The cream of the crop shows off at B.R. car show

World of Wheel

Almost from the time cars became an everyday part of American life, there have been people who looked at their vehicles and wondered how to make it faster, prettier or cooler, who turned their heads and stared at the hot rod that passed them down the street.

This weekend, there is a great place to be for those people.

The Baton Rouge World of Wheels show runs Friday through Sunday at the Baton Rouge River Center, and will feature about 120 heavily modified and customized cars, trucks and motorcycles in all their tricked-out glory. And, because this show comes at the end of the International Show Car Association season, which started in November, it will include the ISCA national championship, with 25 cars from across the country vying for titles in various categories.

The cars themselves are worth anywhere from $35,000 to close to $1 million, and the total value of the cars on display will be between $30 million to $40 million, said Mark Chiasson, who runs the Baton Rouge World of Wheels.

“Our type of customer is anybody that would be interested in a ’57 Chevy or a ’69 Camaro or a Mustang, whatever that car was that thrilled them as a younger person, or a hot rod of any kind,” said ISCA President Bob Millard. “We have restored cars. We have motorcycles. We have trucks. We have street rods, hot rods, custom cars. … Our spectator is anybody who loves the automobile.”

World of Wheel has held its area shows in Lafayette in recent years, but is moving to the River Center because it can provide space for about twice as many vehicles as the Cajundome, Chiasson said.

The show includes a prize for best entry from Louisiana, but Chiasson said those coming to the River Center will be from several southeastern and southwestern states — even those not part of the ISCA competition. This is one of 30 World of Wheels events throughout the year, and Chiasson recruits cars he likes from the other shows.

“I’m a little picky,” Chiasson said. “We actually select them so we don’t have too many hot rods, too many this or that. … We don’t want to have nice cars in here with those somebody just drove in off the street. They’re probably the cream of the crop.”

Having the ISCA championship is a drawing card, as those who compete at a more regional level get to see how their cars stack up next to those competing for national awards, Chiasson said.

At the top end of the competition, all of the cars have cost their owners at least $100,000 to get it to its current condition. Although these competitions grew out of the days when such cars were used on the streets, many of them today are for indoor shows only. In the early 1960s, Millard said, 85 percent of the cars were driven to shows, and the owners cleaned them at the site. Today, 95 percent arrive in trailers.

“These cars are judged that tightly that they don’t want that dirt in there,” he said.

Yet, even if these cars will seldom be seen driving in traffic, they harken to the days after World War II when the idea of the car as something more than transportation took hold.

“It has grown from the guys in the ’50s with what we now call traditional or rat rod cars,” Millard said. “We have a place for those in our shows because we want the history of the sport to follow us. But when a guy took a ’32 Ford in 1955 and he’d just got out of the service, he cut it all up and did the best he could with junk parts to make that car a hot rod. That’s where the hot rod came from.”

And this is where it’s come to.