Car Lifestyle

Things We Miss About The Atlanta Car Scene

If you’ve been around the car scene a long time like I have, there are a number of things you wish still existed. I’m not opposed to change, in fact I love it. However, even when things change we all still long for things the way they were.

So I thought it would be fun to sit down and think about all of the places, events and activities that use to be a part of the Atlanta car scene that just don’t exist, or at least changed dramatically in the last few decades.

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NOPI Nationals

This WAS the Atlanta car scene for the longest time. Before Caffeine and Octane, Import Showdown and almost any other event still running there was the NOPI Nationals. Not only was it THE event in the Atlanta area, it drew people from the entire east coast. There were literally caravans down from Ohio and Maryland to this event annually. Atlanta was truly the epicenter of the car scene.

It was also the mega event before mega events existed. There simply was nothing like it. And it was also an inclusive event before it was trendy. While most of the different car scenes – import, domestic, race, show, lowrider – all had their own hang outs throughout the year, this was one time they all came together.

Import Alliance has done an solid job filling in for NOPI. It’s a great event, a must do. But there was a magic that NOPI had nothing else did.

NOPI eventually turned the entire car show scene into a series of events throughout the southeast. There was event a “points” competition that encouraged you to attend and show at all of their events. Alas, it wasn’t enough. As the car scene began to fade, and NOPI as a company struggled, the event eventually went by the wayside.

There was even a NOPI drag racing series, NDRA (Nopi Drag Racing Assocation) that operated for a number of years against IDRC and IDRA.

The last NOPI Nationals in Atlanta was in 2015. One thing you may not know – NOPI Nationals is still ongoing. It’s just not as big, nor an Atlanta show anymore. The show continues in Myrtle Beach. There is even one scheduled for 2020. A 2023 update: COVID likely put the final nail in the NOPI Nationals coffin.

Starbucks on Barrett Parkway

Before there was Caffeine and Octane there was Starbucks on Barrett Parkway. Except instead of Sunday morning it was Saturday night. While there are still plenty of Starbucks along Barrett, this was THIS place to meet.

You can still find plenty of cars on Barrett, what made this unique was it was almost rebellious. The management didn’t care for their parking lot being filled up with car enthusiasts. Often as the group got larger (and more rowdy), security would run people off.

And while I wouldn’t testify to this, I understand that it may have even been a common meeting spot for people who would then leave and go to the industrial parks along US 41 for some illegal drag racing, often with money on the line. But you know, of course Shift would never condone such action so you’ll just have to take my word that it was all edged and a rumor….

Barnett Performance

One for the domestic crowd, but became popular even with the more serious import crowd. Barnett Performance was Summit Racing before summit existed. It was off of Memorial Drive just across from Oakland Cemetary. At the time a throw back to another area of Atlanta, today you are more likely to yuppies and hipsters than you are to find car parts.

Barnett was an amazing shop. It was dedicated in its later years to serious racers. The kind of place you could walk in and buy a parachute or fuel cell. They even had 700hp crate motors on display.

There was such a charm seeing classic cars and resto-mods in the parking lot. I can’t think of a visit where I didn’t see some incredible cars. Ultimately the original location was replaced by apartments, swallowed up in the urbanization of Memorial Drive.

Barnett Performance actually still operates off of Snapfinger Rd in Decatur. Not the same experience, but still worth a visit.

NOPI Stores

A second mention of NOPI in this list. With the closing of the NOPI online store and warehouse in Forest Park, this was truly the end of an era. Few people in the last decade remember NOPI like many of the old time car scene people did.

NOPI actually had stores in a number of different suburbs. In addition to the main store in Forest Park, NOPI had stores in Smyrna, Norcross, Snellville and Athens. At a time when ordering online was less common than ordering out of a printed catalog, NOPI was the place you could go and get many of the aftermarket and replacement parts for you car.

If you never had the experience of going to one of the stores in its hey day you missed out. Anyone who has seen the first Fast and Furious where they go into the store with all of the parts has an idea of what it was like walking into NOPI.

NOPI started selling parts for VWs in 1966 and had a hell of a run. They were transformational in the car scene, and probably the only place that could do so. Sadly, as time wore on it just wasn’t the same. It picked up the nickname “Not One Part Instock” for the empty shelves as the began to centralized to Forest Park and focus on online sales. At the end most of the neighborhood locations closed before eventually ending most of their events, and finally their Forest Park main store.

Fast Friday’s At Atlanta Dragway

Affectionately known simply as “Commerce”, it’s was place the fastest dragsters who come to Georgia run. However, the best part was that anyone can make a pass at Commerce during their “Fast Friday’s”. There are few other places you can legally line up and race your car buddy. It was a chance to floor your car flat out and reach speeds at or exceeding triple digits in a controlled and safe environment. It was also a chance to drive down the strip in the same place as famous drag racers such as John Force and so many others have done.

Fast Fridays were test & tune races open to anyone, in any car, that could pass a safety inspection. At a Fast Friday you could have gotten a chance to race your car and see dozens of other sportsman and enthusiasts. Even as a spectator, you never knew which random Friday night you’d get a chance to see some rather unique cars. Fast Friday’s had appearances by jet powered drag bikes, wheel standing dragsters and even full blown Top Fuel cars.

Import vs. Domestic Debates

Todays car scene there is still some Import vs Domestic debate, but more and more events cater to car enthusiasts regardless of the country of origin. That wasn’t always the case. In the late 90s and early 2000s a debate rage between the upstart car scene of the Imports (with some German cars through in for good measure) and the Domestics V8s. And it was gloriously petty. We’re talking the Gen X version of Millenials vs Boomers debate.

The scene at the time was divided. Imports had their own events, style and even magazines. The domestic seen which had been around for a while dominated the scene. It not only had it’s own events, style and magazines but most of the mainstream coverage was focused on domestics.

It wouldn’t last. The upstart Import scene started taking over. Powered by high revving 4 cylinders more and more young car enthusiasts go into the import scene. The buying habits of American’s had been changing as more and more people brought Japanese cars. There was also a fascination with Japanese culture.

While we could write a whole post on the culture at the time, the heart of the debate was simple: Light, high revving low displacement engines (many with turbos) or larger classically American cars with push rod V8s. The insults and debates were plentiful. American cars were just trucks with outdated technology. Imports were rice burners that were better for getting groceries than going fast.

Horsepower per liter became the debate. Could American cars produce 100 horsepower per liter stock, like so many Japanese cars did. Was there a replacement for displacement? Was forced induction (turbos/superchargers) a great equalizer.

You can use Google’s tools to search the internet for a surprising number of relics of the debate, including this gem: http://members.tripod.com/~juan_espero/lowpro.html where they remind Import owners of the “horsepower per liter farce”.

In the end like most debates about whether the past of the future is better, it all eventually combines. Japanese cars eventually embraced V8s (as did more and more German cars that were sold in the US). It appears kids and American’s love affair with SUVs did more to kill the car scene that the coming invasion of Japanese cars.

In the end the cars got more alike than they were different.There is still some divide between the classics, but it didn’t dominate the scene like it did at the turn of millennia. Now we all know rather than debating between displacement and forced induction, we just slap turbos on our V6s and V8s and go fast. And that recipe seems to be accepted between domestics and imports.

Honorable Mention

A special honorable mention to Thursday nights at the Varsity in Midtown.

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