Title: How are car shows judged? An interview with Mike Klem

How did you get into judging at car shows?

-        I started out by going to a Concours D’Elegance judging school within the Mercedes Benz Club of America back in 1999.   My original reasons for doing so was to learn about what the judges look for on my show car but I really enjoyed it and have been judging ever since. One of the reasons I take it so seriously is that there are many shows out there that do not know how to properly judge cars. I try to give back to the hobby by being the best car show judge I can be and helping teach others how to properly judge cars to help out our great hobby in the future.


Do you judge vehicles other than Volkswagens?

-        Yes. I judge many different types of cars at the AACA level as well as the regional and local level.  I have the most experience judging Volkswagens, Mercedes Benz, Mustangs and Corvettes but I have judged all types of cars over the years.


How long have you been a judge and have you noticed any trends over those years?

-        2015 is my 17th summer judging cars. As for the cars trends come and go but stock is still stock. I remember when “Participant Judging” became popular about 12 years ago and many shows (especially smaller shows) have gone to that format I think to try to stop the complaining some owners will do about why their car lost to another car. However I am not a fan of Participant Judged shows as they are more of a popularity contest and the car with the fanciest paint jobs and the most chrome with the most friends at that show will win.


What do you look for?

-        There are different types of shows where we look for different things. Most car shows that are regional or local typically we are looking for cleanliness and condition. It is very important for judges to be consistent. My wife attended one of my classes and called it the Three C’s. If a person wants to compete in a car show make sure the car is really clean and the condition of components is as nice as possible. In the larger shows originality is also an important factor (correct hose clamps, radiator caps, etc) but most small to mid-sized shows do not look that carefully at originality as the larger shows like AACA.


Not only are you a judge, but you teach others to judge. What does this type of training consist of? How could one sign up for your training? 

-        Currently I am the Head Judge of the Mahoning Valley Car Club (MVOCC) and I teach a class for our judges. I would be willing to teach the class to other clubs too. The class is a good 2 hours long and we cover how to properly judge the cars including Judge’s Etiquette which I think is critical. We also teach about the different types of car shows and what we look for in each type of show.


What are some common mistakes competitors make when they enter a show?

-        Not understanding what type of show they are entering and how they are going to be judged (for instance will the undercarriage be judged or not?). Cleanliness is so important and basic to showing cars but many owners don’t understand that. I have seen really nice cars but the floors mats have dirt, stones and grass on them and the owners just leave their cars like that. Also – don’t get into debating or arguing with the judges. Most judges are trying to do their best job and arguing with them doesn’t do you any favors. Don’t come to the show and complain you were parked in the sun or in the shade…it is amazing what some people get upset about. Don’t get upset if a show does not allow small personal tents to be set up…have you ever thought about what happens if a strong wind comes and blows the tent around the show field and hits a bunch of show cars?

From what I understand, there is usually a point system, are there other ways to judge? Can you give us an example of point values or penalty points?

-        The larger shows are point judged and each car is perfect until the judges come up to the car and start looking it over. Typically the car starts with 100 points or 400, etc. Cars can be judged on cleanliness, condition and originality. There are other ways of judging too. A true Concours D’Elegance show is judged on how the car looks artistically. These shows will often have guest star judges and sometimes famous people judging and they are look at the cars as art and looking for that wow factor.


What are some of your favorite shows to judge? 

-        I enjoy judging in all different types of shows but my most favorite are points judged shows where it might look something like this (just an example):

-        Points based shows are the most subjective when done correctly.


Is there anything else we should know?

-        The most important thing I try to teach judges is to be fair and subjective as well as being professional and having good judge’s etiquette. 

-        If a person is interested in becoming a judge find someone you know that judges cars and ask them to shadow them on the show field. Once you become known as a judge people will ask you to help judge their car shows.  Take classes on judging cars every chance you get.

-        Judges are not paid to judge car shows.   Sometimes we get a free shirt or a lunch but we are not paid.   It is all volunteer work.


Lastly, would a free “Air-cooled Preservation Society” membership card get me any extra points for my car?

No but in a way I believe you are on to something. I would love to see classic Volkswagens have their own national judging program/system. We have two national Volkswagen clubs but neither of them have a standardized judging program like the other car marquees do. I think this is a big miss in the VW hobby. On a positive note, the AACA has come up with a VW only class. It is class 4C and I think that was a big step in the right direction for VW’s to get more attention from a judging perspective. I would really like to see a strong national VW club (dues will need to be paid) that takes the VW hobby to the next level not only as a national club but with a national judging program too. We in the VW hobby have to get out of the mindset that everything should be “free”. If we want our cars to be taken seriously we need to make changes and have a strong national club that helps move the VW hobby to the next level.   That’s just my $.02.