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30 September 2009

Autumn is coming. You can feel it. The crispness in the air and darkness encroaching into early evenings are signals of the end of the summer show season. And with this end comes that weekend on the calendar reserved for H20 International (H20i) in Ocean City, Maryland.

It’s hard to believe H20i has been going strong for twelve years, but it has. Year after year of consistency in beautiful and car show-friendly Ocean City have helped the event become one of the biggest in the American enthusiast scene and H20i remains quite unique.

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First and foremost, H20i is all about the show. There’s no drag strip so that attendees can earn quarter-mile bragging rights. There’s no road course here for track rats to indulge and no burn out competitions–except maybe at night on the nearby Ocean City strip. There is a Top Dawg class, so named for a grouping of the most insane cars hand-picked by a cast of H20i judges to compete for the top slot.

The ‘Dawg’ term might be fitting then for those quick to critique the event as not much more than a dog show of sorts. Yes, it’s more about the show than the go but H20i and its participants don’t take that too seriously. It is judged and those judges take their rolesearnestly, but with classes like “Best Beater” it is evident this is no snooty Concours and entirely bluster-free.

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Even better is the relaxed atmosphere of H20i. Whether you’re there representing one of the companies in the vendor area, in a group of friends who rented a house for the weekend or piled into your favorite German car of choice for a day trip, you’re likely to find one and all admiring the eclectic mix of cars either on the show field or in the many parking lots that line the beach town’s main strip.

If the market is still down, you wouldn’t know it by looking at H20i. Measure the vendor rows and they’re just as long as last year, though even more telling was the size of the overflow parking. H20i has always been a favorite of east coast enthusiasts, but the amount of cars spreading out to the furthest reaches of the Ocean Downs facility where the show is held stretched further than anyone could remember.

Usually more of a one-day show, it is clear to H20i organizers that there will need to be a formal addition of Saturday activities. There’s always been a pre-show barbecue earlier in the weekend, but the show’s growth has necessitated further review. There may have been no formal event, but lines of enthusiasts waited to enter on Saturday, walk the vendor area and enjoy the atmosphere.

For Audi enthusiasts, Saturday made for a bit of a scheduling conflict. The American Le Mans Series’ Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta marked only the second race of the season where Americans could catch the Audi R15 TDI on track within our borders. For those who skipped out on Atlanta in favor of Ocean City, APR offered a solution by way of the SPEED Channel coverage of the race live via satellite to the tuning firm’s motor home and piped to several large television screens where fans could watch Audi’s Allan McNish lead most of the race.

By Sunday morning, the rains that fell on Atlanta the night before had moved up the coast and sprayed early morning show-goers, making ponchos given out by Volkswagen a handy freebie to grab. Luckily, skies had cleared by noon leaving only a messy show field as the only unfortunate side effect.

Typical of H20i, the mix of cars on the field remained broad. Older cars are more numerous here, with pristine examples of the earliest Volkswagen offerings in much larger numbers than you are likely to see anywhere else. First-generation Golfs and Jettas built with no expense spared seemed in higher numbers than ever, as did impressively built Mk2 Rally Golfs imported from the other side of the pond. Audi owners didn’t miss the old school theme, either, and while the oldest Audis dated primarily from the early 90s, the collection of aging four ringers didn’t disappoint.

As one has come to see in discussion forums, late ‘90s and early ‘00s cars are now well off warranty and becoming darlings of the show scene. This is especially so for Golf and Jetta 4s and B5 and B6 generation Audi A4s.

Even the most modern models were common. Fifth generation VWs have been around for a few years, but VW brought out several sixth-gen Golfs, and even a number of modified CCs have begun to make an appearance. Audi was much the same, with a few S5s, one new supercharged S4 and even two R8 V10s.

So it’s been twelve years. Much has changed and much has not. H20i has continued to grow, with more classes, more representation from Audi owners and more participation by clubs and vendors than ever before. Even still, the event remains the same relaxed Ocean City season-ender it seems it’s always been. The economy may be still lagging and the show season over, but H20i soldiers on with more momentum than ever before. Here’s to next year and lucky number 13.

MORE INFORMATION:

www.H20international.com



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