"Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what's right for them. Because it's their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it's our time. It's our time down here." - Mikey (Sean Astin), The Goonies
Let's get a big pronouncement out of the way right from the start: the Radwood series of automotive events is nothing less than a declaration by Generation X that when it comes to enthusiasm for cars, it's our time down here. Conceived by the petrolhead hivemind behind automotive podcasts Driving While Awesome!, Cammed and Tubbed, and Clutchkick, Radwood is a celebration of the cars and culture of the 1980s and 1990s, when a younger generation dreamed of a turbocharged, intercooled and scissor-doored future. Rejecting the musty paradigm of what we'll just call the "doo-wop" school of car shows, Radwood seeks to inject a bit of self-aware, irony-laced fun back into the automotive gathering. Having participated in Radwood 2 last weekend at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, California, I believe that they have succeeded to an extent that perhaps they didn't anticipate.
For the second edition of Radwood, heavyweight car blog Jalopnik signed on as title sponsor, signaling an increase in scope from the first Radwood event held earlier this year in northern California. Indeed, the organizers of Radwood were going all-in with their "period-correct" experience concept, as Radwood 2 would feature a DJ spinning an '80s/90s soundtrack that skillfully mixed familar favorites and rarely heard gems, as well as a BMX stunt demonstration by stars of the 1986 cult favorite film, Rad. And of course, there was the dress code: 80s or 90s attire would be compulsory for attendees. Obviously, this cocktail of generational touchstones could be a recipe for hipster one-upsmanship, but this didn't come to pass. Instead, the young enthusiast community embraced Radwood 2 with an attitude of lighthearted fun rather than more-80s-than-thou snark.
But you're really here to read about the cars, right?
Model Citizen's booth inside Radwood 2's main tent afforded me an all-day view of a contrasting pair of 80s icons: Anthony Guerra's menacing Saab 900 Turbo, and Japanese Nostalgic Car's hugely original Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60. Both vehicles attracted a steady stream of curious onlookers throughout the day.
Just outside the tent sat one of the most talked-about cars of the day: CMS Motorsports' incredible SGS Styling Garage Mercedes SEC Gullwing conversion. Perhaps because of their association with the seedier elements of '80s culture, many tuning-house specials like this have been allowed to fall into sad states of disrepair due to disinterest from judgemental purists. Thankfully, Shant and his crew at CMS see both the historical and the entertainment value in unique custom cars like the Gullwing SEC, and have prepared this one to a stunning level of presentation.
One of the most surprising cars I found at Radwood 2 was a very original Pontiac Bonneville SSE. I went to high school in the early '90s in a de facto General Motors company town in mid-Michigan, and the potholed roads were thick with these sleds that were obvious favorites of the employee-discount set. They had a tendency to rust away to piles of flakes after only a handful of salt-encrusted Michigan winters, which I always found strange considering the SSE seemed to be made entirely out of plastic body cladding. That's why it was such a pleasant shock to find a decently preserved example at Radwood.
The quality and variety of cars to be found at Radwood 2 was simply overwhelming, and picking a favorite was a challenge. Ultimately, I let raw emotion guide me, and two cars in particular gave me all the right feels. The first was a spectacular 1985 Toyota MR2, recently purchased from its original owner and still bearing California blue plates. To me, the AW11 is one of THE defining cars of the 1980s, with its origami styling and screaming 4A-GE planted behind the driver, and Light Blue Metallic happens to be my favorite color on these. To see one in such spectacularly original condition elicited first a gasp, and then one very broad grin.
My other favorite of the day spoke to me on a level that is hard to explain. From the moment I first laid eyes on this near-mint 1991 BMW M5, I was smitten. I'm a diehard 5-series guy, having owned an E12 and an E34 wagon in the past, so the M5 has always been one of my most coveted cars. So what made this particular E34 M5 so special? Condition, for starters: it was, as far as I could tell, completely original right down to its "whitewall" rims. But there was something else about it, something I can't explain. It had a certain quiet menace about it, as if it were whispering, "I'm just waiting for an excuse to kick the ass of every other car here." I wanted to jump in it, let that S38 wail, and leave the show field sideways. It was that appeal to irrational lust that put the E34 at the top of my Radwood 2 wishlist.
Departing Radwood 2 at the end of a long but satisfying day, I was left with the feeling that the organizers have struck gold with this concept. There has always been a latent enthusiasm for cars of this era, but it has been factional. There are marque events for Porsches and Bimmers, or for geographically linked cars like the behemoth Japanese Classic Car Show. What has been lacking is a unifying event that brings the factions together. Radwood accomplishes that, and it does so in a way that allows those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s a way to reminisce in the manner of our choosing, while also giving younger enthusiasts a fun, immersive introduction to why we love these cars and this culture so much. The seamlessness with which the organizers brought together so many elements of this culture belies how much hard work actually went into pulling it off, and with Radwood 3 already announced for March 2018, I can't wait to see what they come up with next.