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h2o international 2012

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10 October 2012

We’ve been attending H2O for more than ten years and it occurred to us that maybe a few of you could use some background history. H20 comes from “Club H20” – a New York area social club for owners of modified water-cooled VWs and Audis and H20 International had been their answer to the UK-style enthusiast events such as Audi Driver International and GTI International. When the club imploded as clubs are want to do, Jay Shoup was there to catch it all before it fell… at least the show component. The event was moved years ago to Ocean City, MD, and though it’s had to play venue hopscotch for the last two years thanks to its former home becoming a casino, this hasn’t dampened the level of attraction from its fans.

Ocean City was the likely choice because this was Shoup’s hometown, but the unlikely venue has allowed the show to flourish and survive. H20i doesn’t have multiple nearby major cities from which to coax fans (Waterfest), nor a decidedly German environment (SoWo), but what it does have is a town that’s not flustered by throngs of partiers at the wheel of German cars coming to town and looking for a good time. Where other events seem to be on decline as a result of evening activities being clamped down, H20i continues to grow.
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For 2012 H20i tried yet another new venue, this time at the local Fort Whaley campground. This rolling bit of countryside just across the causeway from Ocean City proper was close, though such a large contingent of fans turned out that the commute across the bridge morphed from a 10-minute run at 7:30 AM to a two-hour commute by mid-day.

Inside the gates, the look and feel was pretty much the same as previous years. Cramped quarters for vendors were about the only complaints we heard, causing business to be down, but not for lack of attendance. The judged show field itself seemed no bigger, yet hiking the rest of the wooded grounds to see even more cars required significant additional time. Every time you thought you’d seen it all, you’d enter another clearing or head down another path and there were more rides to be ogled. And if you want a photo, snap it quick. These areas are quite fluid. We spotted an E30 BMW M3 wagon on display near the bathrooms and found it gone an hour later when we returned with a camera. A pity.

Another distinctly H20i phenomenon is that many enthusiasts don’t even get over to the show. In addition to those considering the abandonment of their cars on the side of the road because the swollen highway had been closed and because they were missing the show, there are also those who head into town with no intention whatsoever to make it to the show. For those people, H20i is more a weekend away from it all. These people focus on nights filled with cruising, nightclubs and parking lots just off the strip full of one amazing car parked next to another. As many head off to the show, even more choose to detox the afternoon away on the beach and under the warm sun.
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Nearby in the APR booth where APR’s operations manager Johnny Petrina is now chatting up some customers about the TT RS and his company’s imminent Stage III setup for its blown 5-pot, the giant black arm of a camera boom reaches up out of a crowd of people in front of the AWOL.tv/Rotiform stand. That military-looking outpost is surrounded by Audis – mainly B5s with RS 4 arches and all dropped on air suspensions for that stanced look. It seems they’ve taken a break from shooting T-shirts clear across the vendor area via a homemade cannon and AWOL’s Matt Crane is interviewing someone… not sure who, but she’s pretty and she’s leaning on a B5 RS 4.

It’s not that people here don’t care about performance, but the focus at H20i is style. That burgundy RS 4 behind the girl at the AWOL stand is textbook for what makes the scene at H20i tick. The car belongs to AWOL creator JJ Larson. It’s led a lot of lives, first as an Tiptronic S4 for who knows who, then painted white and transformed into an RS by Mr. Larson as a project car for this website, then radar absorbing matte green military paint as marketing move for AWOL, briefly matte black over this past summer and now looking super classy in an Aston Martin burgundy and rolling on rebuilt BBS RS2s. Of course it’s dropped via an Air Lift suspension, and it’s properly stanced with the only the lips of those BB’s extending out beyond the metal fender flares. The style is what grabs the eye, but there’s substance underneath the hood to the tune of a fire-breathing 2.7T with Tial upgrade said to be over 500 hp on tap… providing that air ride can handle that sort of muscle.

As you might think, finely tailored cars like that B5 are fairly commonplace here. So too are the smaller Volkswagens and Audis of all types. The Golf R hasn’t been out long, but there were already a large number of built examples on the green in Maryland. There’s also the tailored vintage scene H20i is famous for has delivered one very mouth-watering cars like a 2.0 TFSI Mk1 Golf, a 3.2 VR6 Mk 1 Golf, no less than three Rallye Golfs and a lone 1984 4000S quattro on color-matched BBS wheels. If you missed any of them then you missed out to be sure.

There’s also Top Dawg. Okay, so the name’s cheesy but those in this invitation only class usually aren’t. Hand-picked by judges and show organizers, these are often the cream of the crop. Details like OE quality stitched interiors, shaved bays and the like aren’t exceptions here. They’re common. When we spot one Golf MkIV wearing refinished Volkswagen Racing alloys from the German New Beetle Cup, we know we’ve found the right place.

We also bump into Lon Mok from HRE who’s flown in from Los Angeles. No doubt he’s happy to see so many cars sporting his brand’s alloys. We spotted one very white B7 RS 4 in the woods wearing white HREs and parked next to a murdered out R8 Spyder wearing their metal as well. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, but there’s a Sportec B6 A4 on the other side of vendor row sporting an HRE wheel we’ve not seen before. The look is highly reminiscent of those BBS fan wheels from the Audi IMSA days, and we hear it’s dubbed 935… as in Porsche 935.

That Lon and the 935 have both made the trip 3,000 miles is telling. Forget how laid back H20i is, that the venue has changed three times in as many years or that some people who come to town sometimes don’t even make it in to the show. None of that erodes the level of importance of this event, and that it flourishes under what would otherwise be chaos for any other show just goes to prove the point. H20i may be at the end of the season, and it may be a bit harder to verbalize or pin down, but it leads the summer show scene in style. For that reason, it’s always been and remains an event not to miss.

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