Perfection is one of those nebulous terms people use in diverse ways to express how they believe certain things should be. Among car enthusiasts, the idea that perfection is attainable can rest on awesome paint or excellent restoration detail or incredible engineering.
Bob and Vicki Ashton, in their annual Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals event, hit perfection on so many levels it’s hard to pin down just what makes this production one of the best in the country. It’s a car show, a walk-through history, an obsessive search for the very best, and an organizational masterpiece. The recent 2019 show in Rosemont, Illinois, at the 250,000 square foot Donald E. Stephens Convention Center continued the legacy of reaching for perfection in all aspects, and then moving the bar another step higher.
This marked the 11th year for the event that originated when Bob Ashton, a managing member of the organization that promotes the show, decided there was a need for a muscle car-specific event that could truly capture the muscle car era and provide a place where, as he describes it, you can “relive memories, share stories and create more memories.”
With his background in producing major car events in the Detroit area, he had the expertise to get the event off the ground. Entering its second decade, the show is better than ever.
Ashton looks back 50 years in tribute to vehicles of a specific age. This year the featured year was 1969, a bellwether not only for muscle cars, but for American culture. Milestones included the last live performance of the Beatles and the first album by Led Zeppelin. Men walked on the moon, more than half a million gathered on a farm in Bethel, New York for three days of peace and love. Richard Nixon was inaugurated.
For gearheads, there was the advent of aluminum-block 427 COPO Camaros, creation of pointy-nosed and high-winged Superbirds, and the introduction of Ford’s Boss 429. Just attempting to gather all this automotive history from a single year into a single location is a huge undertaking, but Ashton and the MCACN crew managed to pull it off with displays that were breathtaking and, of course, perfect.
Tim Wellborn, one of the country’s pre-eminent Chrysler muscle car collectors and experts, hosted, along with Gary and Pam Beineke, a gaggle of the winged Charger Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds including Bobby Isaac’s K&K Daytona and Ramo Stott’s Superbird racer. The display could generate a full article all on its own; suffice it to say that spectators lingered for hours at the site of these incredible race warriors.
There were plenty of COPO Chevys to study, salivate over and push you solidly back to a year when muscle power ruled all aspects of gearhead enthusiasm.
Other 1969 showings included multiple Buick GS Stage I and II cars, a display of ’69 Vettes that included all the engine variants of the 427, including the three-carb L71, the all-aluminum ZL1 and the aluminum head L88.
With somewhere near 500 vehicles on display, you could find just about anything that might spark a memory from a tribute display of Ram Air Pontaic GTOs, a special AMC racing display brought together by Nash Nutz that even had an appearance from the Drag-On Lady, Shirley Shahan, with two of her original drag cars.
There was a fresh display from the Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Race organization headed by Donny Brass. The PSMCDR event happens each September at Mid-Michigan Motorplex where participants bring factory muscle (with extremely limited mods) to bang out some honest heads-up racing with vehicles that were powered just as they left the factory.
Among other unique displays were the Studebaker Legends, where you can see some of the rarest racing and muscle Studes in the entire world, and a special red-carpet display that featured Ford and Mercury Total Performance, which was part of a major marketing campaign that ran from 1961 through 1971. Headlining the display was the original Super Cat Cougar assembled by Lincoln-Mercury in 1969 with the assistance of Coca Cola, Dyno Don Nicholson and Car Craft magazine. The 428 Cobra Jet Cougar was filled to the hilt with both luxury and performance enhancements and eventually was given away in a national contest. Somehow it survived and was fully restored to its gleaming beauty.
There were several other individual cars of note that made the show extra special. Of course, not enough can be said about the provenance of the original Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in the classic Bullitt movie. The car is headed to Mecum’s January 2020 Kissimmee, Florida, auction.
Other individual treats included the fully restored 64/65 Ford Fairlane GTX A-Go-Go, a hand-built prototype that was assembled by Ford but then customized by Gene Winfield. The car was unveiled in 1966, toured with Ford’s Custom Car Caravan into early 1967 and then was retired. The restoration is an amazing sight to behold.
One other rarity on display was Chrysler’s 1963 Turbine car, one of nine that still exist from 50 specially built by Ghia for special testing from October 1963 to January 1966. This particular car is one of the “bubble cars” currently owned by the Detroit Historical Museum. Dave Marchioni, the museum’s automobile archivist, has brought various specimens from the museum’s collection, each housed inside large plastic bubbles to preserve their originality. Marchioni also brought along an NOS turbine engine that somehow was never used in the original builds.
The show was packed with treasures and it’s hard to pick favorites. But the one area that continues to draw lots of attention is Ryan Brutt’s Barn Finds and Hidden Gems. Brutt, known as The Automotive Archeologist, somehow manages to uncover some of the rarest, and maybe oddest, automotive skeletons and gets them shipped to MCACN in all their dirty, dusty, and rusty glory.
Some of these finds are forgotten relics, but Brutt always has surprises. This year one of the uncovered vehicles was an American Motors mid-engine prototype called the AMX/3. It was part of a design and engineering exercise American Motors wanted to pursue to test the potential of producing a mid-engine sports car, built from fiberglass and meant to be a world class contender among the world’s super elite sports cars. This specific car is thought to be chassis No. 1 of the initial prototypes and plans call for its complete restoration in the coming year.
And, of course, it will be perfect.