It’s not every day that I get dressed up. Yet there I was at 7:00 on a Saturday morning donning a bright Hawaiian shirt, a black pair of Chuck T’s and the relic fanny pack that I found at the bottom of my dresser draw. My wife was dolled up too, sporting her best ‘80s scrunchie along with a classic Levi’s denim jacket and a pair of blue-lensed Wayfarers. And while the weather at Northern California’s Sonoma Raceway was predicted to be sketchy at best, we headed to the garage and climbed into a couple of Reagan era vehicles that represented a simpler, pre-internet time.
It was time for Radwood at HooptieCon, an event created by four guys in their thirties who have a love for all things ‘80s and ‘90s automotive. Co-founder Bradley Brownell recalled that the original idea stemmed from a conversation whereby a group of podcast buddies were asked what they would do if given the opportunity to create their own unique event. The concept of creating an American Goodwood came up, but with the goal of making it as American as possible.
And whereby the Goodwood Revival in Europe focused on vehicles from the 1950s and ‘60s, the boys of Radwood surmised that during the 1980s and ‘90s, one of our biggest exports to the rest of the world was a culture of excess by way of music, fashion and full-on automotive bravado. Think back to a time when MTV still played music videos and you’ll understand.
Radwood was born.
Our transportation came in the form of a 1990 Jeep Grand Wagoneer (complete with fake wood paneling) and a 1986 Porsche 928S. The Wagoneer is basically a luxury version of a Conestoga wagon, whereby the 928S is a misunderstood German road missile that mechanics run from in terror. Regardless, we were dressed to not impress and motored out for a day of nostalgia.
Radwood started in June of 2017 and since that time has rocketed to automotive stardom, thanks largely to social media. The first show sprung up after renting out the parking lot of a local park and then posting the idea on the creators’ social media feeds. The expectation was 50 cars, however when they attracted more than 160 vehicles of all makes and models and over 350 people; they were obviously onto something.
Radwood 2 was held last December in Los Angeles and began to pick up steam to the tune of 370 cars and 1300 people. Those in attendance were now dressing up in costumes that complemented their rides as well.
This last show was part of HooptieCon, an event that combined the 24 Hours Of LeMons, Billetproof (a show that features traditionally-styled customs and hotrods), Concours d’LeMons (a gathering of the best worst cars ever made) and of course, Radwood. It should be said that thanks to Mother Nature throwing up the middle finger to us all week, that attendance was lower than expected, but that in no way hampered the spirit of those who participated.
The show was split up in two groups: Radwood Royalty and non-royalty, with the distinction coming down to one’s entrance fee. Those wanting to display their car more prominently pay more; those who don’t, pay less. In the end though, it doesn’t matter where you’re parked—automotive goodness is happening all over. And while Radwood is a celebration of the two decades prior to us embarking into the 21st century, it was the cars that brought forth the greatest memories.
Maybe it was the Lamborghini Jalpa, a car rarely seen moving under its own power and that won best in show, that transported me back to my youth. Or perhaps it was the abundance of BMW E30s and Porsche 911s that sat both inside and out of the Royalty lot that did it. I’m honestly not sure. What I do know is that Radwood is the equivalent of an automotive time machine (yes, there was a Delorean present) and it’s making folks go out and spend their hard earned dollars on vehicles just so they can attend.
Case in point, Billetproof and Concours d’LeMons founder Alan Galbraith actually bought a Cadillac Allante back in December and then drove it more than 1000-miles round-trip from Sacramento to Los Angeles just to attend. Drift nut and former Motor Trend editor/host Jason Cammisa was also in attendance with his near perfect Mercedes-Benz 2.3-16. He was rocking a majestic bronze mullet, cocaine-inspired white blazer and multiple chest hairs.
Another point of fact, and one of my favorites, is that Radwood is bringing notoriety to thousands of ‘80s and ‘90s vehicles that are still well within their useful range of life. Rides like the mid-80’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Audi 4000s, 500/560 Mercedes-Benz SECs and SELs and even early VWs, Hondas and Mitsubishis. Five years ago many of these vehicles sat unwanted and neglected, but in talking with the attendees, it’s apparent they’re all coming back around. As an enthusiast, that’s marvelous to see happening.
In the end, Radwood is not an elitist event in any way, but instead one that celebrates an era of automotive advancement and style that helped to set the stage for the vehicles we’re piloting today. For those of us in our 40s, the 1980s and ‘90s were a time of change, when cars were transitioning from carburetors to EFI, and safety features like anti-lock brakes and airbags were slowly becoming standard equipment. In-car navigation was still a ways off and most of us still relied on payphones to make a call when we got hit up on our Motorola pagers.
Now, if they could only get Mr. T and David Hasselhoff to show up…