If you had attended Darryl Starbird's 50th annual National Championship Exotic Car Show in Wichita, Kansas, then you would have seen the secret to the show's longevity.
At the end of the three-day show, and after all the trophies were given out, the last thing Starbird did was stand on the awards stage and bring out, one by one, every member of his extended family (including grandkids) to thank them for standing behind him while he and his wife, Donna, road the car-show roller coaster these past five decades. It was a poignant and touching moment where one of the most famous customizers of all time showed the public that he was thankful for what he's gotten all these years.
But during each day of the event, it was the people-some of whom had attended many of the past 50 shows held in Wichita (or had been a part of one of the other hundreds of shows Starbird has produced in other cities during the same time frame)-who were the grateful ones. And many took the time to walk up to Starbird and tell him how much he and his shows have meant in their lives over the years.
Most folks started off by saying, "I was in your 1976 show in Tulsa," or, "I've got this car that I think was at your 1964 show," and Starbird quietly listened to everyone's memories and then thanked them for attending the show. It was in 1957 when he held the first Wichita event-a few years before he would become known as the "King of the Bubbletop" with his Predicta and other show vehicles.
At one time, Starbird ran 15 different car shows per year (one of them being the famed Grand National Roadster Show in Oakland, California), but nowadays he's content with running two big shows, Wichita and Tulsa (the latter celebrating its 43rd anniversary in 2007), hosting the 6th Merc/Deuce Reunion (in May 2007), and organizing his Hall of Fame outdoor car show held at his custom-car museum in Grand Lake, Oklahoma.
But you can't have a show without the cars, and more than 400 of them showed up to fill three gigantic rooms in the Century II facility in downtown Wichita. Starbird, the consummate promoter, filled all three days of the event with live entertainment (from live bands to a bikini show from the Texas Bikini Team), pinstriping shows with world-famous artists, big-screen celebrities, as well as legendary customizers, and, finally, the most bubbletopped cars ever displayed in one show.
It's a challenge to put together a show where everyone comes away happy because promoters like Starbird don't believe in the old adage, "You can't please everybody." To that end, he filled the downtown convention center with every possible version of a custom vehicle, with cars and owners coming from far and wide to attend.
There were two large rooms with enough for the "regular" car-show attendee to see, with numerous examples of cars from the '30s through the '60s, but it was the center room that had that little extra something. First off, there was a large display of some of the vehicles Starbird had created over the years, including the newly refurbished Predicta. The Predicta, originally built in only 11 weeks in 1960 out of a '58 Thunderbird, is the car that put Starbird on the map. From there, he continued to build more bubbletop vehicles (including the Forcasta, Illusion, and Cosma Ray) and other specialty vehicles (such as Cecil the Diesel).
The center room had a good many of Starbird's classic creations, but also a new group of vehicles inspired by Starbird's past vehicles built by today's builders. And, if you like bubbletop cars, this was the place to be, as it was the largest-ever display of them in one place.
A long table was set up along the edge of the center room, and some of the most well-known customizers of all time were seated behind it. Bill Hines, Eldon and Jerry Titus, George Barris, and "Candy Apple" Joe Bailon were all on hand to sign autographs for the crowd, plus Starbird himself was set up at an adjacent table signing copies of his new book about his life and cars written by grandson Brice Bledsoe.
Wichita, Kansas, may be located near the center of the country, but it becomes the center of the custom-car universe for three days out of the year. For more information on the next show, any of Starbird's creations, or his museum, visit www.darrylstarbird.com.