Story and photos by John Gunnell
One of the best places in the country to spot muscle cars comes to Illinois each year at an unlikely time. In late November, most collector cars in this part of the country are stored for the winter, but not the cars that are displayed at the Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals (MCACN) in Rosemont, Ill.
On Nov. 22-23, throngs of rare and famous will gather for the MCACN under the roof of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, near the O’Hare Airport. The attractions the show owner and manager Bob Ashton lines up each year seem to outdo what enthusiasts thought was the ultimate package the year before.
Ashton was involved with a Chevrolet and Corvette show that was cancelled. A group of serious muscle car collectors took the opportunity to create a new show adding muscle cars. No one knew how the public would take to adding Cobras and GTOs to the mix, but it worked. Each year, the muscle car section of the show grew as the muscle cars kept the show interesting.
From his experience as a big show promoter, Ashton knows many people in the collector car hobby and has a talent for signing up well-known car personalities to attend the Nationals. Hurst legend Linda Vaughn, GTO inventor Jim Wangers, Oldsmobile guru Joe Mondello and drag racer Grumpy Jenkins have appeared. Joel Rosen of Baldwin-Motion Chevy fame has attended, as has editor/writer Joe Oldham, who penned many original road tests of muscle cars when they were new. In cases where the legends have passed on, Ashton has brought in family members such as Dr. Lynn Yenko and Helen Gibb.
Of course, the cars are the big attraction, and Ashton beats the bushes to find stunning, rare examples of the cars that made muscle history. He has showcased Steve Juliano’s Hemi-powered Dodge Diamante dream car, the Hemi Under Glass Barracuda, the 1970 Baldwin-Motion Maco Shark Corvette, the 1969 Mr. Norm’s Garage Mod Top Plymouth Barracuda, the Packer Pontiac 1963 lightweight Super-Duty Catalina and countless other one-of-a-kind cars.
However, Ashton’s real forte seems to be his ability to gather themed groups of rare muscle cars and Corvettes. In 2010, he featured one of the largest gatherings of Baldwin-Motion Corvettes and highlighted the display with the record-setting “Ko-Motion” 427 Corvette drag car that “Astoria Chas” Snyder campaigned successfully on the East Coast before he died in Vietnam.
That same year, Ashton outdid himself with a “Cars of Hurst” display down the center of the main hall that featured at least 25 cars such as the Hemi Under Glass and the Hurst Hairy Oldsmobile (along with its giant-sized Golden Shifter, of course). Cars in the display weren’t simply “standard” Hurtst/Olds models, but specialties such as the Hurst/Olds station wagon made for the medical director of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a 1974 Hurst-Olds Delta 88 convertible that was built for Linda Vaughn, the actual Indy Pace Car 1974 Hurst/Olds convertible (one of two built) and the 1974 Hurst-Olds four-door built for Tony Hulman, owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Features of the 2014 MCACN are set to include the First Cobra 427 (serial number CSX3002); the 1956 Corvette SR2 roadster; a Chrysler Hemi 50th anniversary exhibit; a “Color My World” grouping featuring mod-colored muscle cars; the Buick GSX Invitational; “Real Pace Cars”; a Mustang Madness Anniversary exhibit; Ford “Cat House” featuring Cobra-Jet cars; Plastic Fantastic real vintage racing cars and the “Class of 1964” invitational. Also, the winner of a giveaway 1970 Oldsmobile Pace Car exhibited last year will be announced on Nov. 23.
The MCACN also includes vendors throughout the convention center, plus a swap meet and flea market featuring the real hardware and research materials that collectors need to restore muscle cars and products to take care of them once the work is done.
2014 Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals: Nov. 22-23
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center