Venerable car show at Bessinger's Bar-B-Q logs record turnout Wednesday with 177 autos, trucks and cycles rolling up

Jeff Smithers brought his 1970 Dodge to the Bessinger's car show May 7, which set a record with 177 vehicles on hand (Jim Parker/Staff 5-7-2014).

One weekday - decades ago - 20 cars arrived at a new all-inclusive show, to be held on a monthly basis.

The auto gathering would eventually be named the Open Car, Truck & Motorcycle show but is best known today as Bessinger's car show, after the Savannah Highway barbecue joint where it's held.

The Wednesday evening drive-up once a month in Charleston attracts vehicles from all over to crowd the grassy expanse behind the restaurant and a side parking lot. It's also taken place in bitter temperatures and rain that kept turnouts small.

But through all those years, over perhaps 250 shows, the event had never quite reached the peak it set May 7. An official count of 177 vehicles entered the fest, squeezing into every possible parking space and even filling in the auxiliary blacktop next door.

"Everything doubled up - '50s, '60s, trucks," said Tom Jameson, the show's longtime organizer.

Just last month, the Bessinger's car bazaar topped 160 cars -a few vehicles short of the previous all-time record set last summer. The April show also came after the planned first show of the year was rained out. Organizers agreed that pent-up demand spurred last month's turnout, especially after the March washout. The attendance surge for the May show has no clear answer, although a warm and rain-free evening certainly helped.

A bit mystifying, too, was the motorcycle count, which approached 30. While motorbikes are always a category, the usual numbers are in the single digits, Jameson said.

The Bessinger's show formula hasn't changed much over the years, although there have been different sponsors. Jameson organizes the show, held 6-9 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month from March through October. He meets and greets car hobbyists as his daughter Brenda Brinson keeps track of the receipts. It's not a big cash outlay; the general public gets in free and it's just $5 to register a car, among the lowest rates around.

The Cruise-O-Matics band plays every month, staked out in a spot behind Bessinger's and specializing in early '60s tunes. Children try out Hula-hoops, made popular 50 years ago. Invariably, there's a Bel-Air or Fairlane with a food tray hooked to the driver's side window, harkening to the days of the drive-in. Owners of street rods, Model As, Ford F-100 pickups, Cadillac coupes, Dodge Chargers, Pontiac GTOs, Corvairs, Volkswagens and Camaros show up with their prized possessions.

Yet Bessinger's almost always draws a bit of the unusual and unexpected. A 1994 Ferrari was on display at the May show as was a 1946 British Ford Anglia, a restored 1958 Edsel and a full-length fire truck.

A week ago Wednesday, the Rev. Don Clendaniel sat in a lawn chair beside his 1957 Corvette. "My wife bought it for me on my birthday," he said. That was 43 years ago.

A row over, Steve Miller and his wife relaxed under covered chairs behind his '65 Mustang soft top. "I bought one when I was a young 'whippersnapper,'" he said. Years later, Miller acquired the convertible he now owns. He's retired and enjoys getting out and driving the classic.

For more information, contact Jameson at 843-571-2264.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or