The first car show that Automobilia owners Gary and Lorita Carpenter put together in 1995 was intended as a simple customer appreciation party.
It took up one block, featured one band (called Safe Sax, Gary remembers with a laugh) and drew 150 cars and 250 people.
Nineteen years later, the party has grown – to say the least.
The Automobilia Moonlight Car Show and Street Party shuts down several downtown streets, features seven bands and three food courts and draws 1,000 cars and 140,000 people.
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“The car community is a big grapevine,” said Gary, who owns Autombilia – a car-themed gift store at 449 N. Mosley.
This year’s event is scheduled for 6 p.m. to midnight on Saturday in an area from Douglas to Second between Broadway and Mosley. The moonlight cruise – a parade of hundreds of show cars – will follow from midnight until 1:30 a.m.
The stars of the show are cars, Gary said, and people from all over the country bring vintage, classic and current cars. Recent shows have seen a 1904 Oldsmobile, a 1918 Detroit Electric, muscle cars, antique cars and brand-new Camaros, Challengers and Mustangs.
Spectators are invited to enter the area for free to admire the cars and to listen to seven live bands, whose styles range from classic rock to country to an Elvis impersonator, all playing simultaneously on scattered stages.
The event also includes three food courts selling items such as Pronto Pups, ice cream, frozen bananas, funnel cakes and root beer floats, plus a swap meet, a model car contest and merchandise vendors.
The show has gained a national and international reputation, Gary said. He knows of one attendee who flies in from California every year, and he’s also heard of people traveling from Boston, Denver and as far away as Korea to attend.
The show isn’t easy to put together, Gary said, and sometimes, he regrets not being able to properly enjoy it. But the comments he gets from attendees keep him going.
“To be honest, I didn’t want a big party. I wanted a good party. That’s all I wanted,” he said. “But I keep hearing every day from these people who come in and register that this is the best show they’ve ever been to in their lives, and that’s one of the greatest compliments I could ever get.”