After several attempts, the man wearing everyday attire—conspicuous in his plainness—finally shoehorns his folding chair into the DeLorean and slams the frunk shut. Like the stainless-steel-bodied car, the chair is an undramatic neutral shade—quite a contrast to the pink-speckled-yellow folding outfit behind a nearby Merkur… owned by your go-to guy for Merkur parts, according to a Sharpie-written note under the back glass.
Any Radwood event is a riot of neon tracksuits, mullet-style wigs, and wild, slab-sided wedges from the ’80s and ’90s. The first-ever gathering hosted in Detroit is no different, attracting approximately 350 cars and 2500 attendees. Date your outfit to your car, place tongue firmly in cheek, and show up.
As you enter, Detroit’s skyline frames the field. Canada lies across the Detroit River and an old, massive post office looms across the street. Loudspeakers blare pop, rock, and funk, punctuated by the low note of a container ship’s horn approaching the crusty Ambassador Bridge. Strollers and styrofoam coolers abound.
A Viper-V-10-swapped, battle-scarred Rolls Royce Wraith is, bizarrely, at home here. So is a very clean Buick Reatta with an interior blanketed in maroon velour, a snub-nosed Izusu ute of uncertain origins, and a self-proclaimed rad C4.
“Wanna buy it?” asks owner Jesse Lessard behind a pair of crazy yellow and pink sunglasses. “I wanna LS-swap something, but I’m not gonna be the guy who LS swaps a C4 this original—and a California car.” Detroit isn’t this ’Vette’s first Radwood. During its stay in California, it strutted its custom pinstriping at Radwood held at Irvine.
Detroit’s Radwood represents an unusual confluence of Corvettes. Lessard is a clay sculptor with GM and helped design the C7’s controversial angular taillights. Together with the ghost of Corvettes-now-past, four generations of ’Vette are represented at this Radwood: rectangular, oval, and Camaro-esque taillights between the “Rad C4,” a C5 parked nearby, and a white, manufacturer-plated C8 in the spectator lot adjacent.
However rad the 1989 C4 undeniably is, Raddest in Show goes to a one-of-104 Autech Stelvio. And who really is going to argue with a Zagato-bodied coupe built by Nissan subsidiary Autech with a NACA duct in each wheel? The functional, driver-facing mirrors sneaked inside the front fender flares seal the deal.
In case you’re wondering whether those NACA ducts sacrifice function for form, since they only intake cool air if the car is in reverse, the four low-profile scoops serve to exhaust hot air from the brakes—rather than take in cool.
It’s pretty obvious which cars here are racers and rallyers; but even some of the cleanest cars here are troopers. Rachel Hill and her husband, Jeff, drove a remarkably clean 1987 Porsche 944S through the night from Omaha, Nebraska, for their first Radwood event. “Detroit was closer than California,” Rachel says with a laugh, referring to Radwood events held in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. “It’s great to see people our own age who aren’t telling us to keep the car pristine and in the garage.”
Unlike the Concours d’Lemons, where the cars provoke various hilarious flavors of shock and revulsion, Radwood acknowledges an underlying cool factor beneath the layers of tin-foil tackiness. Two rows away from a rust-rimmed Dodge Dakota, our own Colin Comer stands beside his 1985 Saleen Mustang.
Though both events showcase the most polarizing of vehicles, you can’t help but love the cars of Radwood in all their wild, wacky iterations. And where else can you crane your neck into a Testarossa’s engine bay and look up as pink polyester ankle warmers walk past?
An afternoon rainstorm rolls in, finally breaking the late-summer 85-degree heat of this September day. Everyone packs in beneath the red Dodge tents surrounding a first-gen Viper, and the airbrush tattoo artists complain of boredom. Ford Escorts queue up to leave, and RX-7 owners pack up the camp chairs and wail down Jefferson Avenue.
They leave behind a very boring, slightly muddy field. A silver Porsche 911 964 watches the crowd trickle away, and I can’t help but think something’s missing from its clean silver lines. Maybe some neon decals…