have tried to make this a family event. We do not allow alcohol. We encourage kids and we have a monster car to provide the kids with something to do and we do not charge for rides.

What else needs to be done?

Well, people love to talk and walk around and look at the vehicles. But we start ours early, at 6, so people who come right from work need something for dinner. You can either provide your own concession or hire it done. We booked Johnny D’s for the whole season. We don’t charge them anything.

Another thing is to provide good tunes. Some weeks we hire a band and other weeks it’s a DJ or a one-man show.

When you have a car show you need oldies music.

How do you pay for all of this?

We do a 50/50 raffle. Whatever we make off that we put toward the band. (Note: A 50/50 drawing means that the total pot is split into two parts: one for the winner and one for the sponsor.)

You do a lot of door-prize drawings. Is that something you do every week and, if so, where do you get the items?

Sometimes we buy some things. Sometimes we get vendors to donate items. Hats and shirts or buckets of car wash are always good items. People don’t mind donating’s good advertising for them. We have the DJ or band give them a plug or two. We always have enough to do several drawings each week.

Do you put much of your own money into this?

Well, there are nights when attendance is low, due to weather or other things going on and we may take a hit. Then there are other nights when attendance is great and we make over what we pay the band and we put it away for other nights. We normally break even, but sometimes it costs me a little. I don’t mind, though, I enjoy the people.

What are some of the oldest and nicest vehicles you’ve had?

A ’68 Camaro, ’69 Mustang, ’29 Ford Coupe and a ’58 Edsel. They are all great, and some come that are not finished and it’s nice to watch them evolve.

Car show
An attractive setting will encourage people not only to visit your show but to unfold a chair, relax and stay awhile as well.

Something for Everyone

As we stood talking, people were going by and shaking Dan’s hand, telling him what a nice job he had done in putting the night together. Scanning the crowd, I saw some of the people were dancing...some were eating...some sat comfortably in their lawn chairs chatting with their neighbors, and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

Dan’s show seemed to follow the norm for many of the cruise-ins we’ve attended, but it isn’t always this way. My wife has a tendency to get bored easily. One tour around the cars and she is ready to go home. There have been shows that we have gone to that we haven’t stayed a half hour. Sometimes the music is so loud you couldn’t talk if you had to. Sometimes there is no concession and we leave and go eat elsewhere. But this particular show had it all so we stayed ’til the end.

Summing Up the Steps for a Show

  1. Pick a location and make sure it’s large enough to accommodate a large number of vehicles. Check on the insurance coverage to avoid problems. Normally, if it’s a business location you are safe. Also check with your local city hall to see if any permits are necessary.

  2. Check to see what would be the best time for an event. Talk to local car clubs and car owners to find out what shows are in your area so as not to book a cruisein on the same night as your neighbor.

  3. Advertise your event. You can make flyers and posters and place them at other shows or locations where they would be visible to the kinds of people you hope to attract. Attend other shows and hand out flyers to people in attendance so that they can pass them on to others. But be courteous. Introduce yourself to the organizers before you start distributing materials at their show, and don’t pass out flyers to draw people away from the cruise-in you are attending. You can also advertise your event in local newspapers to increase atten-ance. Sometimes they will let you put in a free news release to get things going. Contact the local media again after you get things rolling and have them attend. Extra coverage is always a good thing and it helps promote your business if the show is at your business location.

  4. Plan the night. Decide whether or not you are going to sell food and if you need to hire someone to handle the catering arrangements for you. If your location is a restaurant, have menu items available that people can take back to their car, along with providing someplace for them to sit and eat. Personally, IliketoeatwhereIcankeepaneyeon my car.

  5. Plan entertainment. If you are going to have music, keep it in line with the eras represented by your vehicles. If you are planning to have a series of car shows, make sure you book your entertainment in advance. I know that many of the shows we go to do a schedule for the whole summer.

  6. If your event is family oriented, make sure you have something to keep the kids entertained. Nothing makes people leave sooner than a bored child. If the kids are happy, mom and dad are happy. Happiness means they stay longer.

  7. Get door prizes. This is not a requirement, but most of the shows we attend give out door prizes. Another show that we attend gives each car owner a free ice cream cone. A 50/50 drawing is a must. This provides you with revenue that will help you pay for your events. Dan’s show did $1 a ticket, $5 for an arm’s length and $10 for a car length and you got to pick the longest car for determining the number of tickets you receive. Here again, check on local regulations regarding the operation of a lottery.

  8. Bathroom facilities. If you are at a location where there are no restrooms available, it is highly recommended that you secure restroom facilities of some sort. Most of the shows we attend have portable toilets available. And remember to keep the facilities clean so that people will be able to use them.

  9. Finally, the ticket to an ideal show is to mingle with your crowd and make everyone feel welcome. People love attention, so if you want them to return to your next event, be friendly. Talk to each attendee and get to know their names. Also, ask your visitors if there is anything you could do to make your shows better.

Find One...Or Start One

If you scour your local newspapers you will find that many communities boast at least one cruise-in. After all, whether you restore a vehicle yourself or buy it already finished, having a place to show off your most prized possession makes it that much better. So if you can’t find a convenient car show, create your own. If you start it...they will come!