On the final approach of Chicago’s massive O’Hare Airport sits the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. The massive building is host to what many consider the gathering place for the biggest and coolest indoor shows dedicated to the American muscle car. And while the sounds of GE, Rolls Royce, and Pratt & Whitney jet engines blast overhead as they lift Boeings and Airbuses effortlessly into the heavens, the walls inside the convention hall probably contain enough horsepower to blast it off the foundation and into the flight path of some airliner.
The annual Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, common known as MCACN among its participants and diehard attendees, is the brainchild of Bob and Vicki Ashton. These two, with high-octane leaded fuel pumping through their veins, got the idea years ago to create the ultimate indoor show just for muscle cars, but also the lifestyle promotional marketing items from back in the day. There was a time when corporate America got caught up on the muscle craze and numerous corporations from cereal brands to soft drink companies offered their consumers sweepstakes promotions to win a GTO, Charger, or some other hot car.
Another great aspect of the MCACN show is the paying attendees are there to see the cars and not manufactured celebrities that probably don’t even have a driver’s license. Don’t expect to see WWE/WWF wresters or Disney child stars signing autographs at MCACN. If it’s not part of the muscle car hobby or relevant to the automotive lifestyle and culture, it’ll not be at the show.
Speaking of lifestyles, Bob and Vicki knew that there was more to these cars than multiple carbs, lumpy cams, and wild colors. That’s why there were numerous items at MCACN that conjured up fond memories of our childhood past. From Schwinn Stingray muscle bikes with their Banana Seats and Sissy Bars, to vintage branded racing striped windbreakers blazoned with Scat Pack Bees, Cobras, Bowties, and the iconic Hurst logo, you’ll see these at MCACN.
Rest assured the event organizers are also very cautious not to turn the event into an indoor swap meet and relegating how much space is allocated to vendors. We did see variety of cool items that included everything from rare parts like an early Corvette Fuel Injection set up, to hats and t-shirts with your favorite car brand. After all, it’s the cars that are the stars at MCACN, and that’s what brings the people in from all over North America. Based on the packed isles, MCACN has grown with both participants and attendees.
One of the many features this year was the 50th Anniversary F-Body Invitational that brought in 13 of the rarest and most significant First Generation Pontiac Firebirds and 13 of the rarest and most significant First Generation Chevrolet Camaros in one location and many had never been shown to the public until now. Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 aficionado Jon Mello assembled numerous great examples of factory stock and “back-in-day” owner modified cars and iconic racers. The pedigree and history of many of these cars is astounding.
MCACN also brings together the finest restored and original Corvettes throughout North America. Many of these are top shelf cars that have already achieved the legendary NCRS Top Flight and Bloomington Gold status. As observers of this awesome event, never have we seen more L88 427 Vettes in one place and after a while, we become numb to their uniqueness. That’s okay, we got a grip and begin drooling again.
Ford fans were not left out as MCACN had some great examples of rare Shelby Mustangs and creations from Ford’s pseudo skunk works, Kar Kraft. There were plenty of prime samples of it Kar Kraft’s handiwork on display by the numerous BOSS 429 Mustangs and other vehicles that rolled out of it’s Brighton, Michigan facility. Race fans also got to see a pair a 427 SOHC Mustangs from the original Ford Drag Team that tour dealerships from 1969-1970.
The Mopar Nation was also well represented as MCACN assembled more than 20 of the extremely desirable Shaker equipped 1970-1971 Dodge Challengers and Plymouth ‘Cudas. With their high-impact paint, cools options that included rubber bumpers, spoilers, and rear louvers, the row of Mopar E-Bodies was packed all weekend with attendees try to get a closer look while thinking, “If I won the Powerball, I’d buy the Plum Crazy one!”
While most purists look at the 1972 model year as the beginning of the end for muscle cars, MCACN showed the fans that it really wasn’t true. For GM enthusiasts, the Olds 455 W-30, Buick 455 Stage1, Pontiac 455 HO, and Chevelle SS, all lived to continue the fight. The compression drop may have hurt, but these big block bullies were still capable a killing a pair Polyglas tires in a single evening. Great examples of 1972 models from Chevy, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac showed us it wasn’t quite over.
Also during this year’s event, there were several unveilings (part of MCACN’s tradition and massive crowd appeal) of newly completed cars that had never been seen before in the public. These included a gorgeous 1970 Buick Skylark GS Stage 1 convertible own by former NHRA Pro Stock World Champ Jason Line, a 1968 Pontiac Firebird Ram Air II own by Mark Weymouth, an ultra 1971 Plymouth Sport Fury GT, a pair of original 1969 Ford Mustang Drag Team cars, and much, more. The iron and sheetmetal that we thought were forever lost to the ravages of prior owners came back to MCACN and restored jewels for the audience to see.
The most popular place to hang at MCACN was the Barn Finds and Hidden Gems as Hot Rod magazine’s own Ryan Brutt did a stellar job organizing this crucial part of the show and finding some of these hidden treasures that still had mice and other critters living in them before coming to MCACN.
So, if you’re looking to check out a diverse and over the top car show, head to the Windy City Chicago in November for the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals and be ready to get blown over.
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