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Here Comes The Judge

What the Judges Look for at Super Chevy Shows

Tony Kelly Jul 19, 2002

Ever wondered what makes a show car stand out among a sea of great-looking machinery? What does it take to make your car be that one? Read on.Think of these four parts of your car: body, paint, engine, and interior. While this may seem a little obvious (what else is there?), be advised that the Super Chevy Car Show judges look at your vehicle by separating it into those four areas.

When you prepare your car, it might be best to work on each one of those sections individually before moving on to the next. Tackling the whole car at one time can seem overwhelming and could cause you to miss something important. The old rule applies -- patience pays off.

When preparing your car for a show, Super Chevy Shows being the most important to us, of course, here are some words to live by: If you can see it, so can the judges. By that we mean if there is something about the appearance of your Bow-Tie that really should be improved to make it show quality, don't count on being able to cover it up or hide it. We'll almost guarantee that if you have noticed it, the judge will probably notice it as well -- and note it. Let's go through a car as if it were being judged.

First, the engine compartment. One would think that everyone would know to do an extensive engine cleaning, but judges still find oil and grease, even rust, on engines that would otherwise be show quality. Now that we've used the phrase "show quality," maybe we should elaborate on what that means. To the judges, and actually to the people who go to car shows, "show quality" is special. It is an example that car builders aspire to. It may be a driver, but it can't look worn, or dirty, or unpainted, or unplated. Of course, if the car is a restoration, only the plating or painting that came from the factory is allowed, but for customs or street machines, everything should look new and fresh and clean. If your car has had the same chrome and paint for the last few years, it won't look as good as the car sitting next to it with new paint and plating. Yes, new paint and plating costs money, but that's the car show world.

Expect judges to get down on their hands and knees to look under the car, in the wheelwells and at the running gear. They will inspect the wiring and connections for wear and dirt. Such things as the motor mounts and the steering gear are great places for oil and grease, along with the underside of the transmission and all of the mounts for accessories, either stock or custom.

Don't expect a car with a worn-out fan belt to go without notice, either. And while overspray might be nice, even required on some stock restorations, it's not acceptable on customs. The water in the radiator can be dirty, but the brackets and hoses on the outside need to be clean and look as new as possible.

Corrosion on the battery or any electrical terminals is also inexcusable. Some serious car show people have a battery to start and drive their car to the show, and a second battery to install for display. Many people use a portable vacuum to clean certain areas in the engine compartment. Judges often are lenient of dust, especially at outdoor shows, but a car without dust will still show better than one that has any kind of layer on it. Most engine compartments we see are flashy, but judges look beyond flash.

Okay, let's move inside. Here again, judges will look under the dash for wiring and condition of the pedals and linkage. Seams on the upholstery must be straight whether it's stock or custom, and the carpets must fit correctly. Even quality interiors sometimes leave gaps, some quite small, but judges look for such problems. As we said, if you can see it, so can the judges.

The workmanship will be evaluated as this is a very important component of a show car. The fit of various pieces of the interior (backs, seats, side and door panels, package trays, window trim, handles, dash, console, etc.) is part of the judging and must fit as close to perfect as possible if you are looking to be a class champion. Headliners may get one or two looks a year by those who ride in or drive a car, but judges look very carefully at how the headliner fits, if there are gaps or stretch marks and, certainly, if the material meets the trim correctly. The trunk, by the way, will get this same scrutiny, so clean up the wiring and seams.

Now to the body. Actually, let's deal with everything on the outside. There are car shows that penalize for "over restoring." If you're showing a strict restoration, beware of making the car better than it was originally. For those of you who are showing in a street or custom category, smoother is better. As most of us know, the preparation and hard work of block sanding, filling, primering, re-filling, primering, sanding again, and so on, is the thankless part of getting a car ready for paint that spells the difference between very good paint and great paint. Judges can see the difference 10 feet away.

Body seams and gaps are something that judges always check. You don't have to measure to know that one side of the gap is bigger than the other or that the hood (or trunk lid) doesn't close the same on both sides. Doors have to fit in alignment with the fenders and panels, and the glass must be installed so that the trim and rubber aren't out of line and that sealer residue isn't present on the glass or trim. Trim pieces that run across two or more panels can easily be out of line. Sometimes the trim may have fit correctly when the car was first completed, but through time the door sagged, or there was some actual realignment of doors or panels, and the trim no longer lines up. Once again, this is an area that you can readily see, so expect the judges to see it also.

While inspecting paint, judges say that color is a myth. For those who feel the only way to get the car noticed is to have it painted red, Super Chevy Show judges would rather see a beautifully done white car than a poorly done red car. What they look for is the amount of preparation, the craftsmanship of the painter, and the overall finished product. Bright colors may get attention, but if there are flaws, that attention may be the wrong kind, at least from the judges. And if you have graphics on your car, they are judged the same way the paint is. It's not what the graphics look like to that particular judge; it's how well they are done.

One other thing that the judges say is that there are no perfect cars. The winner of any given class always has something wrong, minor though it may be. If that car beat yours, it just had less wrong with it than your car. Of course, the level of imperfection is so small that many of us hardly ever notice.

Getting your car judged fully requires that you leave the doors, hood, and trunk open. Judges won't open anything that is latched, nor will they open a truck bed cover.

Ironically, if all of those are left open, the Super Chevy photographer will ask you to close it for a picture. Hanging around the judge and lobbying, or prompting the judge to look at certain features of the car may seem like a good idea to make sure that he (or she) doesn't miss anything, but it probably just irritates the judge and we recommend against it.

Super Chevy judges are professionals. They judge shows ranging from major indoor events around the country to Super Chevy events. Most have over 20 years experience building cars, showing cars, and judging cars. What is unique about Super Chevy Shows is the car show judging seminar given by the judges at every show, and the fact that every judge is available after the Sunday awards ceremony to discuss your car in detail. One can learn a lot from these sessions and, hopefully, be a winner next time.

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