EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 3, 2013

Old-school car show celebrates hot rods, muscle cars, big trucks

Flathead Ford V-8s don’t attract many “likes” on Facebook.

And hardly anyone ever tweets about flamed paint or ancient Fenton custom wheels.

Nonetheless, the old-school AutoRama cruises noisily along, offering a celebration of hot rods, customs, muscle cars and trucks — most of them from the last century.

“Digital is not relevant to shows like this,” said Dale Minnix, show director at Michigan-based Championship Auto Shows Inc., which stages 15 shows nationwide.

“You have to be there to see and get close to these cars to really appreciate them,” Minnix said.

Some people had expected custom-car shows to fade along with aging baby boomers, their primary participants.

“About 60 percent of our die-hard demographic is getting older,” said Pete Toundas, president of privately held Championship Auto Shows.

And while attendance today is not as great as in the ‘80s — a peak for many car shows — the 15 AutoRama and World of Wheels events last year attracted 732,000 people, officials said.

That’s an average of 48,800 per show, more than enough to keep AutoRama’s profile fairly high in the automotive world.

“They are a big part of our business, and my feeling is they will go on for another 53 years,” said Peter MacGillivray, vice president of communications and events at the giant California-based Specialty Equipment Market Association.

The shows have faced plenty of challenges over the last decade.

About 10 years ago, Toundas and other officials began to worry about what they would do as boomers aged.

“We were asking how this $50 billion (specialty-car) industry was going to reinvent itself,” Toundas recalled.

When the national economy collapsed in 2008, Championship dropped three of its shows, leading to more speculation about the future.

“We did not feel the economics for the shows were coming back,” Toundas said.

Then, last August, the CEO of Championship Auto Shows, Bob Larivee Jr., 61, died in Michigan of a heart attack. Larivee is the son of AutoRama founder Robert Larivee Sr.

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