Larry Jewett
July 1, 2001
Contributers: Larry Jewett

Step By Step

View Photo Gallery
Finding quality cars at a car show isn’t like looking for a needle in a haystack. The competition is plentiful.
Cleanliness is the No. 1 priority for feature scouts.
Unless you’re hiding something, an open hood is the best presentation. It’s an invitation for a freelancer to take a closer look.
Tasteful signboard presentation can help educate a writer/photographer about the merits of your car.
Once the photographer has chosen the location, be ready to assist in whatever way possible.

It’s easily the question most often asked editors and freelancers whenever they break free from their desks and get out into the real world: “Hey, how can I get my car in your magazine?”

The answers are easier than you think. Of course, you have to remember we’re only going to give you the insight into what it’s going to take for Mustang & Fords. We don’t know what the other guys want…you’d have to ask them.

There are two places where you have a high likelihood of getting seen on these pages. The first is the Readers’ Roundup section, which is a popular target for car owners. The second, the one more cherished, is a full-fledged, color car feature.

Readers’ Roundup

This area requires no work on our end (which is why it’s popular here), but you have to do what it takes. Surprisingly, the competition can be as intense, especially because we’ll use no more than 50 cars in Readers’ Roundup in a calendar year.

Because these submissions are unsolicited, we never know what we’re going to see when we open the envelope. Of course, not every picture and information contained will make it to the magazine. If you want to get into this section, here are some tips to follow.

• Send a color print, transparency, or slide.

• Make certain the entire car is in the picture.

• Be sure the picture is in focus.

• Make the vehicle as large as possible in the picture.

• Take great care to make sure there is no unsightly background. You don’t want to have anyone looking at something other than your car.

• Include basic information about the car. Don’t overdo it, but don’t understate it either. Generally, a one-page description of the car’s history and elements of modification will work wonders.

• Try to limit your picture to one subject car, but no more than two cars in a picture.

• Always include the name of the owner and contact information. This should include address, phone number, and e-mail address. We may want to contact you. One of the reasons we may want to contact you is to consider your car for a feature. If the information isn’t there, your car will likely end up just in Readers’ Roundup, and you will have missed a chance for bigger and better things.

Car Features

We’re telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth here. Some types of cars have a better chance than others of making the pages of this magazine. The competition for ’64-½ to ’66 Mustangs is intense—a well-done ’71-’73 will get more immediate attention.

Editors and freelancers go to car shows looking for specific Mustangs and Fords or Mercury hopefuls. If you aren’t approached by an editor, it doesn’t mean your car isn’t good enough. Timing is everything in this game, too.

Car shows serve as the main source of finding features, but it isn’t the only way. We do take submissions for consideration in the mail, but you have to remember this is the place to sell the idea. It’s the first impression an editor gets, and we all know how valuable a first impression can be.

About selling the idea: There’s a very fine line between the right process and the wrong process. While car features are important, they aren’t the only thing there is to do in a magazine. Once you submit a candidate for consideration of a car feature, sit back and wait. As much as we’d like to be able to respond to every inquiry, it can’t be done (we’re not big on form letters). You can help your cause with a professional presentation with pictures of the car (include full body, rear, engine, interior, and any other element that makes your car unique and special), but leave it there. Make sure the pictures are high quality; color copies take away from the effect (remember, this is a first impression situation). Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Also, be patient. You may have a car in a classification where there are five or six cars in front of you already. The delay doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t being considered. If it’s going to happen, you’re going to hear from us.

At The Show

You have your car just the way you like it, but you’re sitting in a field with a couple dozen other cars in the same class. What do you do to stand out in the crowd?

“The first thing I look for is cleanliness,” says Smart, who’s responsible for most of the cars we feature. “How does it look from 20 to 30 feet? That’s where I start looking at cars for consideration.”

“The car has to be clean, top to bottom, inside and in the engine compartment,” adds freelance contributor Rob Reaser. “There’s no excuse for a car not being clean. Rusted bolts or dirty harnesses will make me walk away. It shows a lack of workmanship. I start to see dirt and wonder if something else is going on. It’s cheap because all you have is a little sweat equity in keeping the car looking nice.”

Reaser is adamant about complete disclosure on these cars. “Keep the hood up, no matter what. I can’t tell you how many times I saw a nice car, but the hood was down, so I didn’t know what the engine was like. Open up the trunk, roll down the windows; it will be easier to see the interior that way. If we can’t see everything, we can’t tell the full quality of the car.”

Each of our scouts has his own personal biases, elements of cars they don’t particularly like, but that’s just an occupational hazard. One person sees a vehicle one way. Another will look at the same vehicle and see something completely different. It’s our way of saying there is no foolproof way to guarantee anything will happen.

Color can have a way of attracting attention. Like Shannon Kelleher’s car on the cover of this issue, a unique paint job will hold the scout’s attention. If all of the other elements are right, the conversation will begin. If you happen to have a color that isn’t among the splashy, other elements of the car can sell the idea of a future feature.

“Make sure the components match up,” says Smart. “Don’t have any hokey bolt-ons, like big, hairy-looking exhaust tips. Refrain from cheap products that make the car look cheap.”

“The one thing I see is mismatched tires. You have a cool car, but the tires aren’t right,” says Reaser.

Stuffed animals, fuzzy dice, hanging skulls, and such will not entice a freelance photographer. In fact, these elements may distract the eye from the real beauty.

The use of signboards and scrapbooks of the buildup process can help educate us about a particular car. Remember, these cars tell a story, and if you can get the point across in a reasonable amount of time, the chance of a feature is greater.

If you do happen to be there when the writer approaches, remember that he’s already interested. “The more they spout off, the more careful you become,” relates Smart. “Your car needed to sell itself and it did. It’s OK to be proud, but don’t be compulsive.”

“The more someone talks, the more I wonder if they’re trying to cover up something or prove something,” says Reaser. “If you say the car is rare, I’ll want to see some documentation to back that up right there. Still, no matter what they say, if it’s rare or not, if we’re interested in shooting it, we’ll probably shoot it. Just don’t misrepresent it because that will lead to bad feelings.”

Also, don’t bite the hand that could be feeding you. “I had a guy with a ’67 Fastback, a nice car, a few years ago,” says Smart. “I asked him about shooting his car for a feature and he said he’d do it only if I could guarantee a cover. I walked away. I can’t guarantee a cover. If you happen to get a cover, the gods are smiling down on you. There’s so much that goes on to determine the cover that I can’t make that promise.”

Another promise that can’t be made with any certainty is when the story will run and if the story will run. There are circumstances when the best efforts fail to reach fruition. Freelancers are looking for material, but they often still have to pitch it to editors, and have no guarantee of acceptance. Rest assured, though, once a freelancer has contacted you, he or she will do everything in his or her power to convince an editor of the worthiness.

Cooperation of the car owner is critical once the parties, photographer, and car owner agree to the feature. “Most of the people I talk to are very cooperative,” adds Reaser. “Our biggest problem is location. Sometimes, at some shows, we might not be able to move the cars because of foot traffic or venue rules. If you, as a car owner, really want to see your car in a magazine, you can help us. Meet before or after the show hours and be a little flexible. Remember, you may have to drive a couple of miles away to get this done.”

Once you have arrived at the site for the feature shoot, be available. “Bring car cleaning stuff,” warns Smart. “Be immediately available to move the car around if we need to change location. Take stickers out of the windows and wipe up the dirt on the driver’s floor.”


If you hope to have your vehicle featured someday, you can start to make the process easier long before you hit your first car show.

“When you’re putting a car together, use a little bit of common sense in how you’re building it,” says Senior Editor Jim Smart. “Think about what you are going to do to make this car different. Have a plan and stick to it. You’re going to think it’s the best thing going and may be right, but if you start here, you won’t have to do much convincing when you get to the car shows.”

Now, you have our attention. The first thing a writer/photographer is going to want to do is talk to the owner. While we can’t expect you to sit by your car every minute (after all, you do want to see what the others are up to because there are plenty of ideas to be had), you can make the job a bit easier.

“Have some form of identification if you’re not going to be there,” suggests Reaser. “A brief history on a single page of paper on the driver seat with the name, address, and phone will allow us to take that information and call later.”

“Little white specs in the carpet shine when the flash hits them,” according to Reaser. “It helps if you have a portable dust buster to take care of this. Bring something to clean the tires, too. You don’t have to make them shine, just clean them off because you’ve moved the car.”

Each owner gets a tech sheet to fill out at the shoot or to be filled out and mailed at a later date. This is a valuable resource that makes the job of writing the story much easier. This is where you can really tout the car’s attributes, but make certain you’re accurate when stating your parts and important dates in the car’s history.

If your dream is to see your pride and joy on the pages of Mustang & Fords, you’ve just been given the keys to the compound. With show season upon us, it’s time to shine. Just like they used to say on the old Candid Camera television program, when you least expect it, someone is going to come up to you—so be ready.