In which the author gets Loopy about his Return to Renton.
by Mike Smith
I attended the current annual Renton Car show a couple of weekends ago, an event dubbed “Return to Renton.” And they did in droves. The exhibitors drove in riding their passions. The spectators droved in on foot. There must have been a couple of hundred cars at one time as the parking lots and all the streets were full. Since the roads are closed off, you can do what you like with your feet and there is no traffic. Which is the chief irony of this car show.
I don’t think there is much of a theme other than bring your car and find a place to park it. I did not find a discernible pattern regarding where you might find say, the Mustangs. But it is a nice little distraction and a refreshing way to jay-walk in Renton.
What drove me to the event? This event takes place every year and it is sort of fun to meander around the downtown area and look at a bunch of real cool cars. It is a sentimental exercise in days and dates remembered. I’m not in the loop but I’m assuming that Return to Renton harkens back to the old days / nights of the Renton Loop. If it doesn’t it should. Then I would be in a couple of loops. I’ve even considered asking the Mayor if we could re-enact the “Loop” once a year in the summer—for old times’ sake. This show may be all we are going to get. But I go every year to reminisce and ogle at classics.
In case you need background… The Old Renton Loop was famous throughout the state, and of course local Rentonites will no doubt have the fondest memories of the era. It was back in the seventies that I attended and it consisted of everyone that had a car, or jalopy or hot rod, cruising around the downtown loop of Third and Fourth streets showing off their chrome. It was a slow moving car show. (Well, sometimes it went pretty fast—drag racing fast). But kids from all over the state came. It’s where we took our dates, or went to snare one, every Saturday night. The streets were lined with parked cars and crowds of teenagers. Everyone would watch as we preened and showed off like a bunch of high-octane, chromed peacocks. With blue flames if you recall my old ‘52. Yes, it was just like American Graffiti.
I suppose these types of hot rod events occurred in many towns across America but Renton had a natural loop built into its traffic infrastructure that simply could not be ignored. (I sold my 1952 Chevy to a guy from Moses Lake who saw it at the Loop.) Yes, it was all preened for show.
I’m not sure why the Loop stopped but my guess is that local merchants weren’t too pleased. Plus, as will happen with any concentration of adrenaline-, marijuana-, and alcohol-addled kids, trouble sometimes always broke out.
I thought I would point out my highlights of this year’s Return to Renton. I tend to like the cars that are essentially stock and as close to original as possible. I found out from one lovely lady that keeping a car in showroom condition gets tougher as the years go by. She had purchased this 1939 Buick from the two sons of a retired Doctor.
It had been in storage for 20+ years. It is in great shape and she has done a good job of keeping it clean and running. But, should she ever need body work on the car, the steel in the door panels is not available anymore. It is too thick. So body and fender work is an artistic endeavor requiring many hours of hand labor and hewn metal. These old cars are a labor of love as they say. Speaking of love… what I love about the old cars is their comfort and roominess. Check out the back seat of this Buick.
I asked if she and her husband ever camped out in the back seat. She said no, but they do have bridge tournaments there.
No car show would be complete without a few show-offs. Even though I’m partial to classic stock-looking cars, sometimes the custom jobs are just so interesting that you have to admire the imagination that saw this was possible. I would say the practicality of this is suspect, but if all you haul is the air around you, this is the pickup truck for you.
Renton has quite a crop of classic cars. On almost any weekend you can see people in classic or custom cars cruising around town, just doing their thing. You could say that Renton breeds cars. I happened to observe one sprouting up out of the ground this very day.
They must come up ripe as not 30 minutes later I saw this same pickup truck cruising down Third St. to its new home.
The Renton Car show is always well attended and every year I see new vendors who have discovered the fiduciary joys of hungry car enthusiasts. These car folks appear to like food and trinkets almost as much as car shows. It’s a family affair and the unbeatable business combination of cars, carbs, and empty calories gives an air of inevitability to our mobile society’s tendency toward obesity. But, at least we had to walk around a lot to view the cars.
I don’t go to a lot of car shows and I don’t know what makes a winner or not. But I like looking at cars, and I like talking to the
owners artist/rebuilders. Hanging around the exhibitors I got the impression this was more like old home week for them. Why not? We were returning to the Renton Loop in the cars of our youth. I’d never seen so many trunk-mounted barbeque grills in one place. What better title is there?
I think there was some sort of prize at stake. There were some highly impressive looking scrutineers with clipboards milling about. Even though everything was being displayed for public consumption you don’t just park your priceless car in the street for people to drool on for nothing I suppose.
But the overall mood was one of comradery and friendly enthusiasm. I heard several times, “See you next week at so and so show.” Or, “Did you get the trophy last time? Oh, you’ll win it for sure this time. I hear old ___________ decided not to show his Oldsmobile in Ashland next month. You’re a cinch.” Even Buick Beauty, when I started to walk away, said “See you at the next show.” Sort of like, “Everybody here goes to all the shows. It’s what we do. Even though I’ve never seen you before, I must have just missed you because after all—you’re here. And this is our life.”
I notice, though, that there is a lack of braggadocio at these shows. When you ask these artists about their cars they have a lot to say about how they did this or that and what they had to do to acquire parts or the cars themselves. There is always an interesting story. But I’ve never heard anyone attribute their amazing car to their special ability. It is always an “it took a while to find this steering wheel” or “they don’t make this type of upholstery anymore so I made it myself” sort of thing. Kind of straightforward and unpretentious. It’s just what they do. It doesn’t seem to be exotic or obsessive. It’s just something they love to do and they are all really good at it.
It’s like being around Michelangelo or Rodin with a heavy dose of “Aw, Shucks.”
Nice to have a hobby, eh?