The clock ticks over to 9 a.m. Over the public address system at the SUN ’n FUN campus the opening notes of our national anthem fill the air. Those sounds aren’t alone, however. That buzzing sound from above is a vintage airplane flying over the event. More than just a car show, the Carlisle Fall AutoFest brings a cornucopia of an auto auction, a car show, a midway of fair food, and even a concours of RVs and airplanes to the Lakeland Linder Regional airport in Lakeland, Florida.
Ford fans are likely familiar with the long-running Carlisle Ford Nationals, which draws thousands of Blue Oval machines to the event promoter’s home base at the Carlisle Fairgrounds in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. During the colder months, however, Carlisle Events heads south for a pair of events, one in November and one February.
One of the first Ford-powered vehicles we spotted on the Fall Autofest midway was this stunning Backdraft Racing Replica Roadster. It features a Ford Performance Coyote crate engine underhood, which is backed by a Tremec five-speed manual. This RT3 chassis is loaded up with options like custom paint, ceramic-coated headers and power steering. It will set you back $66,057, but it looks like a total blast to drive.
Last year, these events relocated from Zephyrhills, Florida, to nearby Lakeland, Florida, to give them more room to expand and bring in more variety, like the displays of recreational vehicles and airplanes.
I know we feel at home when hosting these Florida shows and we certainly would not be in that position without the great support of our enthusiasts
“It’s been a great transition,” Michael Garland, Public Relations Manager at Carlisle Events, said.“This was our third event at SUN ‘n FUN and while remote events like these are challenging for us, the team at SNF has been very accommodating to us. I know we feel at home when hosting these Florida shows and we certainly would not be in that position without the great support of our enthusiasts who continue to help make these must-attend weekends for automotive lovers from around the state.”
Unlike the shows dedicated to specific brands, the AutoFest events really amp up the variety with shows—like the Wall of Death Thrill Show, featuring stunts by motorcycles and go-karts—and unusual displays, like the full array of vehicles from the classic Batman TV series, including the Batmobile and Batcopter.
“This display is one of a kind,” Captain Eugene A. Nock, pilot of the Batcopter and caretaker of the Bat vehicles, said. “The helicopter is THE helicopter used during the original TV series as well as the 1966 movie.”
For the middle two days of its AutoFests, Carlisle Events hosts its own on-site auctions, which features free consignments if your vehicle doesn’t sell. We saw classic cars, muscle cars and exotics. Apparently there were even airplanes going under the gavel at this unique event.
Showcasing an orphan car has an unexplainable excitement to it…
The Fall 2016 event even offered a showcase for orphaned cars like AMCs, Deloreans, Studebakers and more.
“Many people don’t realize that there were hundreds of brands of cars in the early days of the automobile. Some of those companies only built a few cars, but many more built hundreds and even thousands of cars before going out of business,” Carlisle Events co-owner and co-founder, Bill Miller Jr., explained. “While many car companies survived to this day, and we recognize those current brands, collecting and showcasing an orphan car has an unexplainable excitement to it…”
We have to admit it was a little disconcerting seeing a few Foxes lined up for the Carlisle Auction. This 1991 Mustang GT convertible is a rust-free stocker with and automatic transmission. As the signage on the car accurately states, you don’t see too many of these in stock condition these days.
We elected to take the next step and move on to Ford Performance where we can attract all of Ford’s performance vehicles under one club
Naturally, we were there to check out the vehicles that are far from orphaned and there was a strong representation of Ford vehicles in the auction, car corral and car show. Among the representatives in the car show was a special grouping from the newly anointed Ford Performance Club of Florida, a trend-setting group designed to gather fans of all of Ford’s performers under one banner, which sounds like a great idea to us.
“It evolved from Team Shelby,” Larry Beach, President of the Ford Performance Club of Florida, explained. “It was just Shelbys, but there was a whole lot of interest from other people to join. So we elected to take the next step and move on to Ford Performance where we can attract all of Ford’s performance vehicles under one club. It’s something that didn’t exist. There have been Mustang clubs or Lightning clubs and so on and so forth, but there’s never been a club that encompasses all of them. That was our goal—to bring them all together.”
There were also some nice Foxes in the car corral at the Fall AutoFest. This 1990 Mustang GT is full of period-correct mods like a Ford Motorsport B303 camshaft, 3.73 gears, and Moser axles. The three-owner convertible had just over 26,000 miles on its rebuilt engine and new seats inside.
Looking to appeal to a slightly younger demographic that is drawn to the latest Ford Performance vehicles, this club operates with the blessing of FoMoCo and it might just be a harbinger of similar clubs forming across the world.
“I reached out to John Clor up at Ford Performance and he connected me with Ford Global Licensing. We are a club licensed and endorsed by Ford Performance. We are the only one in existence at this point, but they are looking to create other clubs throughout the country as far as Ford Performance goes,” Larry said.
While Foxes are definitely classics at this point, there were plenty of ’60s classics on display at the Sun ’N Fun campus. We spied this ’66 in the car corral. It sports a rebuilt 289 topped with a Ford Racing air cleaner and a two-barrel carburetor. The signage promised it has working air conditioning and a rebuilt C4 automatic transmission.
At the Carlisle Fall AutoFest most of the club’s entries were Mustangs, but as the group evolves and spreads the word, those ranks should get more diverse.
If you’re a car club, what better way to spend a weekend than hanging out with likeminded people
“We have had so much interest since we brought this online and we’re still not fully online,” Larry added. “We are still in the developmental stage. We have already had so many people that already wanted to join with Raptors, Lightnings and Focuses. They are already ready to sign up and be a part of this.”
For this event, the Ford Performance club offered a Poker Run & Fall Festival package, which included a Poker Run, event decals, a Friday dinner at Lakeland Ford, a hospitality tent, a BBQ lunch and more.
“If you’re going to host a car show, you need car clubs,” Michael said.“They are the truest of true enthusiasts and car clubs power this hobby. For our events, we look at them as the backbone to our shows. Besides, if you’re a car club, what better way to spend a weekend than hanging out with likeminded people and maybe even recruiting new members.”
We’ve seen Terry Molin’s turbocharged Cobra a couple shows now and this beauty is definitely feature-worthy. It features a polished turbo setup topped off with nitrous. Inside it is equipped with a high-output custom audio system highlighted by an iPad Mini integrated into the dash.
“We started last year at Carlisle’s first event here. As soon as they started advertising, I knew that we wanted to get in right at the beginning,” Larry added.“We were here last year as Team Shelby and we are just going to keep coming back and have a bigger and bigger presence every time.”
If you missed the fun, don’t fret. Carlisle Events will return to the Sun ’N Fun campus for the Winter Florida AutoFest from February 21-26, 2017. For now you can enjoy our coverage and photo gallery from the Fall 2016 event. We’ll be back in February to document the fun, so maybe we’ll see you there.
“At this point, the February show is still in the planning stages,” Michael teased.“We know that the car show will return, auction, swap meet, car corral and Air & Coach Concours. We’re still planning some sort of nod to the aeronautical roots of the facility with airplane and helicopter rides, but as guests or special attractions go, nothing has been confirmed yet.”
We hit the jackpot when we found the new Ford Performance Club of Florida. Its members brought in a lot of great Blue Oval hardware. At the head of the line in its display was Jasper Brannon’s Gotta Have It Green 2014 Roush Mustang. It features the expected Roush upgrades, including the TVS supercharger, accented by some aftermarket upgrades in the form of Granatelli Motorsports ignition coils and a Barton short-throw shifter.
“I’m making so much power that I keep blowing pipes off,” said M. Wrobel as we snapped a shot of his colorful SN-95. Powered by a Four-Valve topped by an MMR sheetmetal intake and boosted by a Paxton Novi, this car should be as fun to drive as it looks.
The ranks of the Ford Performance Club of Florida are deep with Shelbys. Chad Morlock’s GT500 still wears the stock blower, but puts down 538 horsepower 534 lb-ft of torque courtesy of a few choice upgrades, including a JLT cold-air intake, a Ford Performance Parts throttle body and a VMP Performance custom calibration.
The Carlisle AutoFest events also feature a robust swap meet brimming with parts and memorabilia. It’s strange to consider we have seen Ford’s in-house performance arm transition from Ford Motorsport to Ford Racing to Ford Performance, but this sign is now vintage, but we can still park in front of it.