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How to Display a Classic Car at a Car Show - Top Tips

Posted on 2019-07-10

Here at Volo Auto Museum, we know how fun it is to go out and show off your collector vehicle at a classic car show. Based on our years of experience working with vintage cars, we've picked up some ideas and tips for how to display your car at a car show. The essential part of any car show is to have fun, but it always feels good to win.

To put you at an advantage over the other cars at your next car show, we've compiled a list of classic car show display tips as a checklist to help you prepare for the competition. 

Preparing the Bodywork

The first thing on our show and display car checklist is the Bodywork. This is the first thing that judges are going to see. You want to ensure you are making a good impression on them by perfecting the appearance of your bodywork.

  1. Check for dents, scratches and rust: Though this might seem obvious, be on the lookout for dents, scratches and rust on your car, as blemishes will make it lose points with the judges. Whether or not you find a dent, you should take your vehicle to a body shop so professionals can evaluate it, tell you if they notice something you might have missed and complete any needed repairs.
  2. Look for missing components: Along with searching for dents, you should confirm all the essential parts — both exterior and interior  for your vehicle are present. If you notice you need to repair or replace any part, we'd suggest taking it to a body shop as well. Making small repairs or adjustments to your car can make a big difference with the judges.
  3. Modify the surface: Modification can be as easy as sanding down blemishes to making minor adjustments around the chassis, but it can also be more involved, like picking a whole new paint job for the car more on this in the next bullet point. Ensure the primer and paint will adhere well by smoothing the surface of your vehicle as much as possible.
  4. Choose your paint job: While you can decide to paint your vehicle yourself, it's probably better to go with a professional who will make sure you get show car quality. Do some research to see how other people have painted their cars to get some ideas about how you'd like to do it. You can even try to find cars that have previously won or scored highly to get an idea of what judges are looking for and what you like the most.
  5. Don't overdo it: Though you might feel like you have to add something to the car like a flashy decal or unique paint job, you don't have to do anything wild with your vehicle. Keep in mind, fully restoring a classic car to stock condition is going to be a crowd-pleaser and will win points with the judges.

Preparing the body work of a collector car for a car show

Preparing the Exterior

Like the bodywork, preparing the exterior of your car is crucial because it will also be making the first impression on the judges. You can have flashy decals and have given your vehicle a fresh wax, but if you haven't taken the time to wash your car, you're aiming to get written off early in the competition. A key principle for these car shows should be that you want to make your car look better than the day it rolled off the assembly line, so you'll want to give your vehicle a full cleaning.

If you want to stand out with your classic car display, don't think about taking your car to a car wash. Not only could it damage the value of your vehicle, but it could also dim the color of your paint job. One surefire way to make your car get lost in the crowd is to reduce the shine of your vehicle. To properly prepare your vehicle, you'll need to wash even the hardest-to-reach areas, paying attention to every detail.

  1. Use the best cleaning materials: While it might be tempting to use household cleaning products like dish soap or Windex to wash your car, you should not use them under any circumstances. At best, they will reduce the shine of your vehicle. At worst, they will damage the finish of your car. Only use cleaning supplies that are specially designed for cars.
  2. Clean under the hood: Often, cars at car shows will have their hoods up, so you'll want to prepare to have your engine compartment ready for display. You'll want to start at the engine because you don't want any dirt or debris to get all over the rest of the car's exterior after you've already washed it. In addition to cleaning the engine compartment, don't forget to clean the undercarriage of your vehicle, as judges will be looking there.
  3. Start at the top: After you finish cleaning under the hood and undercarriage, move onto the rest of your car, starting at the top and then working your way down, since you don't want dirty water contaminating areas you have previously cleaned. When you've finished washing the car, you will want to dry it off with a microfiber towel, as the minerals in water can erode your paint and cause streaks. Don't ignore the wheels, as this area will be the grimiest area of your car and will require some extra effort.
  4. Wax and polish your car last: Once you have thoroughly cleaned your vehicle's exterior, you can polish away any spots where grease, dirt, scrapes or scratches are still present. After using the polish, you will want to use wax, as it will provide protection polish can't offer. Spread the car wax on the vehicle, applying a thin, even layer to give the car a fresh shine.
  5. Bring cleaning supplies to the show: If you've ever wondered about what to bring to a classic car show, cleaning supplies are essential. Even if you ship your car to a show rather than drive it, you should bring along your cleaning supplies for both the interior and exterior to ensure you can be ready for any curveballs that might come your way. Bring a bucket, sheepskin or cotton chenille washing mitts or towels, microfiber cloths, waterless car wash, detail spray, glass cleaner — not Windex!  and chrome polish to make sure you're ready for anything.

Preparing the Interior

Even if your exterior is immaculate, you'll want your interior to match. Not only will judges be examining the outside of your vehicle, but they also will be looking to see how good the inside looks. To prepare your classic car display, you need to:

  1. Use the right supplies: Like the exterior of the car, you're going to want to use the right supplies to clean the interior of your vehicle. The cleaning supplies you need will vary based on the needs of the material used in your interior. A fabric interior will need a volatile cleaner, while vinyl will only need warm water and mild soaps. Do your research on your interior materials and what cleaners are designed for them.
  2. Clean from top to bottom, and front to back: Just like washing your exterior, you'll want to start at the top to avoid getting dirt or debris on a recently cleaned area. To ensure your windows are crystal clear, use a more specialized automotive glass cleaner that will leave the windows with a streak-free finish. Remember to check the sun visors and make sure they are spotless, as car owners often forget them before a show.
  3. Wash the carpet and floor mats: Once you've cleaned the rest of the interior, you will now be ready to clean the carpets. Begin by thoroughly brushing and vacuuming the carpet. After you've picked up the dirt and debris, use a foaming upholstery cleaner to scrub the carpet about one square foot at a time. You'll want to go the extra mile for the car show, so fluff the carpet pile with compressed air. Finish by drying the carpet.
  4. Don't forget the trunk: Before you finish cleaning the vehicle, remember to clean the trunk as well. Spend the same effort that went into cleaning the rest of the car's interior into cleaning the trunk. Don't leave anything extra in the trunk so yes, those shoes you've had in there for the last four years need to come out too.

Preparing the interior of a classic car for a car show

Preparing the Wheels

After you've cleaned the rest of the vehicle, you'll want to take the extra step with your wheels and give them some special attention. Your wheels are going to be a focal point of your vehicle. Making them look as attractive as possible is a car show presentation tip that will take your classic car to the next level.

  1. Optimize your wheels: Poor treads will not earn you points with the judges. Upgrade your wheels to make them stand out for judges and the audience.
  2. Change your towel: Since your wheels are going to be the dirtiest part of your car, when you are cleaning, use a fresh towel or brush to make sure you have the most effective cleaning tool possible.
  3. Clean the insides: It's easy to forget to the wheel wells and inside your tires. Take your wheels off of your car entirely to clean the insides thoroughly. Additionally, take the opportunity to clean your suspension components. Being this thorough may score you high points with the judges.
  4. Use a tire conditioner: Not only will a tire conditioner help your car on a practical level by preventing early tire degradation and aging, but it will also give the tires a fresh, jet-black look. Spray the conditioner in a circular motion around the well, so the tires end up shining, rather than streaking.

Presenting the Car

If you've taken all our awesome car show ideas into account, you should be ready to display your car at a show. With the car now looking its best, you can focus on the presentation. Below are some of our classic car show display tips.

  1. Provide an interactive experience: While the car should be at the center of your presentation, it's smart to have a display stand or table to complement your vehicle. Having a custom-made sign, owner's manuals or a brochure for the audience and judges will give them a more immersive experience.
  2. Design your sign: You don't have to follow any hard-and-fast rules for your sign's design. You can go basic and state the year, make, model and other features you think are relevant. Or, you can tell the story of the car, how you came to own it, what you did to restore it or whatever you think people should know. The essential part is that you share information that matters to you and that you would be interested in reading on someone else's sign.
  3. Keep it simple: Of all the tips for displaying a car at a show, the following might be the most crucial: Let the car do the talking and let the sign fill in the details. There's no need to feel like you have to create some elaborate set up for your vehicle. It might get your display more attention, but it could take away from the centerpiece of your exhibit: the car. Feel free to get creative with your exhibit, but make sure it all draws focus to the vehicle.
  4. Display the vehicle: When it comes to car show display ideas, you have a lot of options here, as you can choose to open the doors and hood along with positioning the wheels. The key to how you should display your car depends on your preferences and what you think will show off your vehicle best. A small tip: If you want to show judges you've done your homework and cleaned the undercarriage, you can place mirrors on the ground so judges can easily view the underside of your vehicle.
  5. Have fun: It can be easy to forget the fundamental goal of car shows: having fun. Even if your car doesn't win, you're going to see some impressive cars, meet other car owners and get to show off your car to others. Besides, if you're enjoying yourself, your display will reflect that and draw people to your vehicle.

Find Your Dream Classic Car Today

After reviewing these classic car show display tips, you should now be ready to take your vehicle to the next show fully prepared for whatever the competition might throw at you. Even if you don't win, by participating, you can pick up even better car show ideas from other car owners to use at the next show. Volo Auto Museum wishes you the best of luck, and we hope you'll come and see our collection of vintage cars one day.

If you're in the market for a new collector vehicle to take to a car show, we have an extensive inventory we think you should see. It's likely we have your dream car in stock, and we'd love to help in any way we can. Give us a call or contact us with any questions!

Find your dream classic car at Volo Auto Museum