It seems like people sometimes confuse “different” with “bad.” No, we’re not about to delve into how to cure society’s historic woes—this is about car meets. I went to a different one and, well, I liked it. Ok, I loved it. But maybe the meet wasn’t that much different, but rather, a normal car meet that was different than what I’m used to.
The “When in Rome” mantra suggests trying new things in new surroundings and going with the flow. This past Saturday night, more than 2,500 miles from home, and about eight minutes past the two-hour return drive from Hot Springs, North Carolina to Greenville, South Carolina for the Vintage, I decided to try something new. No, it wasn’t sleep. Although, that would be new. And it wasn’t fried okra (I’m a fan actually). Instead, I heeded the suggestion of Johnny Valencia and headed to a car meet in nearby Boiling Springs, South Carolina, hosted by Autowerks SC.
With no idea what to expect, I left for the 35-minute drive anticipating a somewhat late arrival for the 6:00–9:00 p.m. event. I knew I wasn’t going to roll-up front in my loaner hybrid X5, but I found that in the overflow “lot,” there was as much of a show as at the actual show.
As I describe the fun, some of you might think, “This is not a different event; it’s what we always see/do/attend all the time.” And some of you at the meets I attend in SoCal might think, “There’s no way that would fly here.” But it does fly at Autowerks SC, and I’m glad I was there for it.
I could tell where the meet was located by the sound coming from some of the seriously impressive sound systems. I probably could have heard it from the Vintage. It doesn’t matter if they were playing my favorite songs (and one of the trucks was, for the record); there was as much pride in those systems as anyone has put in their wheels/fitment or paint or engine bay.
If you were looking for rows of your favorite marque, think grander. Think eras or countries or continents. The night I attended had an 80s-and-90s theme with JDM leading the party, comprising fantastic examples of Nissan 300ZXs, Toyota MR2s, Ford trucks, Jeeps, Integras, AE86/Truenos, and yes, BMWs. I saw a few fun Bimmers looking for parking spots as well as a black E24, one of the nicest E30 Touring examples I’ve seen, an E46 Touring, an E36 future track car, and two E30s—one an M3 and one with more than 315,000 miles on its M20 engine.
Aaron Weaver and his wife Natalie made a day of it with their E30 Touring by hitting the Vintage first and then had a front-and-center spot at the Autowerks SC event that night. “I love wagons,” Weaver says. “I’m definitely a wagon guy. This one just turned 130,000 kilometers and I’ve probably put 50,000 of that on in these past six years. I drive it often—just going to the store or just drive it to drive it. It came with almost every option available, and by the time I got it, it had already been manual-swapped. I built the wheels myself, added the Hartge aero kit, installed coil overs, and redid the suspension.”
He was putting the Touring to good use that day. Even after traveling more than 200 miles for the Vintage and now his second event of the day, he had E21 spare door panels in the back that he picked up in Hot Springs earlier in the day.
The Weavers weren’t the only ones on their second event of the day. Johnny Valencia and Aimee Shackelford were in Charlotte earlier in the day as judges for the Charlotte-based stop on the Hot Wheels Legends Tour and then on to this meet at Autowerks SC. Running GearOne Agency often presents a pace like that, but also brings them to many very different events.
“You have to love the car culture no matter what part of the country you’re in,” says Valencia. “Our agency strives to offer engaging environments for events no matter if it’s exotic cars, hyper cars, JDM, Euro, American muscle, low-rider—you name it. It’s refreshing to see that in more events, too. Here in the upstate of South Carolina, we’re lucky to have such a widely accepted variety of all. It’s common to have meets where BMWs, trucks, right hand drive JDM rides, and more co-exist. The owners enjoy learning about the different varieties, especially the younger generation which is our future to keep this culture moving forward. Without them, we’d sadly disappear.”
When I was listening to the LS engine lope in a Miata, I overheard three people equally as amazed by it. Moments later while I was taking a picture of the E24, the same guys came up to me and exclaimed that was their favorite of the event. I spotted them later in awe behind a wall of speakers immaculately installed into nearly every panel of a Chevy Tahoe.
I thought for a minute and wondered if I’d rather have that build or my Range Rover Classic (RRC). For me, I’ll keep the RRC, but I’m extremely glad and impressed this owner built that Tahoe. Not only was more invested in that than my RRC—so far, there’s still time!—but it was great to get a foot massage by standing twenty feet from its bass notes.
I’ve been to plenty of events where attendees put on a small show for whomever might be watching or holding up a phone or camera. At some events, it’s frowned upon by most. At some events, it’s the excitement many want and hope they can see before someone gets cited. I heard some of the best exhausts and engines leaving and driving by this event and by the police stationed out in front. Shackelford added a little more background to this symphony, or cacophony, depending on your perspective.
“Living bicoastal allows me to attend car events on the west and east coast. There’s a lot of passion on both sides of the country but seemingly with fewer restrictions in most places here in South Carolina,” she explains. “When there’s a place for it, like these events, I do enjoy hearing all of the loud exhausts. At Autowerks SC Night Meet, you’ll see and hear everything from LS-swapped Miatas to lifted trucks. I always expect an exotic car or two to roll in, but the stars of these shows are usually JDM classics, muscle cars and trucks.”
And the police? “I called them in here myself,” adds Autowerks SC owner Caleb Hightower. “We host four events a year, three of them right here at the shop, and then Car-toberfest in Inman, South Carolina in October. I figure we have about 500 people here tonight, but at Car-toberfest, we can get 4,000. One reason you see every type of car and truck out there is that we work on every type of vehicle. We just put an eight-inch lift on a Ford 350, then a two and a half inch lift on a 4Runner, and then on Johnny’s Integra GS-R, we did the intake, fuel rail, and throttle body.”
But before you think we’re missing the BMWs, we need only look to Hightower’s own collection and history, including two that were on site. “I have three BMWs,” he continues. “In addition to this E30 325i and that 328iS, I also have a 2002 E46 convertible M3. It’s more stanced with wide wheels and wrapped. It runs like a champ. Before that, I had a 2000 E39 M5, too.”
Single-marque meets can be a lot of fun. Many of us joined the BMW CCA to meet more BMW enthusiasts and see more BMWs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but many of us—myself included—enjoyed our first foray into the automotive community in a different car. Valencia adds, “Yep, I started with a Honda CRX Si and swapped in a JDM B16A DOHC VTEC motor back in 1995.” Chances are there are plenty of you who know what that is. It’s different, but it’s not wrong.—Kyle van Hoften