There’s no such thing as too much muscle

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As trailers arrived for setup of the show, it was a treat to see just what was going to appear when the trailer ramp dropped. This original Baldwin Motion Camaro not only looked perfect, but the sound of that exhaust note brought back special memories as well | Jim Volgarino photos

Sometimes the best view comes when no one else is watching. In this case, getting a ringside seat to see the incredible collection of vehicles making their way into Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, to take part in one of the country’s premier muscle car era events was breathtaking.

The 2018 edition of the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, November 17-18, carried on a tradition of quality and wonder, gathering together an unbelievable display of the best of the domestic automotive muscle car era with nearly 600 vehicles that, for many participants and spectators, are just pure treasures.

As the trailers rolled into the exhibition hall on Thursday, November 15, it seemed like Christmas for anyone standing by to see what would come down the ramps and onto the display floor. 

Of course, the collection of Corvettes was simply mind boggling, but it seemed like each trailer held something so secret that the people fortunate enough to stand there were about to be treated to a massive unveiling of machinery that had never seen the light of day.

The Barn Finds and Hidden Gems display continues to draw big crowds and didn’t disappoint this year with “found” muscle and race cars galore. This 1968 Plymouth GTX Hemi convertible was complete right down to the stripes on the sides. Imagine the thrill of opening up a garage and finding this treasure inside!

An overstatement maybe, but with the lowering of each trailer door something special was revealed… Studebakers, Mopars, Oldsmobiles, Mustangs, Chevelles, Camaros, Pontiacs… yikes, it was simply too much to take in during such a fleeting period.

Bob Ashton, managing director of this now-famed Midwest show, came up with the idea of staging a completely different type of exhibition back in 2009 while working for a nationally recognized show promoter that showed no interest in Ashton’s idea.

Like any solid gearhead worth his salt, Ashton decided to do it himself despite concerns of many who thought it was too difficult to bring together anything with the kind of caliber he had in mind.

But this 10th year delivered again, depositing a formidable array of vehicles personally curated by Ashton and a dynamic crew of experts, each with a specialty and the connections to invite only the best each and every year.

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The show has become well known for its huge mix of incredible iron, and for grouping rare offerings from manufacturers, in some cases displaying vehicles together that in any other venue would never be seen in the same place, at the same time. So, if you ever wanted to see a row of ’69 Trans Am convertibles (eight were built, six were present) or maybe witness a pack of Hemi E-body drop tops, this was the place to be. Ashton’s crew never disappoints.

Featured this year were a Class of 1968 themed display, an Oldsmobile W31 Invitational, a Hurst Dart and Barracuda exhibit featuring 20 real Hurst Hemi Barracudas (B029) and Darts (L023) put together by Jim Kramer, and a Corvette Legends Invitational that featured ’68 and ’69 L-88s. If you headed back to the Barn Finds and Hidden Gems area you were treated to an incredible array of Hemis, former race cars, a long lost ’65 Chevelle Z16 and a rare 1963 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire that still had the original 215ci V8 with 4-speed that came from a barn in Iowa.

The event’s Vintage Certification Program continues and this year 15 vehicles went through a process which emphasizes “preservation, not restoration.” What makes this certification different is rather than focusing on just a single make or model, the program includes multiple brands, so you’ll see Corvettes right next to a group of Mopars with each vehicle carefully inspected by experts examining every detail of the vehicle both on and off a lift. About three hours is spent on each vehicle to determine its eligibility for certification and is overseen by Steve Schauger and a group of five additional judges.

Schauger said the program goals include providing a venue at which original cars showing wear are preferable to incorrectly restored cars and each year the participant numbers grow. He said he normally tries to limit the participants to 14 because of the time involved in getting each one inspected properly but agreed to handle one more this year “due to some special circumstances.” Just watching the process of inspection is a treat in itself, so the program adds an additional element you won’t find at other shows.

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The Studebaker Legends display was impressive with both Larks and an Avanti showing off the high performance offerings of the company from 1963 and 1964

Another unusual display included the Studebaker Legends III hosted by Ed George and the Studebaker Museum. This year the display included supercharged models of the 1960s, providing a glimpse into Studebaker’s foray into high-performance including both Larks and Avantis. George is well known in Studebaker ranks for his expertise and enthusiasm for the brand and this year’s showing did not disappoint.

Other invitationals included the 1969 Camaro RS/COPO, Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Race display, Buick GSX-Tacy, A 1968 Chevy II Nova Special display hosted by Brian Henderson and the Supercar Workshop with an original L79 Nova and the Gibb/Harrell 427 Nova.

It seemed like around each corner was a surprise, most of those being “one-off” vehicles you’d be hard pressed to see at any location. One of those was the 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 called “Little Red” which had disappeared for over 50 years. The car which was an experimental car Ford loaned to Carroll Shelby to use as a test bed for performance parts, was one of two Shelbys used for testing, each sporting a notchback roof with vinyl top. At one point “Little Red” had a supercharged 428cis V8 and 3-speed automatic while its cousin, the “Green Hornet,” had a prototype independent rear that didn’t make it to production.

The Green Hornet had shown up at a Ford employee auction back in 1971 and survived intact but Little Red disappeared until it was found in Texas after some careful sleuthing by Barrett-Jackson’s Craig Jackson and classic car specialist Jason Billups, who tracked the car down using the original Ford VIN for the vehicle rather than the Shelby-issued number.

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The car, though missing its front clip, engine and drivetrain, has been authenticated and Billup, who accompanied the car to the muscle car event, said the next time anyone sees it the car may have undergone its yearlong restoration which will place it squarely into Mustang folklore and history.

The invitationals are what seem to draw the best vehicles and Ashton’s idea to get groups pulled together has been a constant winner. The Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Race display featured 12 of the fastest muscle cars that appear exactly as they left the factory but have put their share of rubber down on the quarter mile. AMCs, Buicks, Chevys, Fords, Mopars, Oldsmobiles and Mercurys were all part of the display area and owners were ready and excited to share the stories of their cars and themselves as “Pure Stock Preservationists.

Or how about a row of 1969 COPO Camaros? Or the Nashnutz AMC display which provided a rare glimpse at American Motors muscle cars that had both racing heritage and factory development significance.

The all-NicKey Gasser invitational had a host of straight axle beasts built in the past 10 years by John Tinberg and Randy Schmitt of NicKey Performance. All of these cars came from various parts of the country including Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois and were constructed at the NicKey Gasser Shop in Dwight, Illinois, just a ways south of Rosemont.

As for 2019, Ashton says there are plans in place to make the show bigger and better than ever. It’s hard to imagine as anyone who spent time at this year’s show had to be awed by the quantity and quality of the vehicles put on display for the enthusiast world to enjoy.

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At age 12, Jim Volgarino peeked under the hood of his grandfather’s 1957 Oldsmobile and saw a Rocket 88 for the first time. He was hooked. Following stints in the Air Force, the newspaper business, the printing business, and the teaching business he’s finally settled into his first love… automotive writing. He’s covered everything from Bonneville Speed Week to the Lambrecht Chevrolet auction in Pierce, Nebraska, from his home in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He’s owned pretty much anything and everything with a motor and wheels. Currently, he’s restoring a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS 409.

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