Pennsylvania is the automotive keystone of America. Sure, it’s not Detroit, it’s not Los Angeles, and they didn’t film American Graffiti there. But it’s home to two of America’s premiere car shows and swap meets: Hershey and Carlisle. I attended the Carlisle GM Nationals on June 24-26, 2011 to see some Detroit iron and to get a feel for the current state of the hobby. From Bow Ties to the Standard of the Word and anything in between (including an Oakland and a LaSalle mingling with the Ponchos, Oldsmobiles, and Buicks), it’s a great place to relax while checking out someone’s pride and joy or looking for parts for your own project. Care to follow in my footsteps and see what’s there?
Entering from the back gate (I have my secret free parking spot), you’re first presented with the car corral. You’ll find cars in all types of condition for you to buy, from a 1959 Oldsmobile convertible needing a motor and front end to a late-model Camaro “WeC” modified by Walters Elkland Chevrolet to look like a 1969 Rally Sport.
In the corral building you’ll find prime space set aside for what usually are the most interesting cars for sale (or sellers who aren’t so cheap!), such as the 1968 Tahitian Turquoise Camaro SS 396 with those oh-so-cool mag wheelcovers. If it’s sounding a little Chevy-heavy, I would suggest you’re not looking hard enough – check out the 1955 Pontiac Chieftain below for proof.
Next on my agenda were the barn buildings. There’s a few that host invite-only displays, sometimes with a theme. In Building Y there was a “Hot Rodders of Tomorrow” mechanic contest for kids, but in Building T you’d find the invitational. Does a row of Cosworth Vega Twin Cams interest you? There was a ton of black and gold and rust (“OH!” done in my best Diceman imitation) ones there, and maybe you would have been surprised to learn they were available in colors for 1976. Grumpy Jenkins also was there signing autographs, and I heard it from a bird that he was grumpier in his old age! He was right by the Old Reliable IV 1963 Chevrolet Z11 race car. A little bit of everything for every inclination.
After snagging myself one of the yummiest soft pretzels ever, I continue my trek, this time to the show field. Cars were segmented based on type, so you’ll find Corvettes clustered in one area, old Chevys in another, then Novas, late- and later-model Impalas, Chevelles…you get the idea. Of special note was how popular the late-model F-bodies are, as I think they overshadowed the collector cars.
As the King of all muscle cars, Pontiac is never shy about its presence. It was a step above the “Low-Priced Three” but ended up beating Plymouth for #3 in sales for most of the decade. And who can blame them? They reeked of style and performance up to the bitter end in 2010.
Maybe Oldsmobile doesn’t have any F-bodies or class-leading car like the GTO, but it once had America’s favorite automobile: The Cutlass Supreme. That car sold so well that it boggles the mind that 30 years later the brand would exist no more.
When better cars are built, Buick will build them. One step below Cadillac, the car of dentists wasn’t a major player in the muscle car sweepstakes, but the 1970 GS Stage 1 was the fastest car tested by Motor Trend that year. Not bad for a 455/360.
So maybe you wouldn’t expect to find a Cadillac at Carlisle, a flea market of sorts that leans toward American muscle. Luckily for us, a few of the faithful did come with their Caddys, plus there were a few CTS-Vs to show that Cadillac can keep up with the big boys.
So what’s next? How about the car dealership?
Every year, the organizers amass a collection of some pretty neat iron. This year it was “Chevy City” with “427 Camaros on deck!”
After finding myself without enough money (even for financing), I left the car dealership and headed over to the swap meet. Carlisle’s swap meet is its bread and butter. Aside of the usual junkyard dog scavenging, you can also find people selling old car magazines, car books, and any latent item that you didn’t know you needed till that very moment. One thing that’s becoming more and more popular is 1980s muscle.
I understand some people don’t think “1980s” and “muscle” should be uttered in the same breath but these are the cars some grew up with. It’s hard to believe a Turbo Trans Am may be over 30 years old but it’s true, so don’t scoff at any opportunity to save one because they are in demand and will only gain in popularity – only a few years ago, this interior would have aroused little interest.
On my way back to my secret parking spot, I stumble upon the General Motors Performance Division display. We may not have forgotten about these cars that make our hearts skip a beat, but The General hasn’t forgotten about us either. Their support keeps us coming back for more. We’ve already lost Oldsmobile and Pontiac – can our sense of nostalgia afford to lose any more?