NJ Region AACA Spring Meet Car Show, May 7, 2023

The New Jersey Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) held its 70th annual Spring Meet on Sunday, May 7, 2023. The show, traditionally hosted on the first Sunday of May, was in a new location this year: Nielsen Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep/Ram on Route 10 in East Hanover NJ.

The last few years for our Spring Meet have been rocky, to put it mildly. After literally 60 years at the same location, the club was forced to move, and we spent a few years holding our show at the Mennen Arena in Morristown NJ. (These links will take you to those shows in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.) But between unbelievably bad luck with the weather, combined with Covid shutdowns, we never had a good show there. Last year, we were at a school (link here), which had its positive points, but many didn’t care for the parking layout. This dealer offered us a spacious lot emptied out for us, and we finally had the weather on our side, with a sunny, warm, and slightly breezy day. There was a great turnout of show cars (my extremely unofficial count putting it at around 150), and a large number of spectators helped by our location along a busy 4-lane Jersey thoroughfare.

Music, like last year, provided by Gup

For reasons having nothing to do with the car, I was unable to bring the Alfa to the show, even though I had registered it. I did drive up in modern iron, though, because I had volunteered to be a judge. This task needs to be completed because many owners still are in love with the concept of placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, and bringing home a trophy (what I’ve come to call a dust collector). All cars are placed in classes based on decade of manufacture, vehicle type, or make/model, done at the discretion of the club. There are 4 areas of the car which are examined: exterior, interior, engine compartment, and undercarriage. Each of those areas is scored on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best. Maximum score is 40. Ideally, the judging team consists of 4 judges, with each judge taking on the same area for all cars in the class. In reality, we only had enough judges to form teams of 2. I was teamed with a club member who said that he is an experienced Hershey judge, although he also said he knew pre-war cars better than post-war. I thought we made a good team as we balanced each other out. He took exterior and interior, and I took engine compartment and undercarriage.

Not as many pre-war cars this year; this is a ’29 Packard
Bob Smith’s Dodge roadster

First class we judged: 2-seat sports cars. We had quite a few Corvettes (C1 through C4), a few 2-seat T-Birds, a Triumph TR-6 and a Porsche 912. We are judging to AACA standards: the car should appear as it would have when delivered as a new car by a dealership. The 912 had a number of mods to it, which knocked it down. All the Corvettes were nice, but the ’54 C1 was close to perfect and took first place.

Porsche 912
’54 Corvette which took 1st in its class

Next class was a tough one: “pony cars”, which in this case was 5 Mustangs and a ’70 Cougar. Mustang owners tend to be meticulous in their attention to detail, especially if they have ever been judged by the Mustang Club, where the judging is much stricter than it is at AACA. My personal fave was a ’67 Shelby GT-500 fastback with inboard lights. As stunning as that car was, it only took 3rd! Two other Mustangs were that much nicer.

My co-judge and I tallied our scores and handed our sheets back to the Chief Judge. I sat down for a quick lunch, thinking we were done. We were not. Somehow, “Class 6” got missed and some of the owners were peeved. We were asked if we could tackle it and we said yes. This too was a tough class, as it was American cars of the 1960s. First place went to a ’67 Cadillac convertible, and 2nd place to a supercharged Studebaker Avanti. But my personal favorite which came in 3rd was a ’63 T-Bird convertible with the roadster package, in triple black. With gleaming wire wheels and white walls, it was gorgeous. But again, the competition can really be challenging.

’67 Caddy which took 1st in class
’63 T-Bird
’66 Olds 442

To give you some further insight, most cars that we judged scored somewhere between a total of 25 and 38. It would be very rare indeed to score any one area below a “5”, and even if we did, another area might still score an 8 or a 9. No car that we judged scored a “40”, although 2 or 3 did score “39”. Provided there are at least 3 cars in the class (and for us, there always was), we need to deliver a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place score back to the Chief Judge. What if there was a tie? That happened twice. In those cases, my co-judge and I looked at our judging sheets, and one of us adjusted one score either up a point or down a point. We did it as fairly as possible, although we also thought about the overall impact that the vehicle made on us.

ABOVE: Baby Bird parade: a ’56 and two ’57s

Again, I thought I was done. The Chief Judge, Ed, whom I’ve known for 20 years, asked me to accompany him as we still needed to judge cars for “Membership Trophies”. Let me explain: these awards, open only to NJ Region members, are for special categories, including the 3 best unrestored cars in 3 different year ranges. During registration, owners must request that their cars be considered. There are only 2 or 3 candidates in each category, and truthfully we were just giving them a quick eyeball. The problem was that these cars were in their respective classes, and therefore, scattered from one end of the show field to the other, so we had a lot of walking to do to locate them. But we eventually did, and finally, judging was done. Looking back at my photos, I see that I was not able to take as many shots as I would have liked! Including my brief lunch break, I was walking the field and judging cars (four different classes in total) for about 4 hours! I’m sorry that I missed photographing some of the stunning cars that I judged.

This mostly-unrestored Imperial took a Membership trophy

ABOVE: Two of the many Cadillacs at the show: a ’58 and a ’73

The awards ceremony started a bit late, probably around 3pm, but most owners stuck around, and I must admit that I did enjoy seeing their grins of satisfaction as they collected their trophies. It takes many, many volunteers from our club to make this show happen, and I was happy to be part of the team which pulled it together. I overheard that the Region hopes to use the same location next year, so my fingers are already crossed that the weather will cooperate in 2024.

My friend Sean with his ’75 Pontiac
’70 Fiat 500
’56 Dodge
’66 Chrysler
’53 Hudson
’71 Camaro
Hillman Minx
Lotus Elan
’64 Chevy II
’56 Ford


All photographs copyright © 2023 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.