Car Show Classics: Confronting My Biases at Indy Cars and Coffee

I try to take in a couple car shows each year.  Naturally, I enjoy walking among the cars. I also I love to load film into one of my old cameras and make the cars my subjects. I especially like to move in close and capture details, as on this Porsche Speedster.

Was that Speedster ever photogenic! I could have made it the subject of a whole roll of photos.

For this outing I got out my Canon AE-1 Program. If you’ve ever owned one of these, you know it’s a fine and capable camera. But I seldom use it. I reach for one of my Pentax SLRs much, much more often. Or maybe one of my Nikons. I collect film cameras, you see. I own far, far too many — more than 100 at last count – and storage has become a real problem. I’m shooting them all one more time and getting rid of the ones that don’t sing in my hands. This day, it was the AE-1 Program’s turn – and while it functioned flawlessly, it didn’t sing like my Pentaxes and Nikons do. This was its last outing with me; I’ll sell it on. For the other film photographers in the audience, I used the pictured 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD lens for these shots. I shot Agfa Vista 200 film, but set the camera to ISO 100, as this film’s colors look best at one stop of overexposure.

This monthly show, Indy Cars and Coffee, is casual: to show your car, just drive it over and park it in the lot. Even though the show is sponsored by a company that deals in exotics, it’s open to any car. So all kinds of cars were here this day, and it was common to see them moving around under their own power. Like this Thunderbird.

It brought out people from all walks of life, from rich kids in expensive clothes and precise haircuts who packed up to revel in the wealth that let them buy exotics, to everyday people who kept a classic.

That brings me to my favorite car of the day: this Firebird. It was in rough, original condition.

The young owner came upon me crouched behind his car’s rear flank and expressed his embarrassment over the rust I was photographing. Oh no, I assured him: the rust is what made me love it. I told him that when I was in high school in the early 1980s, the parking lot was full of Firebirds and other cars we consider classics today in just this condition. The fellow told me he worked construction and that this was his daily driver. He hoped to restore it one day. I gave him props and said was perfect now.

I fully felt my reverse snobbery, however, as I observed the roving gang of wealthy twentysomethings basking in each other’s very expensive cars. Having the means to buy something so expensive doesn’t say anything about you except how large your bank account is! And I just don’t feel any respect for that.

My longtime friend Steve had a Porsche for a few years. He invited me into the shotgun seat a time or two and those rides were just lovely. But Steve wasn’t trying to be a member of any exclusive club. He was just a man who had always wanted a Porsche and had, in middle age, earned the means to buy one. When I was young I assumed guys like Steve were just trying to reclaim their lost youth. But now that I’m middle aged, I see that this is the age where a man’s career might finally have done well enough to let him afford his youthful dream car.

I’m unlikely ever to buy a Porsche, let alone some far-flung exotic. This is more my speed. I’ve been charmed by these since they were new. I got to drive one a couple years ago when one of the founders of the company I worked for took me to lunch and tossed me the keys to his. My manual-transmission mastery impressed him. That car was just plain fun to drive. (I took photos; I’ll write it up here eventually.)

Logically, I know that both those rich young men and guys like my buddy Steve just bought something they both wanted and could afford. It just seems more noble to me to buy something your hard work has let you earn. Look – my blue-collar roots are showing.

Which brings me to this Lamborghini. You might remember that I shared an in-traffic photo of it in a recent post. The only thing I know about its driver is that he graduated from my alma mater, as his license plate attests. Props to him for driving it. I suppose that’s what everyone who showed their car here has in common, regardless of their economic background: they drove their cars in. No trailer queens here, not today. I respect that.

This Chevelle? Driven to the show.

This Corvette? Driven to the show.

This…whatever this is? Driven to the show. Actually, since I saw it here, I’ve seen it on the mean streets of Zionsville, the Indianapolis suburb in which I live, several times. But even this is one of my biases: why own a classic or exotic if you don’t drive it? Yet I know that you can do whatever you want with your car. Drive it, trailer it, keep it locked away where nobody can see it, firebomb it. It is, after all, yours.

I’ll wrap with this, my favorite photo of the day, and just express gratitude to this group of classic- and exotic-car owners for bringing their cars out where others could enjoy them. I had a great time this morning.