Apologies—I couldn’t keep up. Radwood NorCal was just too…well, rad. Okay, not too rad. That’s like saying your checkered Vans had too many checkers, your Jelly Fish Swatch was too clear, your music had too many synthesizers, your Business was too Risky, or that Spicoli’s dad’s set of tools was too awesome.
Radwood is a celebration of 80s and 90s automotive lifestyle. If you’re wondering which part of that lifestyle is celebrated, the answer is “yes.” Droves of cars start arriving early with the excitement and 80s and 90s music rising even ahead of the sun. Whether your vibe was a good flannel around your waist and singing Nirvana out of your Camaro, a preppy sweater over your shoulders while humming Cure songs in your BMW E30, or listening to Prince in your Toyota SR-5 pick-up, you’ll be smiling before most of your friends are awake.
The flashbacks started again in late July when this traveling festival of radness landed back in its birthplace, the San Francisco Bay Area. Almost all of the 44 Radwood events have been held in different locations. This year’s return to the Bay was literally on the bay as the event was held on the historic 111-year-old Pier 30/32, replete with the iconic San Francisco Bay Bridge in the background and an active ship moored at the pier’s end.
Statistically, if you’re reading this, you remember the 80s and 90s. Or maybe you’ve been trying to forget those decades—or at least your fluorescent yellow shorts, teased hair, all but That One Depeche Mode song, and that Pontiac Firebird. As a BMW fan, you might remember roundel-emblazoned cars well, but some of the ignored or forgotten cars tend to be passive all-stars at Radwood events, too.
All-stars or not, this year’s Radwood NorCal counted more than 600 VIP and display cars and probably more than 3,500 people through the event that fine Saturday. And while the music and outfits kept the nostalgia high, the people and cars continue to highlight these events.
“The event encourages period correct dress, entertainment, and music,” explains co-founder Art Cervantes. “People might come for one of those aspects, but end up liking the cars. Everyone has had that automotive experience and you’ll find something that’s relevant to you at Radwood. I see non-car people who attend with someone who is a car person and the next thing you know, they’re posing next to a car because it reminds them of a car they were driven to school in or grew up in. This connection, this nostalgia—it’s more experiential, more emotional.”
Even when it was about the cars, it wasn’t just about the cars. First time Radwood’er Mark Mills arrived in his 1991 E34 M5 with two period bikes mounted to the roof racks. “The car was actually originally sold right here at a [nearby] Palo Alto BMW dealer,” Mills says. “It has more than 200,000 miles now with highlights like an M Sport cloth interior and the famed turbine wheels. The mountain bike is a 1989 Bridgestone MB1 that I’ve ridden more than 4,000 miles. The roadbike is a 1995 Specialized Allez that belongs to my youngest son Brodie. He’s here with his 1993 535. He was actually the one who suggested we come to this.
“This might be our first Radwood, but it definitely won’t be our last,” he continues. “We were giddy all day and loved everything about the event. The venue was perfect and everyone we met was really nice. They loved the patinaed M5 and were glad to see if gets driven!”
Keeping the E34 theme going, Jonas Goldsmith drove in from Reno, Nevada, with his friend Pasha Nosrat in Goldsmith’s 1990 E34 535i. “This was actually built here in the Bay Area by Hardy & Beck as an Alpina, including the cam, the chip, higher compression pistons, and more,” Goldsmith says. “My dad bought it about fifteen years ago in San Diego. Monterey Car Week is usually our annual automotive pilgrimage, but he’s not able to go this year, so I brought the car out to my first Radwood. I just finished a respray as one of the last steps in its restoration. I drive the car quite a bit. It was my dad’s daily driver for a decade and now it continues to be reliable for me, too.”
Even though San Francisco can be a four-hour drive from Reno, Nevada, Goldsmith was hardly the only Reno resident putting miles on a BMW. Rachel Micander drove the 220 miles from the Biggest Little City in her 1995 Arctic Silver E36 M3, making it a family weekend, too. “I caravanned with my husband and four-year-old daughter in our other car so they could explore the City while I was at the show. Besides, have you tried to put a modern car seat in the back of a nearly 30-year-old coupe with original leather seats?”
That’s no “ordinary” E36 M3 either. “Right after the first owner purchased it, he immediately took it to Dinan for Stage 2 upgrades, including the racing suspension, chip, cold air intake, shock tower brace, and axle-back exhaust.
“This was my first Radwood, but definitely not the last,” she continues. “Now I’m thinking of going to Radwood SoCal later this year, too. I grew up going to the Bay Area so this location was a fantastic highlight for me. It was a no-brainer to bring the family to start making memories of the City and great car events with our daughter. I’ve always wished there were more shows to appreciate 80s and 90s cars. These were the cars I grew up seeing and the vehicles that are actually attainable for car enthusiasts of my generation. It was a trip to see so many rad-era crs in one place and I loved seeing how many E30s and E36s there were! But I also loved the variety of cars from the Ferrari Testarossa and beautiful flat-nosed Porsches to the awesome Land Cruisers and a Marty McFly Toyota pick-up and even a couple of VW Sciroccos—such cool variety.
“I also really felt accepted, which is not always the case when you are a woman in a male-dominated place. At Radwood, people wanted to talk about cars with me, not at me. I will 1,000% be returning and am I’m happy to have found this car community.”
Radwood’s reach is certainly broad, but the locals were well-represented, too. Long-time BMW community stalwart Eric Friis had been to Radwood events before, but this was his first time displaying a car. “I went to the original Radwood in Brisbane,” Friis recalls. “It’s gone from a sort of local underground event and really evolved. It’s ten times bigger [now], but still a great event. What makes Radwood unique is that no one brand or subgroup dominates it. The cars were incredible. I kept thinking, ‘Where do people get these?!’ You see so many cars that you either don’t see normally or don’t think you ever would. I had not seen so many clean E30 manual convertibles anywhere, but then to see things like an Audi Quattro with a Red Line BMW bike on top and then a cool custom Jeep Scrambler and Japanese limousines with the embroidered upholstery covers, then that crazy airbrushed slope-nosed Porsche 911 with a mural under the hood!
“I brought my 1982 Euro E24 and soon found myself taking pictures of all the other cars. I sent some pictures to my nineteen-year-old son and he said, ‘That’s it, I’m coming!’ We live more than an hour away in Santa Cruz, but he came up, brought his friend and a camera, and probably snapped more than 1,000 pictures, too! He showed up and spent half this time FaceTiming with his sister to show her all the cool cars and people.”
It was also a family affair for another Bay Area family often synonymous with BMW. Long time Golden Gate Chapter Officer Tammi Hull was there with her husband and BMW shop-owner Bill Arnold and their nineteen-year-old son Derek. She drove her silver 1990 E30 M3 and Derek drove the red 1990 E30 M3 race car. “Bill had been to Radwood before, but this was my first time,” explains Hull. “I enjoy doing my part to keep the car culture alive, so if someone is going to do something cool like Radwood, I’ll support it. The event was great fun. I love that era. It’s the era I grew up in. There are so many of us who still love that era. It was neat to be there with Derek. He listens to a lot of that same music normally!”
There was so much at Radwood for so many people. Radwood certainly has evolved over the years, especially now being owned by Hagerty. Cervantes and fellow founders Lane Skelton and Warren Madsen created a great community that has only continued to improve. I had been to Radwood in SoCal four times and I’m glad I had a chance to see the NorCal iteration. It seems that wherever they hold the event, it will provide a great experience, but that’s not by accident.
“We want it to be more than just a car show,” explains Cervantes. “I want the canvas to be interesting, to have layers, backdrops, something beyond just a parking lot. This spot was great. I had wanted to do something here for years. The San Francisco skyline with the Bay Bridge, and even a ship on the other side—things like this are crucial to me. It’s a big part as a car person. It’s cool to take a picture of your car in a special place or location that you might not normally be able to access. It adds even a little more to the events.”
It also keeps us wondering what they have planned for future events. The schedule the rest of this year will find Radwood in Monterey, Washington, the UK, Detroit, Phoenix, and then back to SoCal. If you’re in striking distance, get your raddest clothes together and make your way to Radwood!—Kyle van Hoften