Veteran Motor Car Club puts on America's oldest orphan show

Google “Orphan car show” and the first five links that pop up on your computer screen are for the big event staged annually for the last 16 years in conjunction with the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum just west of Detroit in Michigan.

Scroll a little further down the page and you’ll find other shows for classic cars whose manufacturers no longer are in business being held in places such as Golden, Colorado; Yellow Springs, Ohio; Forest Park and Branson, Missouri, and in Bothell, Washington.

But we scanned half-a-dozen pages of Google report and didn’t find what may be the oldest of those orphan car shows, the one staged for the last 22 years by the Valley Roadrunners chapter of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America.

Not only is the show held in late October in Los Olivios Park in Phoenix the oldest of the orphan car shows, its focus not only is cars but it raises money for the Sunshine Acres Children’s Home, the so-called Miracle in the Desert which since 1954 has provided a home to some 1,600 children in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa.

The idea for the Phoenix orphan car show came from Valley Roadrunners member Dave Albani, said club president Andre Lange.

“Dave had a Hudson. I had Nashes, and other club members had different kinds,” Lange said.

“We looked around for a place to have the show and got a permit from the city. It’s been the same day and the same location every year ever since.”

At first, the Orphan Car Show was the Orphan Car Picnic, held on the grass under the park’s olive trees. Later, however, the city parks department restricted the cars to the park’s paved parking lot.

Sunshine Acres always has been the financial beneficiary of the show — money coming from entry fees paid by the participating car owners — and for several years the show would end with a parade with the cars driven from Phoenix to Mesa to present the money and to show the cars to the children. However, that ended when privacy laws were enacted to protect orphans’ identities, Lange said.

As many as 125 cars have participated in the Phoenix show. This year there were 99 on display, though not all of them were true orphans.

Exceptions are made, Lange said. Corvairs, for example, because while Chevrolet remains in business, it’s sporty rear-engine car — supposedly unsafe at any speed — has a cult-like following.

And, because the money goes to a good cause, some club members are so eager to participate and they want to bring a classic car even if its maker still is in business.

However, such cars are few and far between in a lot filled with the likes of Hudsons, Frazers, Kaisers, Plymouths, Pontiacs, Studebakers, AMCs, Oldsmobiles and Edsels.

Another thing that makes the Phoenix Orphan car show special is its homemade trophies, whimsical works of art made by club members, often from components recycled from trophies they’ve won in previous years.

“We want people to pre-register their cars so we can make a trophy that fits,” Lange said.

“Everybody,” he added, “likes to get trophies.”

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at