What does it take to prepare the car for the show?

What does it take to prepare the car for the show?

by clay fee

While local auto show season generally runs from March to November, cooler fall weather brings with it some of the region’s biggest auto shows as classic car owners who avoid the sweltering summer heat return with their classic rides. In fact, Sapulpa closed the book at the largest auto show plaza on Route 66 Blowout, where nearly 400 cars lined the streets of downtown Sapulpa. The coming weeks will see other big local fall festivals with big car shows, like the upcoming Mounds Car Show and Wewoka Sorghum Day Car Show.

As people drive around an endless selection of classic cars, many may be wondering what it takes to set up a show car for the field. In some ways, there is more work than one might expect, and in others, there is less.

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Mud fee, with his 1966 Chevrolet Corvette, which won third place in its class in the blast.

Of course, the starting point for any pre-show car is the car itself. There’s an old adage about some things that can’t be polished and that’s true for cars too. If a car didn’t have a good paint job, a relatively clean engine compartment, and an interior that wasn’t some kind of Disneyland for ferrets, the car would never be a true show car, no matter what elbow grease was spent on it.

Assuming the car has these things, it’s simply a matter of cleaning it. Most of the cars one sees at local auto events are regularly driven, at least to local shows and cruise nights, if not more. Cars are built to drive and only “trailer queens” – cars that are transported to events on a trailer and are rarely driven – are the ones that don’t need to get rid of road grime.

However, until shown cars being driven are generally kept in a covered area protected from the elements. Some car owners go to the extra step of snuggling their ride under the hood and others don’t, fearing that, over time, the hood and inevitable dust will combine to soften the paint.

Covered or not, the first step in preparing the car for a show is simply to check the battery, fluids such as oil and coolant, and remove the car from hibernation. The vehicle must be started and allowed to warm up. In fact, a vehicle must be operated regularly regardless of whether it is destined for a show or not, for no other reason than to allow fluid flow and keep the seals moist to prevent leaks.

After the car is out and running smoothly, the next step is a good wash. Some owners start with high-pressure water to blow dust before moving on to using soap to wash dirt off finish and glossy work like fenders and emblems. The car is then quickly dried with a high quality natural chamois preferably in the cool morning and out of the sun, so the car can be finished before the water droplets dry, causing water spots to be difficult to remove. Always start drying the car with large, flat vertical surfaces such as the hood, top, and trunk lid, as they will dry faster.

When the car is good and clean – and only when it is completely clean – some owners prefer to add a layer of wax. The car should be free of dirt and grime before waxing, as the process of applying and removing the wax will grind the dirt into the paint and cause it to dull. The areas around and under the pot emblems on older cars are notoriously difficult to remove, so special care or removal of the emblem itself may be necessary.

The final step in cleaning the exterior is a good application of chrome or brasso paint to the fenders and other glossy work to remove bugs and dirt and thoroughly clean the chrome. Steel wool can also be used for insects that will not leave the vines. Tires can be scrubbed and cleaned with a 409 or similar product and a good stiff brush.

As soon as the exterior of the car has been cleaned and, if necessary, waxed, the interior should be vacuumed and wiped from dust. Interior vinyl areas can be wiped down with a good protector such as ArmorAll, being careful not to apply the product to surfaces such as the pedals or steering wheel, as these products can be slippery.

Once these steps are completed, the vehicle can then be driven to the showroom, where the final steps of preparation for the show are done. These final steps involve applying ArmorAll or another tire gloss to the tires, to give them a sleek new look. Finally, the car can be sprayed with a pre-setting spray that prevents dust and adds a final shine to the car’s finish.

Preparing a car for a show can be a lot of work, but it’s always a labor of love. Classic car owners enjoy the job, and in the process become intimately aware of every inch of their vehicle, occasionally alerting them to approaching finish or chrome issues, as well as helping to identify new dings or damages that need to be addressed.

Next time you’re at a car show, consider all the hard work that goes into preparing these great vehicles for the show, not to mention the incredible time and expense involved in getting a classic car back. The end result of that hard work is a clean, well-appointed classic car to delight the crowd, and one piece of the field of view that makes all the small-town festivals across this great state the successes they always have been.


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