Uncovering America’s Love For The Muscle Car
Secondhand Smoke

For one week out of the year, Reno’s population more than doubles.

Home to nearly 250,000 people, the Northern Nevada city, which has dubbed itself ‘The Biggest Little City In The World,’ is home to the wild extravaganza that is Hot August Nights.

While it always seems that Reno lives in the shadow of Las Vegas, it’s very much the other way around for this one week in August. Reno is without a doubt the place to be for classic car enthusiasts around the country, and this is when all of the frustrations of owning a classic pay off. The countless hours in the garage and the untold sums of money spent are finally worth it.

Talking to some who drove over 30 hours across the country to attend Hot August Nights 2018, it’s really an understatement when I say this show is a big deal. It’s a complete celebration of all (American) things ’50s and ’60s, and now celebrating its 32nd anniversary the show is as lively as ever. Spanning across dozens of casino parking lots and spilling out into the streets of the Reno-Sparks area, there really is no better setting for the event to take place.

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While temperatures hovered around the 100ºF degree mark (38ºC) all weekend, relief was always near. With air conditioning and dozens of bars within short walking distance, you can pop into the pleasantly cool gambling houses should you need to. Here you’ll find yourself surrounded by gaudy opulence, the smell of cigarettes and singing slot machines; a strange culmination of capitalist thinking in the land of the free.

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But outside is really where you want to be, and the official Hot August Nights kick-off party went down at Peppermill Casino.

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Row after row after row of hot rods, muscle cars, and everything in between. Over 6,000 cars attend the event every year, and I recognized more than a few from the last event; shows like this are a total tradition.

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Talking to some in the crowd, there are those who’ve made it to this event for the last seven years, 12 years, 18 years straight. I’m sure there would have been someone who’s attended for the past 32 years. While there’s no debating that Hot August Nights generally caters to an older crowd – a fact that makes sense given the age of the machines in attendance – these guys aren’t messing around.

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Year after year, hundreds of thousands around the country make the trek out to bask in the glory of the classic automobile at Hot August Nights.

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Of course, that isn’t to say that a new generation of classic enthusiasts isn’t in attendance. For any young kid, the rumble of a big block, the smell of spent fuel, and the dry heat of Nevada are the makings of total nostalgia. This is the place that favorites are formed, and there were a couple stand-outs for me at the Peppermill.

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Walking out of the casino, the first car I noticed was a rather special one. What you’re looking at is a Corvette Nomad, and it really shouldn’t exist. My understanding is that GM built a handful of these in the early 1950s, only to crush them when they were done showing them off.

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This replica is all metalwork and looks 100% original. The owner, Ray, takes great pride in this, as it’s one of perhaps two recreations in existence. He’s local to me, so I’ll take a closer look down the road if you’d like.

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A few cars down was something that wasn’t a car at all. Sort of the opposite of a car – a lifted ’56 3100 step-side pickup. Completely garage built, the supercharged 4×4 is total madness. As the owners live out here in Nevada, I do hope it sees a desert trail from time to time.

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Even stranger is something I spotted towards the end of the lot. I saw the car last year and wanted to give it a bit more attention this time around.

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It’s quite clearly a Mustang, but also quite clearly something else.

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Housing a 354ci Chrysler Hemi V8 mated to a two-speed transmission, Dan Dhondt’s Hemi-Stang is the strange offspring of a Fiberfab front end and a wild idea to take it one step farther. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 50 of these fiberglass front clips were ever made.

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As the sun went down behind smokey clouds courtesy of California’s wildfires, I soaked up all the vintage vibes.

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But the night was far from over. People seemed to pour out of the casino by the hundreds, flooding the lot to relive the magic of decades past. Reno may not be everyone’s first choice, but there’s no denying the special place it has in the hearts of millions thanks to Hot August Nights.

There’s much, much more to come from this week of classic car appreciation.

Trevor Yale Ryan
Instagram: tyrphoto
TYRphoto.com

Cutting Room Floor
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11 comments

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1

Nice to see more American muscle and classics getting more exposure on here lately, keep it coming!

2

Yeah, I need more info on the nomad.

3

He's local to me, I can probably meet up with the guy. Super nice, has loads of photos of it being made too. It's really well done.

4

Nothing like leaving Reno on Sunday to face an 8-hour traffic jam down the mountain towards Sacramento. Good times...

5

I used to like going to see old American cars at shows like these. Now, I go only occasionally, because I feel NO connection, it is endless rows of the same flames, purples, greens, chrome, Cragars and deuce highboys... See the 5th. photo? that is the crowd attending these events and owning these 40s and 50s cars, just like here in Arizona or Florida where I used to live before. These cars (not the restos) were expensively built sometimes with bad taste (if not check the white winged abomination) according to 70's, 80's and early 90's build styles as shown in Hot Rod Magazine. They feel sometimes too different to what the younger crowd would build today. Now go see other events in this website and notice the people attending... see what I mean? I wonder what will happen to all these cars when the generation that owns them is gone and newer generations don't appreciate or like them as they are because they did not grow up with cars like this; and newer generations are not even much into cars. Kids now can't even drive a stick, much less when your choice will be an automated self driving Uber or Lyft. I think you'll see more 80's and 90's cars in the shows and less 40's and 50s.

6

Ed i agree with you that many builds are very similar, but there's always tons of variety if you look for it.

Like David said this is true anywhere, and I think possibly even worse in shows with newer cars.

In the coming decades I would expect to see a style shift, and hopefully that means some of these older, less tasteful, cars will become cheaper. They can always be repainted without flames and the like.

7

I go to muscle shows as well as ones for tuner cars, and it's the same thing, just with a younger demographic. I walk right past the dozens of Evos and STIs because they all have generally the same things going on, and I even see several a day in traffic. There's no connection there for me, either. And both crowds are just as closed-minded. I think social media has groomed the younger "enthusiasts" (I use the word very loosely; you know some of them aren't completely in it for the cars) to be more judgmental, and it doesn't always stay on the internet. I also went to Goodguys wearing my "I Love Honda" shirt one year. I'll be honest and admit it was an intentional social experiment, and the first thing I hear upon crossing the gate is, "party foul!" During my walk-around, taking photos, I get called a ricer twice. Sheesh, forgive me for being into everything. Though there was one guy I talked with, who had an old Henry J there, that told me, "we're not all idiots."

Concours is where it's really at. Except for the crowd of modern Ferraris that arguably don't fit in at a show of that type, everything there is interesting. The variety is amazing, and the people are great to talk to because they feel the most passionate about the automobile in general.

I do fear that older cars will become less common in the future, but I think it has more to do with their cost of entry, if the owners aren't doing all they can to keep their kids and grandkids passionate about them.

8

Oh, and I really dig the Daytona-style Mustang!

9

Let's see more of that purple pickup thing beside the yellow boss 302

10

Check the Girls' Cars Guys' Cars article that just published, there are a few in there.

11

I second the nomad, that thing looks sweet and feature worthy.

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