We were happy to get invited to one of the best events of the summer and the one that started it all for the Minnesota Car Enthusiast Club. The Light Up the Night Show is one of the most unique and special events to find a home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2015 it was held at Target Field, then for the past 2 years it was held at the US Bank Stadium. In a stunning surprise, this year it was held on the street of Nicollet Mall in Downtown Minneapolis, perhaps the rarest venue possible for this event. People turned out by the thousands to see the first ever car show held on the newly redesigned venue that was finished right before Super Bowl 52 this year. The event’s purpose was to showcase the top 10 vehicles in MN from all the mainstream car brands. Invites were sent out months before to applicants since there was only room for roughly 300 vehicles along the 12 block pedestrian mall.
Cars began to roll in around 5PM to the normally bustling street full of people and buses. Volunteers were on hand to help park cars at an angle to help maintain the city’s fire lane requirement in case of an emergency, but of course the best shows always have cars parked at an angle due to how photographic it is to see them spread out. Judging didn’t start till 7 which gave all participants a chance to sit down and enjoy dinner at one of the best strips of restaurants in the state. At the south end was the European Imports, in the middle was Asian Imports, and the north end of Nicollet Mall was the Domestics and Trucks.
We arrived at the south end to be welcomed by the row of Audis and Volkswagens spanning decades as well as various automotive enthusiast styles. The first one that caught our eye was this 1967 Volkwagen Type 3 Fastback that was restored to its former glory. You really dont see classics like this at your average car show and can be even harder to find at European only shows due to just how rare they are. The paint was basically perfect and even the interior left no detail untouched.
Then we came upon this 1986 Volkwagen Cabrio with a 1.8T that was shaved, tucked, widened in the wheel arches and wrapped in a darker version of Audi’s Nardo Gray paint. What really stuck out about this car was just how modified it was in addition to how clean it was. The car really meshed well with the event center background as well.
When you are used to seeing newer M3s, 325s, Z4s and other BMWs, its a great change of pace to see something as special as a 1991 BMW E30 M3. The owner tells us it was imported over from Europe and was one of the best cars he has ever owned. With how clean the interior and engine bay was we were surprised to see how great condition the car was, event the paint looked untouched by time.
The BMWs shared the same row as the British cars since the block they were on was home to Minnesota’s most notable British restaurant accurately named “Brits Pub”. Among the Lotuses, Aston Martins, and Minis we caught an extremely rare sight. This is a 1971 MG B GT, perhaps one of the rarest cars at the show as a whole, and to top how great the car looked, it was rocking an SR20 swap in the engine bay that looked like a meticulously detailed install. A car we hope to see in the future for sure and maybe on the track next time with that kind of power in such a small package.
Next up was Mazdas and we got the expected lineup for sure. A few Miatas, some Speed3 and Speed6s, an RX8 and of course some nice FC and FD RX7s with rotaries or varying swaps (RB20 or turbo LS). The Mazda community locally seems really well connected as all of the owners knew each other and we hanging out talking about each others various builds. This blue 1993 Mazda FD RX7 really caught our eye as you really dont seem many in this color. The engine bay was lightly modded and was just well done through and though.
At the other end of the block was the Mercedes row and we admit this is our weak spot. At first glance of the row you would think all you were looking at was a dozen or so newer E63 AMGs. However, in addition there were a couple SL55s, a Mercedes Badged Smart ForTwo, and this super rare 2008 CLK63 Black Series with a one off factory silver satin paint job. If you know your Mercedes you probably know a lot more about this than we do, but all we know is that it was our favorite in the row by far.
An interesting block was up for us next when we saw 26 cars in a row without any real connection between them. As it turned out the block was for the 2017 Light Up the Night Show winners as they competed for a Best in Show award. This block was on average higher show quality than the rest of the blocks we had walked which you would expect out of cars that won various awards at a show a year previously. Many of the cars parked were brand favorites as well like a Nissan 350Z, a Ford Mustang, and an Audi S4. Each car told its own story with clear dedication from the owners and it really seemed like a tough job to judge the best of the best from a 2017 show.
It was hard to grab any good photos on the next block as it was nothing but exotics and crowds so we apologize in advance. You had Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, and McLarens of course but then we stumbled onto some rarer cars. We saw a 2018 Ford GT (a first for MN), a Vanderhall Venice (3 wheeler), and this twin turbo Audi R8 with the gated manual transmission. We couldn’t help but laugh a bit at the lack of a rear bumper but clearly its for the best reasons as it would probably just melt off. The owner was able to fire it up for us and it was a melody echoing off the city streets and skyscrapers.
On the next couple blocks were vendors and the Minnesota Car Enthusiast Club tent. We stopped by to gaze at the trophies for the event, wishing we had entered a car into the show as these were probably some of the highest quality show awards we had ever seen. Luckily we stopped by to grab our gift bags at the same time they were wrapping up their Kids Car Show which was full of Power Wheels type vehicles and the like. This mini BMW i8 was a well deserved first place and clearly the victory was shared by this father-son duo. Hoping to see more stuff like this take off in the future.
North of all the vendors the show resumed with the Mitsubishi and Subaru row, perhaps the best friendly rivalry in the import community. Up until the Lancer Evolution ceased production, WRXs and Evos were basically 2 sides of the same coin, and it truly appeared that way here in Minnesota, a state known for its snow and frigid winters. We also saw some Subaru BRZs, a Subaru Forester, a couple Mitsubishi Eclipses of varying generations, a 3000GT and even a Starion. The main attendee that surprised us was a 2006 Evo 8 that had full widebody aero and a built 4G63 that looked like it should have been putting the smack down on its competition at Gridlife, but as the owner told us he unfortunately couldn’t make it to that event so settle for some awesome hard parking.
Just north of one of the cities main Light Rail Transit Hubs was the Nissan and Infiniti row. There was an excellent group of R32 and R33 Skylines, one with a great Fast and Furious theme. We saw some fantastic 240 drift cars, wrapped in bright colors with excellent swaps under the hoods. A few VIP themed cars including a Nissan President and G35s en mass. While we would love to gush about the RB20 swapped red Datsun 280 that was almost the cleanest car around, we have to indulge and show you the 280 that showed up with a supercharged Chevy 350 V8 under the hood…..or should we say through the hood.
When you think Hondas and Acuras you probably think of your local street racing scene and the typical Civics and Integras, well this isn’t that collection. There were some extremely clean Civics and Integras, but on top of that some unique NSXs including a RHD Type-R, an Accord wagon, and then there was this Honda N600 with a GSX-R motorcycle engine swap. There is a lot to be said about what kind of creativity it takes to make a vehicle this crazy, but if you want to learn more about it, we recommend just checking out the owner’s Instagram.
The last block was accompanied by one of the last remaining surface lots in Downtown Minneapolis. This area was specifically for any and all domestics, clubs, low-riders, Jeeps and trucks. From Ford there were Mustangs new and old and a some incredibly well built group of Focuses. From Chevrolet there was a a handful of Corvettes, Camaros and some Cobalts….and then we saw this ZL1 and we had to pick our collective mouths up off the floor.
But that wasn’t the end of the domestics that showed up as Mopar rolled in heavy. There was a Challenger of every color including 2 Demons, a few Darts and Chargers, and even an orange 1969 Daytona came out. We saw some super rare domestics including a Delorean, a Bricklin SV-1, and even a green Holden Ute (somehow). Most of Cadillacs we saw were of the low-rider variety with 3 wheels on the ground. Similarly we saw Jeeps parked up on each other like a close band of brothers. If lifted trucks are your thing they were out in the dozens with lift kits, underglow LED lighting and some impressive wheel setups. Oh and we forgot to mention the Toyotas, Lexuses, Scions and Hyundais that were all up here too. As you can tell, this show literally had a little bit of everything and might have been the most diverse show we have ever attended. We covered maybe a tenth of the show, so hopefully you got a decent idea of how nuts the show was and what kind of unique experience a show like this is.
Dan Balto – Author
Michael Gatch – Photographer
Josh Dvorak – Videographer
Alex Kirpach – Editor