UNION GAP — Twilight gleamed off the chrome, tinted glass and pristine paint jobs of every color in the cordoned-off section of the Sea Galley parking lot.

Motor heads stood under their hoods to show off their work, then visited friends who showed off their vintage vehicles.

A band played sock hop oldies such as “Tell Him” and “Same Old Song,” giving the Thursday night gathering — an unofficial start to the 39th annual Vintiques Northwest Nationals car show — the feel of a reunion.

“That’s our life,” said Lee Cox of Vancouver, Wash. “Since we were young kids, we’ve been raised up with cars.”

Vintiques, the annual event that brings 650 classic cars to the Yakima Valley, started Friday and continues for the public through today at State Fair Park in Yakima.

The gleaming vehicles — all 1974 or older — attract the attention of kids and families to State Fair Park, which is also filled with vendors, a swap meet, games and auxiliary activities. Participants will compete in a poker run, car games and obstacle course-type activities.

Well over 100 volunteers, all car enthusiasts, put on the show, starting work at the fairgrounds Wednesday. All proceeds from the weekend event are used either to put on the next year’s show or donated to a variety of Yakima Valley charities.

The show is one of the bigger events in Yakima. Last year, it pumped roughly $482,000 into the local economy, according to the Yakima Valley Visitor and Convention Bureau. And that’s just counting the 1,200 people staying in hotel rooms. Plenty more camp at the fairgrounds.

“These guys have been doing it for a long time and they’re very passionate about what they do,” said Rich Austin, director of sports for the bureau. “They got it down to a science.”

The idea for the show and the sponsor, Vintiques Car Club of Yakima, started in the back of a garage with a bunch of guys who simply liked cars, said Paul Michael, current club president and a member since 1980.

The group first defined vintage as 1948 or older, but as time wore on, those cars became harder to find. The cutoff was upped first to 1954, then to 1972 to make room for the popular muscle cars, Michael said.

Putting on the show is a lot of work. Many participants use precious vacation time to attend. So they make time for their own fun, Michael said.

Thursday night, after a work day and registration crunch at the fairgrounds, many of the car owners drove their vehicles to a few traditional hot spots around the Valley to gather in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Some chose Sea Galley in Union Gap, while others went to Mel’s Diner in Yakima. Still others hit the highway for Rocket’s Garage in Sunnyside. Up to 200 cars came and went from each location as old friends caught up and enjoyed cars just for the sake of cars.

Today, after the visitors leave, the participants will have more festivities including live music, a barbecue and a “cruise” of 650 cars around the pathways of the fairgrounds.

Michael took his black ’37 Chevrolet to this year’s show but he owns several.

“I work on them every chance I get,” said the 65-year-old assistant cook for the Yakima School District.

His four sons, now adults, grew up working on cars with him. A couple of will attend this year’s show. His girlfriend, Kay Weddle, participates too, he said.

“It’s a real family thing,” he said. “The whole family can take part in it.”

Cox, of Vancouver, agreed.

“Get the kids involved and they’ll be too broke to get in trouble,” he said.

Cox came from a show in Puyallup straight to Yakima, saying the show is full of people like himself, who simply love being around cars.

“When I get too old to have a car, they better just cover me up,” he said.

• Ross Courtney can be reached at 509-930-8798 or rcourtney@yakimaherald.com.