Philadelphia is a city that has an innate appreciation for the past; while the historical institutions in this town tend to lean more Franklin than Falco, in a lot of ways we still think of the ’80s and ‘90s as our Golden Era. Heck, ‘til recently that’s when we’d won many of our championships, so those years hold a lot of fond memories for Philadelphians. So it comes as no surprise that folks from the Philly area (and beyond) are harboring more than Kelly-green Zubaz when it comes to souvenirs of the raddest era.
Hot on the heels of their first East Coast excursion in Atlanta a few months back, the Radwood crew brought their neon-tinged ‘80s and ’90s-inspired auto show to the Navy Yard in Philly this past weekend. It was a crisp fall day with just enough chill in the air to break out that Body Glove windbreaker, and a perfect blanket of clouds that made for great lighting for car photos.
Sometimes the different automotive scenes that encompass this era can be seem a bit insular; it’s a little uncommon to find groups of E30 owners, GTI fans, and Jeep Cherokee guys congregating under one umbrella. That’s what makes these Radwood shows so great; it’s a chance for these disparate groups of enthusiasts that might not normally interact so much to meet, hang out, and check out each other’s rides and see firsthand what makes them so unique in their era and today.
It was pretty incredible how many cars I came across that made me think “Man, I’ve always wanted to see one of these in person!” And often, I got my wish in spades; never seen a Toyota Sera in the wild? Well, here’s two! No shortage of Ferraris, including a Testarossa? Yup! It’s not unusual to see a Delorean DMC-12 at a car show these days, but it’s a little less common to see no less than four with at least one more casually stowed in the parking lot. My personal favorite of the bunch was one that was clearly a heavily-used driver and had a fabulous patina on the body.
The folks at Subaru North America were kind enough to bring out several cars from their collection too, including a stunning example of a GL wagon complete with “third eye” headlight and an absolutely immaculate XT. From the wheels, to the joystick-style shifter, to the aircraft-inspired digital dash, the XT is pretty much the purest distillation of this portion of our timeline; if it were a Transformer it would probably turn into a Trapper Keeper. It was great to see several more XTs brought by private owners, in addition to some more GLs and an adorable little Justy; surprisingly, no Brats were in attendance though.
There was a strong showing from the VW contingent with what seemed like almost an entire block taken up by GTIs, Rabbits, Sciroccos and, of course, a Harlequin car (as many as three were anticipated to attend, but sadly just the one made it). Right across the street the Toyota crowd made their own presence felt with no shortage of Celicas, MR2s, a pair of AE86s, and a smattering of Supras.
When it came to domestics, Chrysler cars seemed to dominate the field, with an entire squad of Turbo Dodges in attendance. A Dodge Omni Shelby GLHS, Turbo Caravan, Shelby Daytona, and even a CSX showed off Dodge’s commitment to making extremely cool performance vehicles throughout the malaise era and beyond. There were certainly more than a few interesting Ford entrants as well, such as an impressive Thunderbird Turbo Coupe and several Fox Body Mustangs including a Saleen version.
Which brings me to one of my favorite aspects of the show: sure, there were plenty of garage queens in attendance and that’s great, it’s always cool to see pristine examples of rare rides. But so many of the vehicles in attendance were real-deal drivers. There’s zero sense of pretension towards a road-worn Toyota Hilux or Chrysler K-car, and some of the seemingly mundane entrants garnered the type of appreciation normally reserved for exotics at your average auto show. One of the other neat things about this event was how far people were willing to drive 30-plus-year-old vehicles long distances just to be here. Not many showed up on a trailer; a pair of Mitsubishi Delicas even made what must have been a harrowing ride down Interstate 95 from Boston, given their top speed lands somewhere in the mid-50 range with a strong tailwind.
When it comes to my personal taste in rad-era vehicles, I pretty much gravitate towards three things: it’s gotta be AWD, kind of compact, and it must have a graphics package! Without question, the JDM imports at the show were the undisputed champions in all three categories. Besides the aforementioned Delicas (and at least one more in attendance), there were more than a few imported RHD 4x4s including a Mitsubishi Pajero, a gorgeous Suzuki Jimny with graphics straight off a soda cup, a Turbo Hilux Surf that was an absolute showstopper, and my personal favorite from the day, a Datsun 720 pickup with an orange graphics scheme.
As I was walking around the overflow lot towards the end of the show, I overheard a pair of “older” gentlemen (by the typical attendee’s standards, anyway) talking about the field of entrants. While I gathered that their tastes seemed to skew more “dadwood” than Radwood, they were nonetheless appreciative of the impressive gathering of vehicles on display. “These guys are the future of our hobby,” I heard one say to the other. If the turnout to Radwood Philly was any indication, the future’s bright enough to justify the shades.