WARNING: This will be very long and have very few pictures. Due to the length of this post, I will discuss the only one vehicle and try to not to give specifics that may identify the owner (I don't want to embarrass them about their purchase further).

Recently I have seen multiple people who have bought cars that have either been "winning show cars" or "magazine feature" cars that have turned out to be complete junk and I feel obligated to share some apparently not so common knowledge: A car being a "show car" or "magazine car" means nothing. That statement isn't strictly true, it means something, just not anything in relation to the value or quality of the vehicle. The problem seems to arise from the fact that when people think of "show cars" they think of Concours d'Elegance quality vehicles. When they think of "magazine cars" they imagine some fantastic vehicle that was so amazing it garnered national attention. Rarely do either of these occur.

Car shows generally don't contain the best examples of given cars unless the event is of national significance and the requirements entail detailed documentation of a vehicles history and/or documentation of the build if dealing with tuners/hot rods. Judges at these events are not mechanics. They are people who have a specific list of criteria to judge the cars on. They maybe general enthusiasts, but rarely are they serious connoisseurs of the cars they are judging. At the average local car show this may only be a few areas regarding appearance or the parts list. The vast majority of the time they will never hear the car run and will not see the underside of the vehicle. They will also only spend a few minutes or less looking the car over before moving on. The same is true of the audience. The average spectator is overwhelmed by the spectacle and is not there to dig into the details of most cars, and generally wouldn't know what they were looking at if they did. To win a prize, the cars simply need to be less flawed in the specific areas of their direct competition. That's it. Now for an example of what can happen when you don't consider car show awards in context when making a purchase.


A customer of a local shop I work with brought in a 240SX "show car" that they had just bought and were extremely proud of. It had won many awards and was actively being shown. They had paid a significant amount of money for it as it was right hand drive converted, wide body, and "fully built" for track use, but immaculate as it was only ever a show car. They had fallen in love with the color and really wanted to own a high end "tuner" car. Now the car was at the shop to be shown off and to start making a list of improvements, unfortunately, there was very little good news to be had.

While the car was still on the ground, interior and body problems were evident. First, the entire interior had been painted with spray paint, which looked ok from outside the car, but rubbed off pretty much as soon as you touched it. The car had a full cage, it was bolted into the floor pans and into insubstantial body points. Looking closer it was clear the cage was bolted together poorly and was made using very light gauge metal to the point of being nothing but a visual piece. There was even a fire extinguisher attached to it, but by straps that were riveted in place and could not be removed. The race harnesses were attached to the weak cage and would undoubtedly compress your spine due to the terrible angle right before the harness bar broke and allowed you to go face first into the steering wheel. The body panels for the wide body kit were installed directly over the existing body panels with only pop rivets. This is a common practice on some cheap track cars because it allows them to be removed and repaired quickly. Generally on quality show cars they are mounted in a better fashion, but use bolts/rivets as accents. This one did not and several had pulled through the underside body panels. The fenders were simply cut back so that they didn't show from under the overlay fenders and the sharp edges remained just out of view (but well within range of tires or fingers). There is no way it could have ever passed tech inspection for any real events involving the driving of the car, so obviously "track ready" was more of a style and appearance concept than actual fact. Rather than do a correct paint job the builder simply scuffed the existing paint and sprayed everything, making the paint have a very poor bond to the actual parts and only painted the exterior, leaving everything hidden behind the wide body to rust. Having sprayed everything on the car, there were also small gaps of mismatch color where the wide body was connected and had started to pull way as well as over spray on door and window seals. As soon as the car was on the lift things went from bad to worse.

When the lift started to move up, the front of the car didn't. Fortunately the tech was paying very close attention and stopped before it was more than a few inches off the ground. The builder of this car had taken the front clip of a right hand drive car and welded (poorly) the front to a US car, then swapped the VIN plate over. The entire front of the car was so poorly connected to the rest of the body that if you jacked either the front or rear, it would bend at the firewall. Eventually the car was able to be lifted by supporting it in 5 places (normal points under the body and a tall stand under the front). Once underneath it was obvious that there were no standards met with the fabrication. None of the welds had been done correctly and cuts were made directly across structural components and then not repaired adequately. It even looked like they got tired of welding and used a black silicone to fill many of the seams for some unknown reason. The suspension was held in by a few mismatch bolts, and the list got worse from there.


Under the hood the engine was the SR20DET that came with the clip, but it had tons of parts bolted to it. It had a big top mount turbo, it had an FMIC, it had a Greddy style intake manifold, and lots of random shiny bits. All of it was knock off/cheap ebay stuff, but it was what we didn't see that was the problem. There were no supporting upgrades. The fuel system was stock, including regulator. The ECU was stock and unopened. The oil system was stock. There was nothing there to suggest any of the parts that were added could really be used or tuned for, and that was exactly the case. The car didn't even have as much power as a stock SR20DET should, and that was probably a good thing because if you drove it hard it probably would have broken in half.

The list of problems with the car could be a multipart article on their own, but I think you get the idea. The new owner contacted the seller who told them it was a "show car" and they never guaranteed it was road/track safe.. Eventually they realized that nothing could be done to "fix" the car as it was. Instead, they opted to buy a whole new chassis and move the good parts from one car to the other, fabricating and installing them the right way. The "amazing" show paint and wide body would have to be scrapped completely with the old shell. All said and done, the owner will be more than 3x into the project what it would have cost to build the car the right way from scratch. When asked why they didn't have the car taken to a mechanic for inspection before buying it, they said "It's a show car, it had to be good because it won awards." The owner took it to another car show before tearing it a part and won best overall import...

Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence. I have seen multiple people in only the last several months make poor decisions like this. It also isn't unique to show/magazine cars or specific types of cars (imports, domestics, tuners, hot rods, etc). People make poor decisions based solely on appearance of a vehicle all the time, but generally they aren't justifying it with the flawed logic that the vehicle must have been of good quality and condition because other people had given it awards for such.

If there is only one thing you take away from this, it should be to always have an expert evaluate a car before you buy it if you are unsure of what you are looking at. Even if it has awards or feature articles to it's name.