Somewhere around the early nineties, I made my way over to Del Mar, CA, for my first car show. It was Import Showoff, and I remember being excited at the fact that I'd be spending the afternoon gawking at a custom Integra or two, or maybe drooling over a heavily modified Civic. Sure, there would no doubt be other types of cars attending, but my interest at that time was solely vested in the big H. As we arrived at the event and drove through the gates, I couldn't believe my eyes. A line that couldn't have been any less than a few thousand people stretched from one end of the parking lot to the other. At the time I had no idea there were that many people even interested in imports, and it completely changed my perspective. Living in my little world, it never crossed my mind that there were plenty of cars outside my town, and beyond Turbo and Sport Compact Car Magazine. Though it took quite some time, we eventually found a parking spot and proceeded to break out the camcorder (which, at that time, was about the size of a minivan) to record the cars in the parking lot as we made our way toward the ticket line. Cars we'd never seen before from Los Angeles and surrounding cities completely blew our minds as we'd only been exposed to local cars on street race night.
After an hour or two in line, we were eventually admitted into the building. I was finally face to face with cars that I'd only heard or read about. A few of those cars were so inspiring that they've stuck with me to this very day. Ron Bergenholtz brought out his immaculate DA for display, and I remember it being one of the very first to encompass every aspect of a complete showstopper. Exterior and interior upgrades, a sick turbo setup, audio- this car had it all. Another car that I could never get enough of was the Junior Asperer built Civic hatchback. The amount of work and detail that went into this car was out of this world, and I mentally picked it apart for over an hour the first time I ever saw it. If you could somehow take that turbocharged masterpiece and transport it to the present, it would tower above most current EF builds. He was that far ahead of his time. Show car or not, both those guys ran circles around much of the competition at that time, on the quarter mile strip, and the auditorium carpet.
As the years added up, more and more car shows were hitting both sides of the nation, and everywhere in between. The import movement was booming, and people simply couldn't get enough. Sold out events, even longer lines, and hundreds of competitors at every show was proof that we had arrived. In those days, drag racing and car shows seemed to have no problem co-existing. In fact some of the very best show winners were drag race projects pulling double duty. With so much hype surrounding the industry, new show promoters stepped up to the plate and the event schedule grew even larger.
At this point, there aren't too many import shows still around. Import Showoff Del Mar was one of the largest, and living in San Diego, I know that locals would always look forward to the event when it came to town. Unfortunately it no longer exists, along with Chinatown Showoff, and Showoff Classic. This year, the Showoff group has announced that 2009 might be the final year for the always highly anticipated Nisei event. Other shows like HIN and Autofest have scaled back their tours as well. The first time I saw a Moto-X event, skateboarding ramp, and remote-controlled car race at an import show, I was convinced things were headed downhill.
So What Gives?
Is it the economy or lack of sponsorship interest? Perhaps, but I'd bet it has something to do with two major factors that most don't bring up when discussing this subject. The first is the internet message forums and blogs. Everyone takes part in online automotive communities, and just about every car ever built has been posted online, reposted, quoted, and then reposted some more. When it comes to an actual show, the interest isn't quite as big because the cars have all been seen numerous times from every possible angle. The other possible factor revolves around street-level meets and gatherings. You've got a tight knit community full of people who, whether they admit it or not, want to show off their cars. Most of them are turned off by shows because of the stigma that surrounds show cars. The result is complacency based on infinite access. You want to see some nice cars in person, go to one of the monthly, or even weekly meets in your area for free. Want to check out the next big build? Log on and click around the forums for a bit, and you're bound to find something.
Times Have Changed...
If this were 1994, it wouldn't matter, because back then, there wasn't much out there for the average import enthusiast, so you took advantage of every possible opportunity to be around other cars. These days, you don't need to wait 6 months for the next big thing because it's always available. But as they say, all good things must come to an end unfortunately. News of Import Showoff throwing their final show has been circulating for some time now. Whether it's true or not, I'll definitely be there to show support, and I hope you will too. A huge thank you goes out to Ken Miyoshi and the Import Showoff staff that helped to push the import market, and more importantly the Honda community, into uncharted waters. You guys did a great job over the years, and I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for a triumphant return.