Hot August Nights, as a contemporary automotive event, has deeper roots than most would suspect. Starting in August of 1986, a handful of forward thinking businesses and city council members saw the beginning of their dream to bring hot rodders and tourists into the city of Reno.
Reno, to its credit, doesn’t want to be a miniature version of Las Vegas. While the town brings in the same celebrity talent as Sin City, the rich man/poor man mentality doesn’t crossover to the “biggest little city in the world.”
The First Hot August Nights
That first event in 1986, was planned to be held within the confines of the Reno-Sparks Convention center, but more enthusiasts, car owners, and exhibitors turned out in droves, spilling out into the streets. The 10,000 spectators that managed to get inside the facility were witness to acts like the Righteous Brothers, Wolfman Jack, and Jan Berry and Dean Torrance of Jan and Dean.
Wolfman Jack died in 1995, the Righteous Brother’s Bobby Hatfield in 2003, and Jan Berry in 2004. Only Dean Torrance, and Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, are still around today, and there is no doubt that they would not have thought that this event would turn out to be this huge. The show’s organizers admit that the first show was more nostalgia than car show.
From the nostalgia of the first Hot August Night’s early rock and roll show, which combined with the classic hot rods over the years, the event has evolved into the largest event of its kind in the world. The event organizers and town leaders can be proud of what the show has become, and continues to progress with each annual function.
Hot August Nights has been so successful that the event has spread from Reno to nearby Virginia City and Sparks, where city streets are closed down to host “show and shine” car events on the public roads. Organized cruise routes between these locations prove that smaller venues can pull together to create something much larger as a group than singularly as an individual city.
This Year’s Event
This year’s schedule of events actually started on July 29th and continued through August 7th – a full ten days of wall-to-wall activity. Every casino in the area hosted their own classic car show, with some larger than the others. Our event coverage crew flew into town on August 5th, rented a car from Enterprise at the airport and talked to the desk clerk Danielle.
She eyeballed our business cards that proudly stated we worked for automotive enthusiast magazines, then cast a doubting eye at the Nissan Versa our company rented for our crew. “You’re here for the car show and you’re going to drive up in that?” she asked incredulously.
“You can go to the convention center but I recommend you go to the GSR [Grand Sierra Resort] casino first. They have the best show and my family loves to go there,” she said, pointing in the direction we were suppose to go.
Pointed In The Right Direction
Our girl Danielle could not have been more spot-on! The massive parking lots were filled with beautiful classics. We could count the number of trailer queens on one hand. The rest? Well… they were magnificent! The lot of cars at the GSR casino was probably one of the largest collection of classic cars that routinely get driven in a single car show. Our estimates were between 1,000 to 1,500 cars from the 1930s up to a couple of customs from the 1980s.
Wandering through the rows of cars, we didn’t know what to expect with each step. Unlike many of the car shows we attend, the car owners were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they were gambling in the casino, or maybe they were just walking through the rows of classics just like us? While there was not any rhyme or reason in the presentation of the vehicles, we did notice that there was an absence of foreign models. It might have been neat to see the cars staged by make – but we realized the extreme difficulty in logistics to make that happen.
Another observation occurred as we moved through the different venues, first at the GSR show, then to Victorian Square, and finally the Big Boys Toys Show: the crowds at each event were comprised of older, mature enthusiasts that grew up with classics and rock & roll. We mentioned this to several vendors at the different shows, and their responses were expressed in concern over bringing in new blood to the hobby – a fear that we all share.
We spent almost all of our time admiring the cars that were driven to the show. There’s just something about the minor imperfections of a rock chip or tree sap on the paint that lets us know that the car gets driven. The ones that have pitting in the windshield glass is a dead give-away that the car is driven often. Few things are as disappointing as walking up to a classic at a show and seeing the tire whiskers (sprues) on a set of unused but mounted tires, which clearly indicates that vehicle is a trailer queen.
Our Top Five Cars From The GSR Show
One of the first classics that we happened upon was a pretty clean 1930 Ford Model A Town Sedan. This beauty was modified for driving and appeared that it was taken on the road regularly. Equipped with an original Model A four-cylinder engine, the builder used a lightened flywheel to help the engine rev up faster. Two Stromberg 97 carbs sat on top of cylinder heads that were Ardun converted heads with overhead valves. The block was fitted with bearing inserts, a major upgrade for future engine rebuilds.
The transmission mounted behind the flathead was a T-5 tranny out of a Chevy S-10 pickup truck. Another upgrade that makes driving this machine a more pleasurable experience. A 1940 Ford Clutch and pressure plate were used in combination with the tranny upgrade. Another safety concern was addressed with hydraulic front disc brakes replacing the stock drums. The all steel body was painted by Auto Perfectionists Ltd in Fairfield, California. Upholstery was done by ABC Upholstery in Vacaville, California.
1959 Chevrolet Impala
A ’59 Imp is one of the all-time ultimate fan favorites at every car show. The first generation Impalas took over as leaders of the GM automotive line by the 1958 Impala representing 15% of the total Chevrolet production. When the redesigned 1959 model rolled out, the public was skeptical. Two distinctive features have made this model Impala one of the most recognizable and desirable: the tailfins, which laid over and protrude outward instead of upward, and the teardrop designed taillights.
We found Mary and Joe Wallace’s ’59 Imp, painted in a custom blend called “Tropical Tangerine” by Marcos Garcia at Lucky 7 in Antioch, California. The body detail was handled and massaged by Craig Bartels of Craig’s Auto in Spokane, Washington. Motor Works’ Mike Ulrick was responsible for the engine building and Bob Devine did the interior at Devine’s Interior shop. The white interior highlights with the orange base reminded us of a 50/50 ice cream bar, and just as tasty.
Davidson’s 1928 Dodge Sedan
Former Edelbrock supervisor Chuck Davidson’s black and gray 1928 Dodge Sedan with an Edelbrock 400 cubic-inch small-block Chevy project engine, completely tuned and tested on one of the Edelbrock engine dynos, made an appearance at the GSR show and shine.
The V8 is equipped with Edelbrock Performer RPM cylinder heads, a 1411 Edelbrock carb, an Edelbrock 2103 camshaft, and Pertronix exhaust. Other modifications include Boyd wheels, Dunlop G/T Qualifier tires, front and rear leaf springs, and a quality paint job. The car was built by Robert Jung, with assistance from Mark Gray.
1955 Chevy BelAir Custom Gasser
It’s not a real car show unless you have at least one gasser. This year we found Ron and Lucy Moyer’s unique custom 1955 Chevy BelAir gasser on the premises. Typically gassers have a solid front axle that gives it a lifted front end stance. Moyer’s gasser was built with a completely custom front suspension that is unlike any other gasser that we’ve seen so far. Custom control arms with drop spindles and QA1 coilover shocks complete the design.
This custom was a frame off restoration with the body work, assembly, and paint done by the 401K Club Hot Rod Shop in Anaheim, California. The frame was powdercoated by Nu-Tec Powdercoating, also in Anaheim, California. The interior is complete with Vintage Air Conditioning, Flaming River steering column, an 8-point roll cage, power rack and pinion steering, Autometer gauges, Ron Mangus Interiors upholstery, Pioneer stereo, and electric windows by Eddie Koto.
The drivetrain consists of a Redline Performance built 540 ci Dart Big M big-block with 4-bolt mains. A Littlefield 8-71 blower with dual 950 cfm blower adaptive carbs and Dart aluminum Pro-1 cylinder heads. This combination puts out 843 horses at 6,500 RPM. Mounted behind the big-block is a 6-speed Tremec Transmisson with McLeod hydraulic clutch. A Ford 9-inch rearend with 3.73:1 positraction gear ratio provides the final drive.
1947 Ford Wagon
Much like the unwritten rule requiring a gasser in attendance to be a credible car show, there is another unwritten requirement that a Woodie be in the line up for a complete batting order. We found Joe and Audrey Silva’s 1947 Ford Woodie Wagon at the GSR car show lot from San Ramon, California.
1947 was the year that Henry Ford passed away, which many Ford enthusiasts consider the end of an era. In 1948 the Ford vehicles would be totally changed which put the previous year models in a place of high regard. The Silva’s Woodie is powered by a fuel-injected Chevy 350 cubic-inch V8 engine with a Ford C4 automatic transmission mounted to the back. The owners claim this car has all the original wood and panels, which is remarkable because the material is in such great shape.
According to the Silva’s, this car was originally delivered to a buyer in Utah. It spent 20 years stored in a living room before it was bought and trailered to California. Once in California, the Woodie underwent a complete frame off restoration, after which the current owners purchased the dream car and completed the interior work.
The Load Out
At the end of each event there is that time when the vendors are breaking down their displays and the car owners are loading up and heading back to their place of origin, or the next stop on the show tour. After spending eight straight days in Reno for the Hot August Nights event, the crews were more than ready to leave. When you get hit with this much excitement for that many days in a row, it can be tiring. It was clear that these participants were running on adrenaline packed days and the energy level had worn down.
The pack up and load out on Sunday took no time at all. As quickly as they came, they were gone. Another clear sign that the number of cars driven to the event outnumbered the number of cars that were trailered to the venue. Within the blink of an eye, the lot was as empty as a week-long gambler’s wallet. Our crew donated some money to the local casinos – a temporary loan. Till next year Reno … till next year.