Gear heads, car lovers flock to car shows
Brennan Sullivan’s parents brought him to car shows his whole life. At age 13, he wanted to put one on himself.
He walked around his Windsor neighborhood and handed out flyers to those who had cool cars. He had 15 cars in the show. Later, in 2019, he began a Northern Colorado version of Cars and Coffee, a morning car show on the last Sunday of each month, with the idea that anyone can show off their car, from beat up CRVs to bougie beauties. The first show he put on drew more than 1,000 cars.
Things have calmed down a bit, as taking a year off because of the pandemic bruised the momentum, but the shows, which now take place in the Centerra shopping center, still draw more than 400 cars and hundreds more who want to take a peek. Sullivan is 21 and runs the show from April to October. He’s also the regional director of Avants, a modernized version of a car club that offers ways to connect with thousands of gear heads and attend private events. Memberships are $99 a year. Cars and Coffee is a nationwide model as well.
“This area had nothing like it,” Sullivan said of Cars and Coffee. “We love all makes and models, and we’ve gotten lots of compliments on that, how we cater to everyone. It’s not supposed to be a car that will win awards. It’s supposed to be fun.”
Sullivan is pushing the boundaries, but car clubs and shows were already changing to attract a wider audience, much like Sullivan’s parents who never really owned interesting cars but loved them and stoked his interest. He owns a unique car himself, a little British model, and doesn’t want to give the impression he’s disdainful of the Denver clubs that cater to those with fancier cars.
In fact, those traditional clubs are still thriving. Brad Atkinson is president of the Top of the Rockies Corvette Association club, a Longmont-based organization that extols the virtues of owning one of the most popular sports cars in the world. Corvettes and Mustangs, in fact, seem to be the two cars that inspire the most clubs. They host car shows, cruise in downtowns, parks and longer trips through the mountains and participate in parades.
Top of the Rockies Corvette Association, like most clubs, is open to anyone, with one requirement: You have to own a Corvette. And like most clubs, the idea isn’t really to sit around and brag about your car (though there’s plenty of encouragement to show it off). It’s to have fun. The club, with more than 150 members, hosts many events that don’t have a lot to do with cars, including holiday parties and picnics, and many others that do.
“The truth is, it’s mostly social,” Atkinson said. “It’s really just about being around people with a common interest and having fun with our cars and each other.”
The cost to getting into the hobby may not be as much as you think, and even the more traditional clubs do their best to include as many as possible now. Atkinson insists that you can find a Corvette on the cheap, though it may need some work. Those with all income levels and lifestyles are in the club, he said, and the membership dues are low ($55 a year or $85 for a couple). The club welcomes new members and guests who may not know much about cars, he said, and hosts a car show that encourages all Chevys, not just Corvettes, to enter.
Atkinson is a financial adviser for Edward Jones in Boulder. He got his first Corvette just a couple of years ago, in 2019, fulfilling a lifetime goal.
“I’d loved Corvettes my whole life,” he said. “I went to car shows with my friends, and my Dad always pointed them out. He was my primary influence for loving Corvettes.”
Atkinson said there are three kinds of people who join the clubs: Those who love to work on cars, those who love to shine up their cars and enter shows, and those who love to drive them. He’s someone who loves to drive his car.
“I drive it nearly every day,” he said and laughed.
There are even car clubs that don’t have much to do with shows or cruising. The Mile-Hi Jeep Club of Colorado encourages off-roading of all levels.
“Most are weekend warriors is what I’d call us,” said Josh Norris, who is chairman of the public relations committee in the club. “We like to go on a trail that may not be too hard but is still fun. But we do have members who have full-on basic buggies, like it’s still a Jeep frame but it’s like a buggy so they can go on extreme terrain.”
Norris, 41, of Littleton, bought a Jeep after a divorce to take his mind off it, and he fell in love with both the group and off-roading. The group does host car shows, but it also has a week-long event in Colorado called All4Fun off-roading and adventure: This year’s event, at the end of July, was in Ouray.
Norris builds automation systems for airports. The Jeep club is nice, he said, because Jeeps are generally affordable, and so are the trips: They charge per car, for example, instead of per person, so a family in the club can go off-roading in a Jeep for a relatively cheap vacation. The club also builds trails and does a lot of environmental stewardship.
“We’ve got wrench-heads to well-off people,” he said. “All different kinds.”
As winter approaches, the car shows and clubs tend to wind down, although there’s always membership meetings to plan out the following year. Sullivan will have his last event in October.
“But I’m already looking forward to spring,” he said.