It's been said that hindsight is 20/20. If that's true, what eyesight do I need to see ahead? For decades, each of us has developed our own version of Superman's X-ray vision, and, in some unfortunate cases, myopic vision. My favorite enhanced vision comes by way of the crystal ball.
For starters, for me all of the superpowers I need are wrapped up in my very own crystal ball-the telephone. Nothing replaces picking up the phone and talking with rodders, builders, and manufacturers. Throw in the handful of summer events, indoor car shows, and hanging out with my car-club buddies (not as often as I would like), and you pretty much have my industry-based super X-ray vision.
Of course, any time I am at a loss, all I have to do is peck away on my coconut keyboard, and Hawaii-based Senior Editor Ron Ceridono will provide me with an opinion on any relevant (or irrelevant) subject! Sometimes he's right-I seem to recall him saying he thought the Hula-Hoop would be all the rage back in the summer of '57.
As far as what I expect to see that will really strike a cord with me during the summer of '08, right now I would have to say not much. But I am also sure that at about the time I become jaded, a car will knock my huaraches right off my feet. (For those who did not grow up in the Southland, huaraches are Mexican sandals and the really cool ones from the '60s were leather stitched over old rubber tire tread. Still have my pair from the summer of '67-wow, that was even too much info for me.)
My crystal ball efforts always begin at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. There's plenty to see in hard parts and a great deal of info to be had by talking to everyone. Next up is SEMA's Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council (MPMC). The general car enthusiast is probably not aware of, nor could he attend, this event, and yet he would thoroughly enjoy the MPMC. It's an automotive journalist tradeshow where we spend 20 minutes a day with 14 different manufacturers for three days. SEMA provides a list of nearly 100 aftermarket manufacturers from around the country months in advance. These are companies that are difficult for us to visit in person; we refer to them as "geographically undesirable." Everybody's voice is "spent" at the end of three days of nonstop information dissemination. Ye ol' Senior Editor Ron-the transplanted Bay Area Italian-and I have attended this event since its inception. I can also tell you it is the most intense three days we experience all year. It's not the Nats, Grand National Roadster Show, or the Detroit Autorama, but minute for minute, the MPMC is the best time we spend developing many of the story ideas you will read about over the course of the coming year. As for gazing into a crystal ball, the MPMC is about as good a barometer on what's about to be released, what's hot (and what's not), and what should make interesting reading as anything.
Another glance into my crystal ball reveals the indoor car shows. These are always good for judging the talent levels of the industry builders, budding builders, and just your average guy with unreal talent. However, the problem I see with the current direction of indoor car shows is the "how much is too much?" worry. I remember the car shows of the '70s, and it was rare indeed to find a car that won a major award that represented what was on the street. However, that all changed in the '80s and into the '90s as we began to see the same cars we would see at the indoor shows at regional or national events. Street rods were and still are kings of the indoor circuit. There can be no denying the incredible skill level on display or the deep pockets exhibited. And there in lies the problem with the current crop of indoor car shows. It should be mentioned that the car shows provide the medium, but it is the builders (via customers) who have opted to keep elevating the bar higher and higher, regardless of why they're doing it. I have always stated that these high-end cars are good for the hobby in that many new product ideas are developed, but we need to be exposed to real-world street rods as well.
I, for one, would like to see a car that really depicts what's happening in street rodding win a major award-a car you might see at an outdoor event ... and maybe even the owner would drive it. But, for now that seems to be more dream and than reality. Again, it isn't the show promoter's responsibility to bring these cars to the events; that falls to the builders and/or owners. What is the responsibility of the show promoter is to present an environment that is conducive for these cars to be shown. Event areas like the Grand National Roadster Show's Suede Palace and the Xtreme cars in the basement of the Detroit Autorama do well to cater to one end of the spectrum, but what about the cars that depict what is happening on the street? There needs to be more attention paid to the "hot rod" aesthetics as a car capable of winning the "big prize."
Last but certainly not least in my crystal ball-gazing are daily events and daily hot rodders. Now, that's where you find the real scoop. It has been my experience that I will see trends at the local Saturday morning cruise, or at a small local event even before I will see it at a national event. By the time it makes it to the magazines, the emerging trend is probably a year old-or more.
But, you have to start somewhere, so hang out with your buddies and attend local events if you want to know what will be the new "it" for the summer of 2008. You might just be amazed at how many fresh ideas you see.