By Published On: January 1, 2024Categories: Stories

Story and Photos by Matthan Brown


From food trucks to Ford trucks, there was something for everyone at the Oars and Octane car show. The parking lot was buzzing with rumbling engines and wide eyed motor enthusiasts as the smell of Rolling Pepperoni’s pizza and Frankie June’s hotdogs drifted through the warm air. 

A ruby red Cadillac with a license plate reading “CADZILLA” cruised past a VW van that had been converted into a “photo bus” where attendees could take photobooth style pictures in the converted back seat. Energetic, upbeat music pulsed through the air and could be heard throughout the lot, and from Ford Model A to Nissan Z, vehicles of all kinds were in attendance. 

Oars and Octane is a yearly event hosted by the Auburn University Rowing Team and the Octane Car Club that invites members of the community to showcase their vehicles, meet other car enthusiasts and enter their vehicles into various competitions including best in antique, best engine and best paint job.

Steve Abinett was in attendance showcasing his Ford Model A Phaeton. It’s unique green hue and bright yellow wheels gleamed in the sunlight, presenting the vehicle in all its refurbished glory. Black leather adorned both the top of the vehicle and the spare tire fastened to the passenger side, and two small American flags decorated the front bumper. When asked if he still drove the vehicle, Abinett replied, “Oh, yeah! You’ll see me going to get ice cream with my wife and grandkids. … It doesn’t go very fast, the top speed is maybe 40 [mph] … I won’t put it on the interstate or 280 because I’d get run over.” 

He estimated he had owned the car for about 30 years. 

“It was restored in ’85 and I’ve just taken care of it,” he said. “I keep it covered in my garage.” 

For Abinett, the Model A was a perfect hobby.

“It’s always been fun just to tinker, and these older cars don’t have electronics in them you know,” he said. “I don’t have a radio. I don’t have windows that roll up and down. … It’s just easy to work on. I can rebuild the engine, I can adjust my breaks, don’t have to take it to a mechanic or anything; it’s just fun and gives me something to do on the weekends.”

Many participants in the car show had similar stories. Maybe they had an antique they rarely drove, or perhaps even a modern make they drove daily, but they all loved to get under the hood in their free time — whether to get their hands dirty or just gaze in awe. 

One participant, Bruce Thompson, stood out in a small way. Parked on a table next to his bright blue Nissan Versa sat around a hundred Hot Wheels cars — most of them custom painted by Thompson himself. He is the owner of Southern Nightmare Customs based out of Columbus. 

For more than five years, Thompson has been creating custom decals for Hot Wheels cars. He said he started by filling a void he noticed in the toy car industry and making the Nascar vehicles that the official Hot Wheels brand didn’t — the tobacco and alcohol sponsored vehicles. When these started to take off he branched out and now has a multitude of different tiny customs from psychedelic Baltimore Raven trucks to blood splattered “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Corvettes. Thompson said he has an affinity for horror films, which is evident as soon as you see his vanity plate reading “HORROR VERSA” and he sometimes even dresses as fan  favorite blade-fingered horror icon — Freddy Krueger.

Find Southern Nightmare Custom on Instagram or Facebook.

To participate or attend the next Oars and Octane event, check the website at for more information.

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