We Visit a Nude Car Show to See the Full Monte Carlo

2024 valley view recreation club annual nudist car show
The Full Monte Carlo at a Nude Car ShowMichael Byers - Car and Driver

From the July/August issue of Car and Driver.

Everyone is naked. Just putting that out in the open. After all, everything else is. We're in Cambridge, Wisconsin, at the Valley View Recreation Club for its Annual Nude Car Show, which started about 35 years ago, and the only bras in sight are on the noses of Corvettes. There really shouldn't be questions left unanswered by the event name, but you might be wondering why, exactly, anyone would throw a nude car show and maybe what it's like to attend one. Well, that's what we're here to cover. Er, uncover.

While humans have been joining this world naked since day one, nudism (or naturism) as a lifestyle philosophy migrated to the U.S. from Europe in the late 1920s. Since then, naturist societies have founded beaches, campgrounds, hotels, and resorts dedicated to an unclothed clientele. As of 2022, there were more than 180 locations and groups catering to the clothing-optional or clothing-free lifestyle in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean, according to the American Association for Nude Recreation (and that's just counting the association's affiliates). As far as we know, Valley View is the only one that hosts a car show, and they do it for the same reason anyone hosts a car show: for a change of scenery, to meet new people, to talk about cars, and because even nudists, stripped of sartorial markers of wealth and status, enjoy showing off their rides.

Jerry Martin, the car show's unofficial photographer—and the only photographer, as the rest of us have to forfeit camera privileges along with our skivvies at the door—told me he first attended the Valley View show in 1990 and has been to every show since, along with other events at neighboring naturist clubs.

"Not a whole lot of nude car shows, though," said Martin, who added that a naked car show is pretty much like any other car show, except the naked part. The event "has grown tremendously," he noted. "The first year, we had 15 or 20 cars, and half those were the club members'. The next year was maybe 55 or 60 cars. We have about 50 members, and we usually get about 300 people."

In 2023, Chevrolet Corvettes, Dodge Challengers, Ford LTDs, and Pontiac GTOs from across decades represented the Motor City well. The owner of a 1937 Nash LaFayette sedan, who wore as much clothing as allowed, a jaunty period-correct hat, told me proudly that her car came off the line in Kenosha, just 80 miles away, and she did all the maintenance herself, presumably while wearing more than just a hat. A Maserati adorned with an upside-down pineapple decal on the back window—a coded reference to a nonmonogamous lifestyle—and a few people sporting rather daring piercings were the only hints of anything racier than the typical weekend car show. Naturism runs an uneasy parallel to sexier versions of group nudity, but other than the Maserati swingers and all the flesh, the show was surprisingly G-rated.

2024 valley view recreation club annual nudist car show
Michael Byers - Car and Driver

Valley View is strict about who they let in. I almost couldn't get permission to attend until I won over the board president, John Dushack, with our shared interest in Mopar muscle cars, at which point he decided I could be trusted. Dushack met my husband, Andy, and me outside the campground on the day of the show. We were still dressed, while he greeted us in nothing but a pair of hiking sandals and a lanyard with his name badge. He directed us to the parking lot, with instructions to strip down before we could enter the show.

I'd planned to approach the adventure with objective distance, but ironically, it's an unnatural feeling to get naked in public—as a first-timer, anyway— without becoming emotionally invested. Andy and I disrobed in the shadow of our Subaru Outback while exchanging wry "Guess we're not going back now" grins. Nudity is required, not optional, at Valley View, though they do make accommodations for the elements. "There's some sensibility to this. If for some reason the weather was 50 degrees, everybody would be dressed," said Dushack. "We're nudists, not stupid."

That morning, instead of thinking about what clothing to wear, Andy and I packed a bag with sunscreen (two kinds), after-sun spray, bug spray, after-bite lotion and bandages, and Mega-babe anti-chafing balm. I was less concerned about creeps than I was about mosquitoes.

Other accessories we brought: hats, sunglasses, flip-flops, and towels. The importance of the towels was impressed upon me in nearly every conversation before my arrival, because it is very, very bad nudist manners to sit on a bare surface. It's also a bad idea to press your flesh against a hot vinyl seat or chrome seatbelt buckle. Not that you have to drive in naked. Dushack told us that some folks do show up already starkers, but he suspects that they simply stop and strip down in the remote farmland surrounding the club rather than make the entire journey naked. In case you're considering it, driving unclothed is legal, but only if your car covers all the scandalous bits, so don't put the convertible top down or go pantsless in a glass-doored McLaren Senna.

Some women wore light, transparent wraps, which seemed acceptable if not particularly encouraged; I carried a tote bag for my pen and notebook, which I clutched protectively to my body like a shield as I walked. Initially, I didn't feel as though I could ever relax without the barrier of clothing and a cellphone between me and others, but I was surprised by how quickly people in the buff became just people, and the car show just a pleasant way to spend a day in the sun, talking with folks and sharing car stories.

Technically, Valley View allows phones, but most people appeared not to bother with them all day, perhaps because no one has pockets. With no photos to take, people made eye contact—a lot of eye contact—and conversation. Honestly, the general friendliness of strangers was more startling than all the bare bits.

Preston Aylesworth, a veteran of nearly every show, told me he initially kept his attendance a secret from his family but is now comfortable sharing his full name. "Naturism was something I thought only naughty people did," he explained. "I feel safer camping here than I do in my own home alone at night. I'm glad I could make it for 30 years."

2024 valley view recreation club annual nudist car show
Michael Byers - Car and Driver

After my conversation with Aylesworth, a very kind woman shared her golf cart with me. Her son and daughter-in-law were also at the show, revving up a healthy-sounding flat-black 1963 Ford Falcon to the delight of the crowd. Both mother and son were into classics, and both had raced the Falcon at different points in its history. I was offered time behind the wheel but declined, feeling my towel wasn't up to the task.

I'd worried beforehand about the safety issues of delicate flesh and chromed tailfins, but Dushack assured me that it's safer to be naked than clothed around a car. Well, safer for the car. "You don't worry about scratching it," he said. "At home, I pull in the garage, and I work on the car naked. You don't have any buttons or zippers or belt." Other club regulars confirmed that, yes, the club president works on his car nude in his own garage, or so they hear, and most nudists said they just get accustomed to being extra cautious when their dangly bits are near engine bays or close to sun-warmed chrome. Really, it's no different from being around a car while clothed.

Dushack's wife, Karen, told me that part of the appeal of naturism is a chance to escape the status symbols we generally surround ourselves with. "Nudists don't care what job you have or how much money you make," she said. That seemed to extend to the show cars, which weren't divided into classes or categories, with sports cars and primered hot rods side by side. That doesn't mean there weren't some winners at the end, though.

A total of 43 cars and 341 attendees showed up over the course of the 2023 weekend. Dushack went home with an award for his 1975 Chrysler New Yorker. The Ford Falcon won the Best Exhaust System award. Fan Favorite awards went to a Corvette, a GTO, a Buick Skylark, and a Lincoln Continental. Best in Show went to the Nash LaFayette and its mechanic, resplendent in her period garb.

On the way home, feeling overdressed and sun dazed, Andy informed me that he's now an aspiring nudist, which I guess means Valley View's approach of attracting new club members through the car show is effective. There might be two Subarus from Chicago in the mix of show cars next time. Maybe we'll drive in naked.

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