The section of the calendar between November and March has tended to be a “dead zone” for big car shows in California, bracketed by the marque-oriented events of late fall like So Cal Vintage Bimmerfest and the Best of France and Italy, and the desert concours of early spring. With a good chunk of our business coming from pop-up sales at shows, this time of year can be quite slow at the Carriage House, so we went on the hunt for local events to warm up our winter. Luckily, we discovered a hidden gem only 55 miles from our home base: the San Juan Capistrano-CARE Car Show, which took place on January 31st. With a 6 a.m. vendor set-up call, we found ourselves on the road in the wee hours of the morning, arriving at the San Juan Capistrano Sports Park long before sunrise.
Information on the SJC-Care show was hard to come by prior to the event; we try to position ourselves at shows with a field of cars that align with the models we tend to favor (mainly classic sports cars, vintage racers, and exotics.) The few photos we could find online of past SJC shows indicated that this event might tend to draw cars more typical of the standard “community car show,” meaning lots of Tri-Five Chevys, ’60s Mustangs, and other various musclecars and hot rods…not that there’s a thing in the world wrong with that, it’s just not our focus. So, there was some hesitation in committing to working a show that might not be a good fit with our product. Thankfully, such fears would be completely baseless: the SJC-Care Car Show had an almost unbelievable variety and quality of cars, and we were welcomed quite warmly by the assembled crowd.
As we set up our booth in the first rays of daylight, cars began to assemble along Camino del Avion for entrance to the show grounds, our early suspicions seemed to be confirmed by an endless procession of billet-wheeled Chevelles, Chargers, and other American iron…until we heard the unmistakeable buzz of SU carbs coming up the block. The Southern California Triumph Owners Association was out in force, with an assembly of TR3s, TR4s, TR6s, and even a lone Stag as a counterpoint to all of the heavy hitters from Detroit. Alone, this would have been sufficient to satisfy our Eurocentric tendencies, but the best was yet to come!
Even in Southern California, for a “local” car show to attract a single Mercedes Gullwing would be cause for celebration. At the SJC-Care show, there were three (plus a 300SL Roadster for good measure.) Each was in breathtakingly wonderful condition so picking a favorite was difficult, but if pressed we’d go with the blue example pictured above (regrettably, we didn’t catch the owner’s name…well done, whoever you are.)
Another brilliantly presented Benz was Fred Hill’s pagoda-roof 280SL, which was displayed by Star Motors of San Juan Capistrano, the garage responsible for its upkeep. If this car is indicative of the quality of work done by this garage, a stronger endorsement would be unnecessary.
It would be negligent to ignore the quality of the many great American cars on hand, which ranged from a fantastically original 1919 Ford Model T racer to a factory-fresh Hemi Challenger. Of special note were a gorgeous gold ’67 Shelby GT500 and an incredibly clean 427 Corvette coupe, but best of all was this 1939 Ford Woody, which featured some of the most beautiful woodwork we have encountered on such a vehicle.
For us, though, the undisputed star of the show was Brian Mertz’s 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce. A bit of a hot rod, its spectacular sheetmetal hides a newer 2-liter engine and 5-speed transmission, as well as various other racy bits. Mertz acquired the car last April from a long-term owner, who used the car in long-distance touring events such as the Colorado Grand and the Copperstate 1000, both of which made good use of the car’s upgraded cooling system. Mertz also campaigns a ’65 Spider Veloce and a ’67 Giulia Sprint GT stepnose in vintage racing events, and to chat about cars with him is to understand the serene assurance that marks the true Alfisti.
All too soon, our time at the SJC-Care Car Show was over; we were sufficiently busy at our booth to preclude getting a better look at the hundreds of amazing cars on display. We came away with the sense that the organizers of this event (the San Juan Capistrano Rotary Club) might not know exactly how special their show really is. It is, first and foremost, a community event with a strong family atmosphere, made even stronger by a partnership with the Capistrano Animal Rescue Effort…dogs were welcome at the show, and every imaginable breed was represented by their proud human companions. But from the perspective of an auto enthusiast, the SJC-Care Show has all of the necessary ingredients to make the leap from being a really great “local” show (one of the best we’ve ever attended) to a true regional Concours. The cars attracted by this event were of tremendous quality, and the surrounding emerald scenery was truly incredible. Entry and exit from the show were smooth and painless (early set-up time notwithstanding) so it’s clear that the event staff are quite competent. With a location halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego and a calendar date pretty much all to itself, the San Juan Capistrano Car Show could easily attract even more top-level cars with the right sort of promotion. But whether the event makes the jump to Concours status, or whether it remains simply a terrific local event, we hope that Carriage House Models will be a part of it in the future!
For more photos from this event, please visit Carriage House Models’ Facebook page.
Parking On Grass is Desktop Concours’ irregular series on California’s vibrant car show scene. Occasionally, cars may not actually be parked on grass.