Meet 'Mr. AACA'
For Joe Vicini, car shows are about more than the sparkle of paint jobs or the vroom-vroom of engines.
In Vicini's world, every vehicle must be perfect. Each element -- whether visible to fascinated viewers or hidden under the hood -- has to be exactly as original.
The payoffs are big for owners whose vehicles have been rated by the chief judge of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) and his team. Perfect or very high scores mean trophies, bragging rights -- and even possible profits when it comes time to sell the vehicle.
Vicini, of Perrineville, N.J., will be overseeing "about 280" judges -- including his wife Fran -- at the AACA Grand National/Southeastern Special Fall Dual Meet scheduled June 14-16 at the Celebration Grounds.
"He's a top-notch kind of person," said Phyllis Clanton of Shelbyville, one of the event's organizers. "When most people see him at shows they think, 'That's Mr. AACA.' "
And participants can depend on one thing: Vicini knows his cars.
"I now have 335 credits as a show judge," Vicini, 77, said. Those "credits" indicate he's judged 335 shows, the second-highest number of any active AACA judge.
The judging process is intense in this show, which is limited to "the best of the best." Vehicles must have received a Senior Award in an AACA show last year to be entered.
"We have teams of five with one captain," Vicini said. "We spend about five to 10 minutes on each vehicle. We look over the engine, interior, exterior (paint) and chassis. Judging is on a 400-point scale."
"The team captain has a judging sheet. The judges look at each vehicle and bring the sheets to the captain, who tallies up the score," Vicini said.
The number of cars inspected by each judge depends on the event, Vicini said. It's usually eight to 12 vehicles per judge, but can be higher in a large show such as Shelbyville's.
"We depend on our judges and keep everybody in line," he said. "We'll meet at 7:30 for breakfast, then go out and judge.."
Judging will begin at 11 a.m. Friday and Saturday, according to the event schedule. A judges' school is scheduled for Thursday.
Keeping it real
Originality is crucial, Vicini said.
"We judge the cars as they were received from the factory. They'll look at the spark plugs, distributor, etc., for example."
Parts must be those originally used by each manufacturer in the vehicle's model year, according to Vicini.
"For example, a GM car must have GM spark plugs, Fords must have Ford plugs. They must be from the same year the car was manufactured."
Parts may be reproductions as long as they accurately represent those used when new, Vicini said.
He noted that there are separate classes for cars which have undergone ground-up restorations as opposed to unrestored originals.
Years of respect
Vicini is one of the most respected figures in the AACA.
"I'm a director of AACA and was president in 2003," Vicini said. "I began judging in the 1970s and have been doing so for over 30 years."
His show judging career began unexpectedly,
"We restored a '63 Nova. I took it to a show and they named me a judge," Vicini said.
Keep your eyes open for that '63 Nova at the show. The car, now owned by someone else, will be on display.
An owner, too
Vicini can relate to the cars' owners on their level as well. He owns two collector cars himself.
"I have a '69 Camaro Pace Car and a '75 Cadillac. I've owned nine or 10 antique cars," Vicini said.
"I see cars I wish I could buy at every show. You see cars from when I was a teenager -- I'm from the '55 Chevy era -- that were $4,000 and now are $70,000.
"I worked at GM for 44 years and built some of those cars."
Vicini says he's looking forward to his time in Shelbyville.
"I was there a couple of days ago," Vicini said. "There's plenty of room for the cars. Everybody I met who was connected with that facility was very friendly.
"It's a beautiful facility, a beautiful area, and I was very impressed."