Sunshine On A Cloudy Day: First Class Fitment 2017

Now celebrating its eighth year, Canibeat’s First Class Fitment (FCF) has become the Northeast’s mainstay for a unique automotive spectacle that places its emphasis on quality, not quantity. Set in the beautiful fall foliage of Princeton, New Jersey, this event finds its exclusivity in its location on an active private airport near the famous Ivy League school. It serves as an annual marker that the car show season is coming to a close in our area. FCF is also a reminder that incredibly built automobiles are present no matter what corner of the country (or continent) you’re from.

As an automotive enthusiast there are a few different perspectives offered at car show events. The first perspective is of the attendees who walk the event, taking in all of the sights and sounds that have been gathered around them. This is who the event is catered to, who the event was built around, and—when assembled in large numbers—the hardest to please.

The second is the media present at the event. This group is important because they will essentially represent the event to the masses. Whether it’s attendees looking through the media outlet’s work for a recap of the day through someone else’s eyes, car show entrants browsing for images/video of their car, or the rest of the automotive society who want to see what they missed by not attending.

The third perspective comes from those involved with the event itself, whether it’s an owner of a registered show car, a participating vendor with a booth, or the crucial event staff. This group is usually run ragged and tired as they have either been up late (or woken up early) for countless days, weeks, and months to get their car in perfect shape, assemble everything they need for a booth setup, or diligently spent every available hour planning the event.

All three of these perspectives are important, as they all culminate to create the events we all know and love to attend. For the past eight years I have had the pleasure of absorbing all three perspectives at once during FCF.

I’ll brush over some of my highlights from this year’s event and hopefully shed some light on the attraction, which brings us all together each year at Princeton Airport.

The Calm Before The Storm
Leading up to the event, our area had two straight weeks of sunshine and abnormally high temperatures. It was eerie weather for autumn in the Northeast, and something was bound to happen. Not sure if you read my articles faithfully or not, but I often bring up the fact that I’m semi-cursed with inclement weather. So of course, right on schedule, Mother Nature decided to grace us with her presence and adjusted the weather forecast accordingly. For the first time in eight years, there was a high chance of precipitation on the morning of the event. With a rain date the following day in place, it was a viable option, but that ran the risk of losing a majority of the entrants and attendees, with no real guarantee that the weather would better itself 24 hours later. An executive decision was made on the Thursday leading up to the event that the original Saturday date would stand—rain or shine.

Before sunrise on the morning of the event as us event workers descended on the Princeton Airport main hangar, the blacktop was soaked from rain the entire night and early morning. There was heavy dark cloud cover, but no current precipitation.

Around the time the sun would normally be cresting over the runway, a gentle mist began to spray across the grounds. Light enough not to be considered rain, but more abrasive than a thick fog. I spent this time with the rest of the Canibeat staff, parking cars into their pre-planned and measured spaces throughout the various lots. Due to an influx of 400+ vehicles trying to be organized into rows, a backlog of cars began to form a line down the airport’s driveway.

By the time the line was extinguished, and the final car was placed in its spot, the misting had stopped and the grounds were frantic with owners wiping microfiber cloths across the surfaces of their highly-customized vehicles. Although the threat of more weather loomed in the overcast sky, I could tell it was going to be a good day.

The Event
One of my personal favorites was this gorgeous Barcelona Green Pearl EF9 Honda Civic. This car was imported from Japan, but has had countless additions affixed to it in the time since. I think the current set of SSR EX-C Fin wheels are my favorite on it to date.

I enjoyed this Scion FR-S (with Toyota badges) because of its aura more than anything. As a fan of Japanese car culture, this car just seems like it would fit in over there. It wears a collection of very distinct exterior parts with an interesting blue accent throughout, but I especially liked the use of the 16-inch RS Watanabe wheels. At least an inch smaller in diameter than most would ever equip on the new iteration of the 86. Very against the norm in a clean way, and that earned it props from me.

Throughout the estate there were hundreds of photographers and videographers, all creeping, kneeling, and sliding with their cameras, in an attempt to create their best personal vision of the festivities. Among them, my nephew walking in his uncle’s footsteps grabbing pictures of every special car that stuck out to him.

The day before the event, a bunch of us get to the airport to clean up the grounds, assign booth spaces, and the most tedious part—measure out parking spots. We use a really long string fastened to the ground with tape to line up the fronts of every car, then peel it up after all cars are parked. Look at that crisp clean line the eclectic cars were parked in! Not sure if it’s considered obsessive compulsive or perfectionism, but the team of us who park all the cars at FCF work hard to get the angle and depth of each parking spot just right despite obvious differences in vehicle ride heights and size.

While parking this static Miata (or Eunos), a piece of his frame underneath the car caught the string and ripped it up. I had the pleasure of walking up to his window after he was set in his spot and telling him, “Your car is so low, you just scraped up our string. STRING! Your car got stuck on a piece of string!” He seemed to like that and mentioned to me that he unfortunately had a tire on his CCW Classic 5 wheels de-bead earlier that same morning on his way to the event. He was then able to find a random tire shop opened early enough to remount his tire and he continued his trek to Princeton—that’s dedication.

However, the winner of this year’s Best Static award was this pristine BMW 7-series from Dominant Engineering. He’s not only responsible for outfitting this behemoth with a gorgeous set of custom-specified Alpina wheels and accompanying lip kit, but also for customizing and building numerous sets of wheels for his customers throughout the show’s grounds.

Tucking wheels in that fashion and driving on public roads, without raising the car by using air bag suspension, is no small feat and did not go unnoticed.

Meanwhile just as impressively, entrants like this gold painted C10 tucked their wheels into their fenders by way of air suspension. One unique aspect of this truck I enjoyed was its departure from the normal seamless restored body. I think the contrasting patina-laden areas against the smooth fresh gold makes the painted areas stand out that much more. It is likely a glimpse into the previous condition of the truck, which shows the kind of work that was needed to get it to its current state. It certainly garnered appreciation from me.

In front of the main hangar is the original location of the inaugural First Class Fitment event eight years ago. With only sixty cars registered back then, the lot was slightly easier to organize and plan. Although the total area of the event has grown alongside its number of inhabitants, the zone inside and outside the main hangar remains the prime showcase of some of the highest quality cars. By no coincidence, these cars are frequently chosen as award recipients, simply because they showcase different areas of show car expertise in one quality package.

What do you do, when you build hot rods and Japanese street icons in the same garage? Well, you blend them into awe-inspiring machines like this unique Ford Model A wearing a set of R34 GT-R-spec Volk Racing TE37 wheels. This is certainly an amazing idea, which has yet to be adopted in our tuning culture. As more Japanese-oriented automotive enthusiasts grow into various other projects, hopefully the lines will continue to blur to yield results like this.

A common theme among award winners at FCF, is that the cars selected for excellence in their specific award category are usually such exquisite builds that they are eligible for many of the event’s other awards, but are merely chosen as the best example in one field. Take for example this beautiful Lexus SC300/400, it is covered top to bottom in a magical deep green pearl paint, however there are countless subtle bodywork touches that could go unnoticed to the untrained eye. Things like the rear fenders being grafted to match the front fenders’ radius were reasons this car won Best Paint, however with a completely reupholstered interior, it was eligible for praise there as well. Along with a pristine engine bay, and rare wheels, this car and many others exude such quality it must be hard to pin them into one category.

A similar car of this caliber was this red Integra. The entire car was so flawless it could have been in contention for any number of awards from Best JDM, to Best Engine Bay. In the end, it went home empty handed without an award, but I enjoyed so much about this car and how particularly detailed each piece of it was.

As mid-afternoon dipped into late afternoon, cars started clearing out, or moving to a different parking spot including this vibrant red and gold Liberty Walk Ferrari 458.

Tormey gathered the crowd of remaining attendees around the main hangar for award announcements. In past years, the trophies were created using CCW wheel faces, however with a change in personnel at Complete Custom Wheel, this year Rotiform wheel centers were used in their place. The rest of the now-iconic FCF tropies remained in their previous state, calling on input from companies like Fortune Auto, RuckHouse, Hardlines by Swoops, and NightLazer. As each trophy was delivered to its new owner, the remaining trophies began to dwindle, until there was one—the Best of Show.

This widebody white Subaru took home the honors. With an extremely aggressive stance handled by a lengthy widening of the body, and a completely off-the-wall RB26DET engine swap, you can begin to see why it was considered. But it was the overall attention to detail and quality of work that must have put it into its own realm. Sitting center stage for everyone to see throughout the entire day, it was a worthy recipient of the award.

The Exodus
Per usual, immediately following the awards ceremony rather than clearing out to go home, the vehicles repopulated themselves onto the runway. Mostly everyone’s favorite part of the entire event is this unsanctioned foray into a normally off-limits region. In previous years with fairer weather (read no clouds), the sun sets within minutes of the final award announcement and people pile onto the runway in hopes to get a picture of their car next to extremely valuable aircraft with a warm orange sun glistening across their car. This year didn’t yield any fancy sunset colors, but that didn’t stop the tradition.

This is the time each year I wish I were a videographer, just to document the organized chaos that erupts. As the ambient light dims, every hue and brightness of artificial light is cast from various vehicles’ headlights, while each different engine makes its own growl upon start up. Cars of all makes and models begin to funnel into one solitary exit route all while helicopters continue their fly-bys. It’s a rush of sensory delight that brings a smile to my face, and can only be experienced first hand.

So whether it’s the event’s organizer, the tight-knit group of event staff that help him, the various—and ever increasing—number of media outlets present, or the booth workers and car show entrants who travel from far and wide to be present—everyone involved pours everything they have into this gathering of like-minded enthusiasts to create something spectacular. Explaining its significance to the layman will undoubtedly cause them to bring up questions of your sanity, if it’s worth it, or spur the rebuttal of why (like “why are you going to a car show in the rain?”). None of us really know why, but we’ll all continue to wear ourselves thin just to experience this shred of automotive pleasure each year.