North Park Car Show

Posted: August 11th, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment, Columns, Featured, PastMatters | No Comments

The stories behind the poster

By Katherine Hon | Past Matters

Every picture tells a story. The poster for the 2017 North Park Car Show tells at least five: the event, the poster designer, the car featured, the drive-in theater in the background, and the scene on the movie screen. Ready for some modern history? Hop in!

The North Park Historical Society (NPHS) will hold its eighth annual car show on Sept. 9 (the first Saturday after Labor Day). NPHS started the car show in September 2010 as a way to honor one of the saddest days in American history (Sept. 11, 2001) by creating a family-friendly community event. For the first two years, the event was held in the parking lot behind what is now the Observatory North Park theater.

In 2012, Balboa Tennis Club became the host site, and the event has been held in a relaxing park setting at Morley Field since then. It is free to attend. Car exhibitors pay only $10 per car to show off their classic vehicles (pre-1990 encouraged, exceptions made for newer exotics). Register your car in advance, as we assign parking spots and make customized windshield placards. Email, call 619-294-8990 or visit to get a registration form.

The poster: NPHS is grateful to Johnathan Harrison of JHDesign Co. for volunteering to develop the poster. He is a freelance designer specializing in logo design, branding, illustration and content layout for print and online resources. He is also a professional photographer. He can be reached at

Harrison’s design process was quite interesting. He selected the car featured on the poster from about 50 photos of the cars at the 2016 car show taken by Jim Brady of Brady Architectural Photography.

“I just looked for a car that spoke to me, and was one that could tell a story,” he said.

Harrison described the car he picked, a 1961 Oldsmobile Starfire convertible, as “something that I had seen in older movies. It was a vehicle that looked like it would be at a drive-in [which was] something that many people would associate with … I tried to make the vehicle look like it was popping out past the border and almost off the poster itself.”

NPHS thanks Ryan Main, a local Realtor and North Park Community Association board member, for connecting us with Harrison. We also thank Vincent Rivera, former NPHS board member, for seven years of great poster designs.

The car: Harrison did indeed pick a car with a story to tell. The 1961 Oldsmobile pictured is named Marilyn because she is unique, iconic and stunningly beautiful. She was recently owned by John Thurber, who passed away on April 23, 2017 and will be greatly missed. He had participated in the North Park Car Show since 2013, bringing the Oldsmobile, his 1952 Ford pickup truck, or his 1963 Austin Cooper. Thurber gave Marilyn to his good friend Peter Julian, who will always treasure it. Julian was thrilled to learn the car is featured on the poster and has already registered it for the car show.

Oldsmobile first used Starfire for a 1953 dream car named after the Lockheed F-94 Starfire jet fighter. The first generation of Starfires started with the 1961 convertible model. With a base price of $4,647 in 1961, it was the most expensive Oldsmobile, and 1,500 were sold that year.

The drive-in: Harrison picked a photo of the Campus drive-in to fit the perspective and feel he wanted for the poster. Jay Allen Sanford tells the story of this drive-in and many others in his Aug. 1, 2008 San Diego Reader article, “Drive-In Theaters in San Diego: Complete Illustrated History 1947 thru 2008.”

The Campus drive-in theater opened at El Cajon Boulevard and College Avenue on Aug. 18, 1948 and closed in February 1983. The drive-in was famous for its back screen neon sign of a 46-foot-tall marching majorette twirling a baton in front of the old main building and bell-tower quadrangle of San Diego State University. The neon majorette still sparkles at College Grove Shopping Center.

The movie: The image on the drive-in screen is from the 1968 thriller, “Bullitt,” starring Steve McQueen. The film is famous for its high-speed muscle car chase through San Francisco, where McQueen maneuvers his 1968 Ford Mustang GT behind the bad guys who were tailing him in a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, then forces the villains off the road into a gas station and a deadly fiery explosion.

The car on the screen is one of two stunt Mustangs used to film the chase. One Mustang was preserved, but the other had been missing since the film’s completion. The stunt car was found in March 2017 rusting in a Baja California junkyard and was confirmed to be that very car by Ford historian Kevin Marti through its VIN plate. It is now being restored, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the movie that made it (and it made) famous.

How’s that for a history trip?

—Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at or 619-294-8990.

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