On any given weekend in cities across the US, enthusiasts gather to celebrate their love of the automobile, whether it’s nicely preserved classic cars, modified street racers or just a collection of owners’ Sunday-drive darlings.
But no show celebrates the often overlooked and forgotten vehicles of the 1980s and 1990s like Radwood, wrapped up in an event that’s as much about the culture of the rad era as it is about the cars themselves. Thinkwith more neon and hairspray. Think punk rock Pebble Beach.
“Radwood is an automotive-centric ’80s- and ’90s-themed festival for everyone,” says Brad Brownell, one of the show’s co-founders. “We want to be a welcoming environment for fans of the lost era of car collecting, as well as a place for fans of the era to have a good time.”
The first Radwood event was held in June of 2017 in San Francisco, California. “Back then we held the show for ourselves and a few of our local friends,” Brownell told me. “As luck would have it, over 170 cars showed up. We knew we had something on our hands, and the first-anniversary NorCal show featured more than 600 cars.”
A second Radwood gathering took place in 2017 in Los Angeles, and 2018 saw a total of five events, ending with a show at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA this past weekend. Brownell says “at least 10” shows are on the docket for 2019.
“We’ve already announced plans for events in the UK and Japan for 2019, as well as additional dates in the US, and possibly Canada,” Brownell said. “Long term we’d like to host music festivals, expand our popular culture reach and host a Goodwood Revival-esque motorsport festival.”
Something like a music festival isn’t too far of a stretch, either, considering so much of Radwood isn’t about cars at all. At the Los Angeles event, a small skateboard course set up shop on the parking deck’s top floor. Period-correct music plays from loudspeakers, and attendees are encouraged to dress the part.
“Most of the people attending these events are all about getting into the vibe and putting on their wildest-themed clothing,” Brownell told me. “Radwood events are really about having fun first and everything else second.”
By my guess, about 75 percent of attendees wear some sort of rad-era clothing. Some folks go all out, while others just rock a throwback t-shirt or pair of acid-washed jeans in celebration. Me? I donned my best track jacket and checkerboard Vans slip-ons, and wore a white t-shirt on which I’d drawn a huge Cool S — just like the ones I drew all over my Trapper Keepers throughout grade school. Reviews editor Manuel Carrillo III, meanwhile, went full-on solo jazz.
“For years the car scene has been dominated by cars that are out of touch and financially out of reach by many people in my generation,” Brownell said. And while a number of high-dollar cars still grace each Radwood event, they mix it up with sub-$3,000, well-worn, properly patinated machines.
Any car sold between 1980 and 1999 qualifies as rad, with exceptions made for some early-2000s cars conceived in the spirit of the era (looking at you, Plymouth Prowler). The show organizers do their best to make sure a robust mix of metal is represented at each event. From the smallest Ford Fiestas and Daihatsu Charades to the biggest dually pickup trucks, there’s something for everyone. Lamborghini Countaches, Chrysler K-cars, the cleanest Oldsmobile Intrigue you’ve ever seen and not one, but two Mosler Consuliers graced this weekend’s Los Angeles event. Radwood is a place where the most advanced bit of in-car tech is a six-disc CD changer — trunk-mounted, natch.
Without a rad ride of my own to display, the folks at Honda graciously lent me a 1999 Civic Si Coupe from the company’s private collection. With less than 800 miles on its odometer and not a blemish to be found, this specific Civic Si is one of the finest examples of Honda’s affordable sports coupe, not to mention a car that I — a former 1988 CRX Si owner — have lusted after for years.
I spent the weekend waxing nostalgic about simpler times, blasting around LA in that spunky little Si. A mix CD from high school provided adequate aural accompaniment for the occasion — memories of driving my step-mom’s ’97 Civic sedan to my after-school job slinging lava lamps and crass t-shirts at a Spencer Gifts store in the local mall.
That Civic Si was perfect, and a reminder of why I love the rad era so much. It’s 20 years later, but the little Honda looked as handsome as ever, with outstanding interior packaging and great fit and finish. It was so refreshing to drive a car free of electronic nannies — no backup camera, no lane-departure warning, not a single beeping or flashing display. Instead, the Civic Si charmed me with its sharp handling, great steering and a slick, five-speed manual transmission. I love this car. And so did many of the attendees.
More than any other car show I’ve attended in recent memory, the best thing about Radwood is the shared camaraderie for vehicles of this era. Porsche 911 owners mix it up with the Suzuki Samurai crowd. Ferraris are parked next to Ford Taurus SHOs. There’s no brand bias, no rivalries or stupid, senseless shaming — just a common appreciation of all things rad.
“By providing an outlet for fans of forgotten and overlooked cars to get the attention, we’ve tapped a brand new subsection of car geeks,” Brownell said. “I am so happy that we have created the kind of car show that I’d actually want to attend.”