Getting Your Classic Car Ready for a Car Show

Now and then, you may have the privilege of seeing a classic car out on the road.

It’s an unmistakable sight because most modern-day cars look alike, but a classic car boasts a shape unlike anything else.

And if you’re a classic car collector, then you know precisely the type of work that goes into keeping them on the road.

That’s probably why so many collectors look to register for classic car shows: Once they transport their cars there, they can meet like-minded people, admire other models they might not see too often, and even win prizes depending on the car’s condition.

What is Considered a Classic Car?

Before we get into the definition of classic cars, it’s good to address that many people confuse “classic” and “antique” with one another.

Picture highlighting the differences between antique and classic cars

Image Source

Antique cars are generally over 40 to 45 years old, while a classic car is at least 20 years old but no more than 40 years old.

Depending on who you ask, the official definition of a classic car varies: According to the Classic Car Club of America, a classic is a “fine or distinctive” automobile built between 1915 and 1948. Meanwhile, the Antique Automobile Club of America says a car is a “classic” if it’s over 25 years old.

However, many state motor vehicle laws will have their own set of rules regarding what qualifies as a classic car. For example, Montana law says that a vehicle must be at least 30 years old to count officially.

What Is a Car Show?

A car show, also known as an auto show or motor show, is a public exhibition of specific car models, ranging from debuts, concepts, or most popularly, classic and vintage vehicles.

Some of the most significant cities for annual car shows are the “Big Five,” including Frankfurt, Geneva, Detroit, Paris, and Tokyo. Within the United States, there are plenty of other types of car shows all over the country, with some being:

  • Classic car shows: These shows specialize in classic and vintage cars that have been restored and modified.
  • Racing festivals: Dedicated to the non-professional drivers, car enthusiasts can see what it’s like to truly sit behind the wheel of a race or sports car.
  • Trade shows: Car manufacturers set up trade shows are set up to display their new models or concept cars, which may give attendees a look at new automotive technology.

Picture of an infographic titled 3 types of car shows

Image Source

No matter the type, car shows draw millions of people each year, including industry representatives, dealers, journalists, and fellow enthusiasts.

How Do I Get My Car Ready for a Car Show?

With more than 65 major auto shows across the United States, it should come as no surprise to learn that the classic car market is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years.

Although entering a car show is all about the enjoyment that comes from meeting other classic car enthusiasts, it can be hard to have your car stand out when there’s plenty of stiff competition.

So if you plan to enroll your car in a car show, here are some essential car show presentation tips that you should consider before you get the wheels moving.

Step #1: Make Sure It’s Mechanically Sound

Maintenance is the most crucial (and sometimes tedious) thing you can keep up with as a classic car owner. Sure, you might keep it clean and out of the elements most of the year, but if you don’t tend to its mechanical needs, you’ll have a hard time getting it to start when the time comes.

Throughout the year, be sure to maintain your classic car through:

Regular checkups

Although many classic car collectors prefer to do their work, you still need a qualified and trusted mechanic to check on your car. Your mechanic will identify any essential adjustments or repairs so that there are no significant issues down the line.

Consistent cleaning

Regularly cleaning and waxing your car is essential when keeping alt, grime, dust, and even insects out and away. Find the time to wax your vehicle and hand-wash it every six months. This way, you’ll have less catching up to do when you’re preparing the car for a show.

Pumping the brakes

If your car is sitting in the garage, it’s essential to pump the brakes every so often. This will help keep them in good condition and prevent them from squealing due to non-use.

Driving it regularly

What’s the point in having a classic car if you can’t show it off? After all, around 52% of car collectors love to drive their vehicles as often as they can. Taking it out for regular rides won’t only grab the attention of passersby but will also help keep your engine running correctly.

Step #2: Focus on Interior and Exterior Touches

Perhaps the most important part about getting your classic car ready for a car show is its appearance — which means both interiors and exteriors.

You’ll want to start by either getting the car professionally cleaned, but if you’d instead do the expert touches yourself, then you must cover all bases, starting with the inside.


For the interior, you’ll want more than a simple layer of protectant. This will only make the car look new for a short amount of time, whereas the right cleaners and protectants combined will yield the best, long-term result.

Remember that leather should never look shiny since that means the pores are clogged and dirty. Fabric interiors should be conditioned appropriately and vacuumed clean, all in one direction.


You should do the cleaning in stages for the exterior, from the dirtiest jobs to the gentlest.

This means beginning with engine degreasing, wheel cleaning, washing, polishing, and waxing for most cars. Use a sponge with a rinse bucket to clean off the sponge between soap reapplication to avoid swirls and scratches.

Lastly, don’t forget the engine and undercarriage. These are indeed spots you don’t necessarily look at first, but the judges at the car show will.

Final Touches

Lastly, wash the car with a car-specific cleaner and a sponge that is designed for automotive finishes. Try to work in the shade and from the roof down to avoid any sun stains or impurities in different directions.

When it’s time to dry, use chamois leather or a microfiber towel, applying one last layer of tire dressing when the tires are completely dry.

Step #3: Have Your Car Properly Delivered to the Car Show Location

Every year—sometimes all year long, depending on where you go—there are car shows that attract millions of people from all over the country.

Think of the Dream Cruise, held on Woodward Avenue in Michigan, which is home to more than 25 thousand cars every year. Or even the Back to the 50s Weekend at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, which hosts 12 thousand classic and restored vehicles.

Or perhaps you’re more partial to Cruisin’ the Coast, which takes place along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, starting in Bay St. Louis and ending in Pascagoula.

But unless you’re a nomad, you’ll need to get your classic car to and from these hot spot locations. The last thing you want to do is add unnecessary mileage or wear and tear to your vehicle (especially after you spend time and money fixing it up!).

That’s where classic car shipping services can help: You can choose from a covered or non-covered trailer that will pick up your car and safely bring it to whatever destination you desire. It’s best to choose a company that has the same passion and expertise in classic cars as you do since they’re more likely to treat your vehicle with the utmost care it deserves.

How Do You Judge a Car Show?

When it comes to car shows, there are a couple of different types you might register for. In other words, the level of seriousness is often a contender before people decide to sign up.

For example, you might sign up for a participant-judged car show, which is casual and less technical, or you might opt for a professional-level car show, which is formal and uses a special rubric-style score sheet.

Picture of a car show judging form

Image Source

While cars are being judged, the judges cannot communicate with each other so that no one person can sway another’s opinion. In most cases, judges are instructed to look for an excellent car—not a perfect one. With that being said, judges will look for:

  • Original documents
  • Cleanliness
  • The engine
  • Body condition
  • Interior condition
  • Originality
  • Unique features, if applicable

Quick Tip: It’s essential to triple-check your car show’s rules and regulations. Some showrunners are very particular about the way cars are displayed. While many judges will kindly remind you about adhering to small rules—like proper signage placement, for example—it’s always best to arrive prepared and ready for the show.

Can You Win Money at a Car Show?

You can win money at a car show, with some top prices climbing into the tens of thousands. However, these prizes are rare, and most car shows usually offer awards like trophies, plaques, and accolades.

You’ll find that car shows will typically charge an entrance and registration fee, which will likely fund the event for food, tenting, music, key speakers, and smaller-scale door prizes.

Remember: Although it’s a great feeling to be a winner, a car show is designed to be enjoyable.


A classic car show is a fantastic way to meet other car enthusiasts from all over the country—but when you decide to enter a show, it’s vital that you follow the rules, criteria and that your car is adequately prepared through:

  • Consistent maintenance throughout the year
  • Interior and exterior work
  • Safe and on-time delivery to any car show in the U.S.

On-time delivery is essential if you plan to enter a car show far from your home because you don’t want to add mileage or damage your car. Classics are already expensive to keep up with, and the last thing you want is an issue to arise as you’re driving it across the country.

The good news is that Guardian Auto Transport specializes in all-things classic car delivery: As one of the highest-rated car transport companies in the United States, you can rest easy knowing that Guardian has got your back and your classic car protected all the way.