Few eras produced as many truly delightful cars as the 1980s and 1990s. Technology was making things more reliable and easier to deal with but hadn’t started to mute drivers’ control of a car yet, birthing performance models with trick tech like all-wheel-drive or fuel injection while maintaining manual gearboxes and pedals that were physically connected to the things they controlled. For the most part, that tech is simple enough that you can still work on these cars relatively easily yourself.
Your first car may have come from this pair of decades, too. Nostalgia’s a hell of a drug, turning cars that may have gone unseen a decade ago into head-turners the second you realize that some delightful loon is still keeping it on the road, or has since modified it into something wonderful. As modern cars become less manual and visceral to drive, even the regular cars of years gone by start to develop a desirable sheen.
And oh, the choices you’ll have if you pick up a rad-era vehicle, or make your way to a Radwood show. Japan in particular was in the height of its own bubble era, where a booming economy produced everything from performance Kei cars to luxurious sedans with doily-clad interiors and back seats that had their own massage and recline settings. Supercars around the world reached incredible new heights of speed and performance. Many of the cars America never got that are over 25 years old are now importable, too.
In other words, it’s an era worth celebrating, and that’s why Radwood exists. Last weekend, Radwood made its way to Austin, giving the criminally overlooked car culture of Texas a place to bring out its best vehicles from the best time at the Driveway race track.
Porschelump, full of Puffalumps.
I even took my Porsche 944 race car, which tried to thwart me by popping off an alternator tensioner bolt the night before the show. After a friend helped me install that bolt (which was exceedingly annoying to line up with only one set of hands), I was back in business with a working car and arrived just before the show opened up to spectators.
Perhaps the best thing about the Radwood show is that it’s a celebration of ’80s and ’90s culture in general—not just the cars. Vintage boomboxes, fashion, toys, and other retro items were on display as well. Cassette tapes, factory brochures, and vintage games are a routine sight. BMX riders set up ramps to jump a couple of cars in the middle of the show. I brought a small selection from my Puffalump collection (stuffed animals made of parachute material that were sold in the ’80s and ’90s) to display in my car and take photos with, too.
There’s even an award for the best dressed of the show, which went to a guy who dressed up as Office Space’s awful boss Bill Lumbergh. It was a particularly appropriate pick since many of the film’s iconic scenes were filmed in Austin (and I keep threatening to smash my Volkswagen carb in the mall that now stands where the printer scene was filmed).
There was one kind of period-appropriate vehicle conspicuously in small numbers at Radwood, however: broughams. The fancified land yachts that showed up were a delight, but the closest thing I saw to the ’80s Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight or Cadillac Sedan de Ville I grew up with was a tastefully modified 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Classic, which I must admit ruled pretty hard. I mean, just look in those T-Tops (!) at the miles of blue velour. It’s glorious.
Radwood is definitely the place where big broughams would be appreciated, so if you have one, please bring it out!
The variety of cars that showed up was the real highlight, though. This wasn’t just a show for heavily polished garage queens. Plenty of cars were modified, from the wild Nissan S13-generation 240SX “Faux Body” featuring a 5.3-liter GM Vortec V8 swap and the nose of a fox-body Ford to the bright white nitrous-fed 30th Anniversary Edition Pontiac Trans-Am.
German and Japanese cars had the biggest turnout at the show, but there was no shortage of memorable cars: a Miata with an extremely period correct color-shifting paint job, a slantnose RUF 911, tons of right-hand-drive imports, a Volkswagen painted to match the Arizona green tea can used as piping in the engine bay, tastefully modified off-road trucks, Safari-style battlecars, a local Ferrari F40 that periodically gets used as it was intended at track days, the tealest 944 I’ve ever seen, and a wild “Twisted Sister Pink”-painted Jeep once owned by Dee Snider.
If you get the chance to go to a Radwood event, you definitely should, as it’s a rare car show that actually has a sense of humor about itself. It’s more welcoming than most car shows of well-loved and heavily modified cars, such that you’ll probably find other people at the show that’s into whatever kind of vehicular “abuse” you’re into. Actually driving your car is a bonus among this crowd.
Radwood’s schedule for the rest of the year can be found here, and even includes dates in Tokyo and England. In the meantime, nuke any pretense of productivity from your day with this gigantic gallery of the coolest cars we saw at the show. There were simply too many good cars, and the size of this gallery shows it.
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