The Syracuse Nationals is the Largest Car Show in the Northeast…and I Was There

Syracuse Nationals - Light Blue Cobra

Every year for three days in July, the Syracuse Nationals brings thousands of vintage beauties, candy-painted hot rods and eye-catching makes and models of yesteryear to my neck of the woods – Syracuse, NY. At night, the car owners cruise the streets, and places like Erie Blvd and the Liverpool streets become a treat for spectators. But during the day, the Syracuse Nationals events at the NYS Fairgrounds is the place to be to see the real action…and my mother, nephew (and later my brother), and I had the pleasure of taking in the scene for the first time on opening day this weekend.

Cars, Cars and More Cars

The real stars of the Syracuse Nationals are the cars, which deliver a rainbow of colors, creative expressions, deafening sounds, and mesmerizing detail. Some of the paint jobs are so clean and inviting, they look good enough to eat.

Purple was a popular color at the show.

Syracuse Nationals - Purple Cars

…but I tend to gravitate to the cars that are green (my favorite color)…

Syracuse Nationals - Green Car Outside and Under the Hood

…and those that have interesting features, like the chain/brass knuckles steering wheel shown below.

Syracuse Nationals - Chain and Brass Knuckles Steeriing Wheel on Skull Car

Syracuse Nationals - Black Car with Skull Detail

It belonged to a car that had a 3-D skull emerging from the tire cover.

Syracuse Nationals - Colorful Car with Skulls and Zombies

I love striking paint jobs…like this vibrant orange/yellow/green display with demons and zombies hidden in between.

Syracuse Nationals - Fred the Dog

As a dog lover, I went crazy over this white car with a massive hood decorated with Fred the dog.

Syracuse Nationals - Pink 1974 Monte Carlo with Flower Hood

The pink 1974 Monte Carlo below gives me a Barbie doll kind-of-feel.

Syracuse Nationals - Cars with Flames

Flames are definitely a popular design for cars, and there were plenty of them to see.

Syracuse Nationals - Blue Truck with Matching Go-Kart

This truck actually came with a matching Go-Kart – ha!


Syracuse Nationals - A Giant Roller Skate

And, who could resist taking a picture of a giant roller skate on wheels?

Free Tram Rides, Yes Please!

Tram rides are free at the Syracuse Nationals, and I can’t stress enough how helpful and convenient they are. I was at the car show for 5 hours, and nearly 20% of my time was spent on a tram…mostly because just 15 minutes after we crossed the gates, we got soaked from drenching rains during our first tram ride. The rain mixed with wind sent water flying everywhere, and as we looped around the entire event about three times, I got a good idea of where to go next. We never had to wait for a tram, and the people hopping on and jumping off was constant.
Nephew and Brother Riding the Tram

By the end of the day, we hopped on one to take in our last views of the cars, and get dropped off right at the gate where the car was parked. Above is my brother and nephew relaxing on the tram.

Food Trucks, Ice-Cold Beverages and Deep Fried Oreos

The Syracuse Nationals offers the usual event food, like grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, cotton candy and ice cream, but also introduces you to a few local food trucks, like…

Chicken Bandit

Syracuse Nationals - the Chicken Bandit Food Truck

It’s a Utica Thing (where my Mom got delicious tomato pie for $2)

Syracuse Nationals - Its a Utica Thing

Sarita’s, where we all tried Deep Fried Oreos for the first time.

Syracuse Nationals - Saritas Fodd Truck

I almost declined because of the calorie-horror stories I’ve heard about them, but they were WELL WORTH IT…and they were nicely-priced at 6 for $5 or 2 for $3.

Deep Fried Oreos at Syracuse Nationals

I also meant to double-back and snag a Wine Slushie before leaving, but forgot.

Free Refills All Day Long…

When you purchase a Limited Edition Syracuse Nationals collectible mule from Wild Bill’s, you get unlimited refills of old-fashioned soda throughout the day for free, AND for $5 on any other day of the car show (AND I do believe, the guy said $5 refills for Syracuse Nationals in the future). He had already convinced me by the time he said ‘unlimited’ and ‘free’ that I wanted to buy one.

The Barrel is $17, and the Double Barrel (which is insulated) is $20-something.

Syracuse Nationals Limited Edition Mug

We tried all six flavors off soda (Sarsaparilla Six Shooter, Vintage Vanilla Cream, Rocky Mountain Root Beer + Diet, Outlaw Orange, Black Cherry, and Birch Beer). I counted at least three Wild Bill’s spread across the grounds, so you won’t have to walk miles for a refill.

Syracuse Nationals - Wild Bills Olde Fashioned Soda Stands

While at the car show, other things we checked out included:

Ol’ Skool Roundup: You get your usual hodge-podge of car memorabilia and collectibles, like Mustang pins from the 60’s to 90s’, vintage toy collectibles beyond Hot Wheels, lighters, old license plates, pins, patches, and stickers. And then, there are an unusual number of animal skulls, bones and teeth that kind of gave me the creeps, but intrigued the heck out of my nephew.
Various vendors: There are people selling and advertising all sorts of things, such as car parts, motor oil, sparkplugs, mini-tanks, paint jobs, apparel, jewelry, and Syracuse Nationals swag. They even had traveling Motorcycle Hall of Fame onsite, and services such as a catering company called Barbeque Party in a Box.

Syracuse Nationals - Barbecue Party in a Box

Despite the downpour, beating sun, heat, sunburn and sore feet, we all had a blast. I believe the car show was well-planned and executed. My Mom noted that the scene had a festival feel to it. There was a friendly, laid-back vibe, and it just seemed that everyone was having a really good time; car owners were eager to explain things, identify cars and share information; and even cars on their way out of the show pausing so that people could take photos of their rides.

Syracuse Nationals - Yosemite Sam Car

I can see why people go crazy when the Syracuse Nationals comes to town.

Syracuse Nationals - Blue and Orange Colored Cars

One Thing I Wished…

The map in the program was tweaked just a bit. Sitting under a rest stop in the middle of a sea of cars, there was one point where we really didn’t know where we were since you can basically hop on and off the trams where you like. Studying the map, we made educated guesses, but couldn’t pinpoint an exact location. After walking for a bit, we eventually found a sign pointing towards the Car Corral/Swap Meet and followed it to an area where we came across a section with food and drinks. I must have said a million times that I wanted to check out the Women’s Building, but we never made it there. If  just a few names of the main Fairgrounds buildings were added to the map, it would have made it much easier to navigate the event and find gates.

Syracuse Nationals Map

 Tips for Attending the Syracuse Nationals

If you’re thinking about going, there are a few things that I learned for next time, and other tips:

  • Syracuse Nationals 2016 TicketWear sensible shoes. Between walking to and from the parking lot; browsing rows of car displays; wandering about swap meets and food trucks; and making allowances for getting turned in the wrong direction – you will cover a lot of ground and you’ll enjoy yourself even more when you don’t have to worry about sore feet. I barely made it through the day wearing heels (with Euro-soft comfort), but didn’t have to slip into the pair of sandals in my bag.
  • Bring a few drinks, chewing gum and snacks. We brought bottled waters with us, which really came in handy, but I had wished that we had a bag of nuts with us too. You’ll work up an appetite, and having something to give you quick energy definitely helps.
  • Buy tickets in advance. It really pays to plan ahead and purchase your tickets in advance. The regular-priced ticket for an adult was $18 (online price was $13).
  • Bring an umbrella. If there is even a chance of rain for this event, bring an umbrella.
  • Bring cash. Not everyone can take credit card payments, so avoid ATM fees and bring cash.
  • Have a small notepad and pen handy. If you’re taking pictures and want to remember the make, model and year of vehicles, you’re going to have to jot a few details down. Some car owners have identifying signage on or close to their vehicles (so helpful), while others do not.

Syracuse Nationals - Silver Car

What car shown above is your favorite?

Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets to attend this event, in exchange for sharing my honest opinion.







39 thoughts on “The Syracuse Nationals is the Largest Car Show in the Northeast…and I Was There”

  1. Carol says:

    This is my husband’s dream day out! Looks like a lot of fun!

  2. Love car shows. Some of them are so pretty! We have them almost every weekend in the summer!

  3. Wow! It is wonderful that you were at the largest car show in the north-east. Boy did they have some amazing cars on show.

  4. HilLesha says:

    Oh, how fun and exciting! I’m not really into cars, but I have always been in awe of the vintage cars, especially since I love vintage.

  5. CourtneyLynne says:

    What a neat car show! My hubby’s grandpa shows cars so we always go to shows he’s in for support!

  6. Rosey says:

    I like orange or purple for a race car. That skate car makes me laugh.

  7. tauyanm says:

    my husband wud have love this they have this in dubai too but we missed it

  8. Rachel says:

    Those cars look awesome! What a cool thing to be a part of. It seems like it was such a fun event!

  9. Teresa says:

    Wow, how fun! My father and brothers are huge car enthusiasts, and they would just love this car-show!

  10. I’m so surprised that my best friend and her family didn’t go! We live about 2 hours away from Syracuse and they are big car fans.

  11. Kim says:

    I like the striking paint jobs too. It’s a lot of fun to see the new designs on older cars. I love car shows!

  12. Robin Rue says:

    I would love to be able to go to a car show like this! Bering able to see older cars like this and enjoy some great food sounds like the perfect day.

  13. I LOVE The pink 1974 Monte Carlo! It’s so pretty!!!!!! the flower design on the hood is definitely a must
    Shirley Martinez recently posted…Leaks Happen! Seize the Day and Stay Poised at the Gym… #SeizeYourPoiseMoment #ADMy Profile

  14. Amber Nelson says:

    Car shows are so much fun. We have one here in our town and it is always so much fun to see all the cool cars from the olden days.

  15. We attended the International Auto Show in Detroit this year and my family loved it. These cars are so cool and I’m sure Hubby and our boys would appreciate checking them out.

  16. Amanda Love says:

    Just look at all those awesome cars! I am not a huge fan but it would have been nice to take the family there! There’s so much to see and I will definitely take selfies with the purple cars as my background!

  17. Jill Conyers says:

    I’ve never been to a car show but my father in law loves them. He gets excited about all things cars.

  18. tp keane says:

    Love these car shows. Some of them are so pretty while one or two are just weird, in a good way. Love to have been there.

  19. Good food and good cars, what more could you ask for? I would love to take a few of those cars for a drive

  20. That’s such a fun day out with your family! I love seeing vintage cars, they always remind me of my dad because he loved going to those types of car shows!

  21. That old fashioned soda pop stand caught my attention. I mean, the cars are wonderful, but I had to take a second look at that picture when I saw it. That sounds like fun to me.
    Dawn McAlexander recently posted…15 Nursing Home Donation Ideas You Might Not Think Of #ad #MyCareGivingStoryMy Profile

  22. Debra says:

    This looks like a fantastic car show! I haven’t been to Syracuse since my sister moved a few years ago. Maybe it is time for trip back!
    Debra recently posted…Banana Pecan and Vanilla Texas Sheet CakesMy Profile

  23. Kendra says:

    All of those cars look awesome, especially the roller skate! My husband would love to go here one year!
    Kendra recently posted…Things to Do in Miami – International Mango FestivalMy Profile

  24. Kathy Kenny Ngo says:

    I love attending car shows and it’s awesome to see vintage cars displayed in the area. I love the car with a shoe design too!

  25. Kathy says:

    I love car shows! I would have loved to be able to go to this one. The cars are always so beautiful. I wish that I could have one myself. My husband would love this too. He’s very in to cars!

  26. Reesa Lewandowski says:

    What an awesome event! My family would love this! We’ve never been to a car show this big before!

  27. WOW!!! felicidades EPICA on attending such an awesome car show! So lucky
    My sister would go nuts for the pink 1974 Monte Carlo

    I love those classics and definitely want to get one some day

    Amazing post thanks for sharing, I know a few guys that would envy you so much for going to this

  28. TaMara says:

    I love car shows of all kinds and we try to go to them as often as possible. Being the daughter of a mechanic cars are in my blood. I guess that’s why I married a mechanic too!
    TaMara recently posted…Kale & Sweet Potato QuicheMy Profile

  29. Echo says:

    Car shows are so much fun! I love seeing all of the personal touches that people add to their rides!
    Echo recently posted…Currently…My Profile

  30. Anna says:

    This event looks so cool! Purple is my favorite color so naturally I would love to see purple cars! Never had deep fried oreos but they look good!

  31. What a fun way to spend a day! I love cars, too, and these were amazing. Those vibrant colors and creativity!

  32. Berlin says:

    Love seeing vintage cars. They seem to have that prestige and anyone driving that car would gain the same recognition.

  33. karen says:

    Such a cool event! Those cars and hot rods are amazing! Loving the pink one, of course! And you missed the wine slushie? Gah! Run back now… haha!
    Karen |

  34. Liz Mays says:

    I’m amazed by the vibrant paint colors. I wasn’t expecting that, and I definitely wasn’t expecting a giant roller skate on wheels. lol

  35. Jennifer H says:

    What a fun day out! I used to go to car shows in my late teens. It was a lot of fun. I love the truck with a mini me, so cute.

  36. Elizabeth O. says:

    I wouldn’t exactly call myself a huge fan of cars, so you won’t often find me in events like this. But it’s always a nice experience and going here during the summer would be great for the family! It’s a fun event!

  37. Glenda Kruse says:

    The vintage cars look so awesome. I really like the chain steering wheel.

  38. Andrea says:

    I like the pink Monte Carlo one myself – it does remind me in a way of Barbie…. 🙂

  39. Ali says:

    That looks like an amazing car show! I love looking at these glimpses from the past, with their wide variety of styles. What a fun day!

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