An interesting side occupation to being a motoring journalist is being invited to judge car shows. I didn’t expect to be doing this when I signed up for the job. At first I was hesitant because despite the knowledge I have about cars, I wasn’t sure what the qualifications were to judge and assess other cars. I felt there was surely to be bias on my personal taste.
During my first judging stint at a Bumper to Bumper car show years ago, I compared notes with the other judges, just to see if my idea of a show-winning car was on the same page as theirs. The other judges were a lot older than I am, one even part-owned a famous restoration shop. I was relieved when the cars I gave high scores to were also given similar marks by my fellow arbiters.
Since then I’ve been more confident in judging cars. After being exposed to hundreds of cars in car shows, seeing the really good cars in contrast to the seriously awful cars gave me a better idea of the factors that distinguish them.
So here’s what I’ve learned so far. Be warned, some of these suggestions are based on my personal preferences. These tips are not guaranteed to help your project car bag a prize, but I’m sure they won’t hurt. But I’ll give you my best advice right now: Don’t try to make a winning car, just build the car that you want, the best way you know how--history will take care of the rest.
1. Make sure your car is clean – I only have a few minutes to look over a car, so like the deodorant commercial said, first impressions last. It’s forgivable if your everyday car gets dirty once in a while, Metro Manila is a dusty metropolis anyway. But you’re entering your car in a contest, it should be spotless. No, it should be shining, shimmering and splendid.
2. Watch over your car – This is a practical request because usually the engine and the interior of a car are included in the criteria for judging. If no one is attending to your car, I don’t want to try opening the doors to look at the inside. At the very least have a friend or a bantay watch over your car while you’re ogling booth babes. Practical reasons aside, I give higher points to those who stand by their car and explain their modifications to me. It shows they’re serious about joining the contest. More importantly, it signifies how proud they are of their car.
3. Presentation matters – Some owners raise their car to display what they’ve done underneath. Some make signs that list down the modifications the car underwent. Others simply put a banner with the name of their car club or their shop. This is not a requirement. I’ve given high points to one owner who simply sat beside his bare Civic EK that had a mesmerizing blue paint job. But I appreciate the effort done to highlight their car display.
4. Don’t overdo your car – I’ve seen entries with emergency lights, neon lighting inside, and even a deposed presidential seal. I laud the effort, but I flunk the score. Tackiness doesn’t score high on my chart.
5. Choose a consistent and feasible theme – I noticed cars often have themes: the JDM look, Euro look, Hello Kitty look, animé inspired, and so on. I try not to judge personal motifs as long as they do it consistently and it’s well-executed. I saw one car that had a Playboy motif but the inside was lit in a sleazy, red hue. It didn’t take me long to judge that car.
6. Don’t leave junk in the trunk – This is related to keeping the car clean. Sometimes when I peer inside car interiors or look at the trunk, I see items like t-shirts and cleaning materials. It just gives me the impression of being unprepared. If you want to win, details like this are important.
7. Try to come up with something new – If you’ve ever been to car shows it’s always a sea of Hondas. I think they’re fine cars (we own one), but choosing a popular model gives you less chance to stand out. I’ve given high points to some Hondas that are modified tastefully, but sometimes when I encounter Honda Jazz after Honda Jazz it becomes challenging to separate the characters of the cars. And cars with generic characters rarely win contests.
8. An expensive car is not a guarantee – Maybe your entry is a cool car, and maybe you did work hard to pony up for a pricey car rather than spend it on modifications, but a stock expensive car doesn’t reflect your creativity. With cars that have many similar models (see above entry), creativity goes a long way.
9. Pick good color coordination – Go to a good paint shop and choose colors that complement each other. Have mercy on our retinas.
10. The car should still be operational – Car shows may be contests of creativity and far-out concepts, but they’re still automobiles with the ability to transport us from point A to B. If after being fitted with Lambo doors, suicide doors, a split hood, and speakers in the head lights, I see that the car’s ability to be driven on the street is compromised I give it low marks. Maybe this is just me, but a car that can’t transport people properly has lost its sense of purpose.