The roar of vintage motors. The smell of exhaust. The shine of loads and loads of chrome. It’s officially car show season in Southwest Florida.
And Southwest Floridians love a good car show. According to Ron Torp, the president of the West Coast Muscle Car Club, last weekend’s ninth annual Cars on Fifth show drew an estimated 35,000 people to Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples.
If you missed last week’s show, don’t worry; the season is just getting into gear. Over the next few months, enthusiasts of the vintage, the valuable and the very unusual will have their pick of events to attend. Most of these shows benefit local charities.
The thing you need to know about car shows and the people that show in them, is that it’s very much its own culture.
“You see the same people week after week. From Marco (Island) to Naples to Bonita (Springs), it’s the same group of guys meeting up and getting to know each other,” Torp said.
But while the friendships are a great bonus to club membership, Torp said it’s hardly the only reason many club members get — and stay — involved.
“It’s the love of the cars and the thrill of seeing someone smile or give you a thumbs-up at a stop sign when you’re out in your car. That’s just really cool.”
This, of course, is a somewhat paltry payout considering the time, effort and money most car club participants sink into their cars.
“We’ll have guys who call us and say, ‘I happened to see your show last year and I would love to bring my car’ and they will trailer their car 1,000 miles to be in our show,” said Jerry Doner.
Doner is chairing this year’s 25th Annual Naples Antique Auto Show, which will be held in the parking lot of the Naples Depot.
And even if participants didn’t have to truck their cars hundreds of miles to get it to the show, Torp said before the show, most car owners are busy making last-minute preparations.
“We’re kind of an odd breed. We pay money to sit out by our cars for eight hours, and we spend hours the day before getting the cars ready for the show,” said Torp, who owns a 1937 Ford Cabriolet and a 1965 Corvette.
Before last weekend’s show in Naples, Torp spent several hours washing and waxing his Cabriolet, then vacuumed the inside and made sure the engine looked tiptop.
Doner isn’t completely in agreement with Torp that a car must be perfectly polished for show time. Doner has a 1927 Studebaker that is anything but buffed to oblivion.
“It’s in all original condition. People will say, ‘Jeez it’s kind of crusty, isn’t it?’ But that’s the way it looked when the previous owners stopped driving it. Some call that patina.
“In fact, it doesn’t even have to run to be in our show,” he said.
It does, however, have to be old. Many shows segregate cars by categories and the 25th Annual Naples Antique Auto Show, put on by the Naples-Marco Island chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America, requires all cars be 35 years or older and in original condition.
“It’s not that we hate hot rods, it’s just that they’re not legitimate for this show,” Doner said.
But hot rods are the mainstays of other shows in the area. And that’s a bonus of Southwest Florida having such a rich car culture. Whatever you’re looking for: Ferraris, Model Ts, muscle cars or just a little bit of everything, there’s a show where you can find it.
“Southwest Florida is great for cars, actually. The summer months, with all that humidity, are not great, but during the winter it’s ideal. The roads here are so much better than the roads up North with all their potholes.” Torp said.
He adds he does keep his classic cars in the garage during the summer, but he’s happy to have them out all winter. And he’s happy to sink entire Saturdays into sitting next to his car, talking to perfect strangers about it.
“You just get such joy about people coming up to your car and reminiscing about the cars they had or someone talking about a tech issue they’re having and being able to help them with it,” he said. “But our club’s M.O. is raising money for local charities, and that’s the real reason we’re out here.”
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UPCOMING CAR SHOWS
■ Southwest Florida Seafood Festival and Car Show: Live music, seafood, vintage and custom cars, visit by NASCAR racer Geoff Bodine (1 to 3 p.m.), 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 at German American Social Club, 2101 S.W. Pine Island Road, Cape Coral. Adult admission is a $5 donation plus a can of food, children younger than 11 are free with a paying adult. Information: www.matlachamariners.org
■ Car Cruise-In: Cool Crusiers Car Club show with DJ music and door prizes. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23 at Miromar Outlets, 10801 Corkscrew Road, (between the restaurant piazza and Lakeside), Estero. 239-948-3766
■ Blues, Brews and Barbeque: Live music, beer and barbecue sampling, and a West Coast Muscle Car Club car show. Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 at Ave Maria Town Center, Oil Well Road, Ave Maria. Free admission. 239-352-3903
■ Downtown Fort Myers Cruise-In: Free cruise night open to all bikes, cars and hot rods. 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 and every fourth Saturday at Downtown Fort Myers’ River District. 855-732-3836
■ Lorenzo Walker’s Cruise-In and Fly-In Pancake Breakfast: Breakfast featuring classic cars, airplanes and 10,000 military artifacts. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 2 at Naples Airport, 500 Terminal Drive, Naples. $10, adults and free, children younger than 5. Proceeds benefit the Lorenzo Walker Institute and Scholarship Fund. 239-377-0926
■ Vintage Car Show: Featuring pre-1970 cars. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 2 at Koreshan State Historic Site, 3800 Corkscrew Road, Estero, $5 per car. If you’d like to show your car, email firstname.lastname@example.org
■ 25th Annual Antique Auto Show: Sponsored by the Naples-Marco Island Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 16 at Naples Depot Museum, 1051 Fifth Ave. S., Naples. $5 suggested donation, museum admission is free. 239-262-6525
■ Naples Cruise-In: An all-car-club cruise event. 4 to 7 p.m. every Saturday from November through May at McDonald’s in the Kmart Plaza, 4245 U.S. 41 N., Naples. Free to participate and all kinds of classic cars, hot rods and bikes are welcome. www.naplescruisein.com