You can always recognize a car person by their t-shirt, sweatshirt, or polo shirt. I won’t even go into the different kinds of car t-shirts you can find – that would be an undertaking in insanity.
Ed Iskendarian is the guy who started the whole car t-shirt craze way back in 1949. He’s still alive today. Almost 67 years later, the car t-shirts are a mainstay of automotive culture. It’s automotive anthropology. You might not realize it, but you’re an automotive anthropology student if you have a car t-shirt.
Here are the main kinds of car t-shirts you will see:
Car Show T-Shirt: Most car t-shirts typically have two or three cars drawn on it, along with the name of the event, maybe a palm tree, diner, or gas station, and the date of the event. The name of the event is usually in cursive on the front, with the drawing on the back. These t-shirts tell other car people you’re a park and polish kind of person. You’re probably not the person you’ll see ripping around an autocross – you might see them cruise the main boulevard of town once in a while on a nice day.
Retro Style T-Shirts: This is dangerous ground. Anything with pinstriping, vintage lettering, iron crosses, or distressed lettering could mean that you really do live the vintage lifestyle with cars – all the power to you then! It could also mean that you just jumped onto that Von Dutch bandwagon. Tread lightly.
Race T-Shirts: Any race car driver worth their car will have a race shirt. These usually aren’t t-shirts (sometimes they are), but rather bowling shirts that have the logo of the team, name of the car, and primary sponsors. Wearing one of these means you know your stuff. You’re either a racing insider, fanatic, or you know somebody who is. Most big-time racers will sell t-shirts that look like their race shirts. They will usually have other merchandise, like sweatshirts, baseball caps, beanies, etc. Just be careful if you’re a racer wearing your own merchandise in public. It’s like a band member wearing a band t-shirt while on stage.
Old Race Track T-Shirts: When you wear something like an Orange County International Raceway shirt, and it’s threadbare and faded, it’s obvious you bought that shirt AT Orange County International Raceway, and would never consider buying a reproduction shirt. Instant cred among any car nut. It’s not nearly as much cred as the guys who got a Lions Drag Strip leather jacket when they won a race at Lions. This also applies to old event shirts, or ancient speed parts shirts.
Wrecked: It doesn’t matter what style of t-shirt you’re wearing (it doesn’t even need to have to be a car t-shirt), but if it’s got oil stains, holes from welding, it’s got that hands-on cred. Wearing that shirt in public and not caring if you smell like you rubbed that shirt in coolant says you’re hard core.
What do I have? Well, I have a couple of car show t-shirts, a race t-shirt, a lot of vintage-style t-shirts, and a couple of wrecked shirts. I’m still looking for a race track t-shirt. I’ll find one…eventually.
These t-shirts, or other car apparel make great gifts for other automotive enthusiasts. Hint, hint!