For the 25th year, the West Central Florida Mustang Club hosted its annual car show. Dubbed Ponies Under the Palms, this year’s show took place at the Lakewood Ranch Main Street shopping center in Bradenton, Florida.
In late November many enthusiasts are thinking about prepping their Ford performance machines for winter storage. In Florida, the rain wanes, the air cools and the cars come out to play. For the last 25 years, enthusiasts have flocked to the Mustang Club of West Central Florida’s annual show.
The show began a quarter century ago as an indoor display at a local mall. It eventually moved to the parking lot and on to the historic St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota, Florida. Eventually the show outgrew that site and moved to its current location in nearby Bradenton.
West Central Florida Mustang Club President, Lee Fitzstephens showed off his own car at the show. Club members all register and pay to participate in the show, thus helping the two charities it supports.
“We have two keys to success. One is that, ordinarily, we have good weather this time of year and, secondly, a location that has other amenities around it that people will enjoy,” Dave Bishop, Secretary of the Mustang Club of West Central Florida, said. “One of our goals was always to have a pleasant environment—someplace where people had other things that they could do.”
One of our goals was always to have a pleasant environment—someplace where people had other things that they could do
We made the trip down to the Lakewood Ranch Main Street shopping district in Bradenton, Florida, to check out the show. It was a chamber of commerce day that brought out over 154 Mustangs and Ford-powered machines divided into six classes—1964.5-1978 Mustangs, 1979-2004 Mustangs, 2005-2011 Mustangs, 2012-2017 Mustangs, Trucks and Non-Mustangs.
What impressed us was the quality and variety of the cars on display. From two three last-gen Ford GTs to a host of vintage iron mixed with plenty of modern muscle, there was something for everyone to enjoy, including restaurants and shopping as well. The club also raised money by raffling off a huge table full of prizes from its 27-plus show sponsors.
We spotted three Ford GTs on the property and two were part of the official show. This red 2006 supercar is the pride of Gary Jean and it was parked next to Howard Mintz’s Tungsten 2006. Together these two cars attracted a lot of attention from showgoers.
It’s rare to lay eyes on a Fox Capri these days, but to see one that is still in great shape is highly unlikely. With that in mind, we were pleasantly surprised to lay eyes on Calvin Smith’s two-tone 1986.
We are usually able to contribute $4,000 or more per year to split between the charities and it makes a big difference
While the show is a great way to spend a sunny and mild Sunday afternoon, the best part of the show is that the club uses its annual event to support two local charities.
“We have always worked with charities. It has always been a charity show. Southeastern Guide Dogs is a longtime charity and then a more recent on is Take Stock in Children, which they help kids that would not normally be able to attend college…” Lee Fitzstephens, President of the Mustang Club of West Central Florida, explained. “We are usually able to contribute $4,000 or more per year to split between the charities and it makes a big difference.”
Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s Mustang RTR team was on hand with our friends at Sarasota Ford’s 707 Performance showing off this silver Spec 2 RTR.
Ruby Curtis, a puppy raiser at Southeastern Guide Dogs explained that they train dogs from six month of age to prep them for a career as a guide for a visually impaired person. Donors that contribute to a certain level earn the right to name one of the puppy, and this year the group named a new puppy “Mustang,” in honor of the club and its contributions.
There was also a relatively new charity benefitting from the club for only the second year and it is designed to break the cycle of poverty by helping kids in need graduate and attend college.
The Ponies Under the Palms show benefitted two charities this year—Southeastern Guide Dogs (left) and Take Stock in Children (right).
“Take Stock in Children is a college scholarship and mentor program for low-income an at-risk children throughout the entire Manatee County school district,” Diana Dill, Executive Director of Take Stock in Children, said. “We select students as early as the sixth grade and we match them with a mentor. The students sign a contract with us to remain drug-free and crime-free; to maintain good grades; and to meet with a mentor.”
Another rare machine at the show was this sleek, black 1973 Detomaso Pantera owned by J Poldruhi. His super-clean machine is powered by a Ford small-block with that signature bundle of snakes exhaust.
George Okada rolled into the show with his nicely modded 1969 Mach 1. The Acapulco Blue Fastback has a Hawaii Racing small-block underhood, cowl-mounted tach and some period-correct Cragars.
That is definitely a worthy cause, and is successful as the show that supports it.
“With all of those resources in place, we have a 96-percent success rate of our students graduating high school and matriculate through college,” she added. “The proceeds that the Mustang club donates to Take Stock in Children help to pay for scholarships and all of our scholarship funds are matched dollar for dollar by the Florida Prepaid College Board.”
The sparkly Candy Apple Red finish on Richard Paul’s 2013 Mustang GT had lots of spectators snapping photos.
We left the show with plenty of reasons to smile. It was a beautiful day filled with great cars and in benefitted two great causes. If you find yourself in Florida in late November next year, we’d recommend bringing your car out. You can also likely see this club participating in next year’s NMRA Spring Break Shootout in March, so be sure to thank the members for their good deeds.
Mike Johnson told us that it’s not often that he adjusts the boost level on his ProCharger I-1 supercharger as it’s a monster the way it is set up. Featuring Stage 2 cams, Kooks long-tubes and more, it puts down 630 horsepower and 540 lb-ft of torque to the wheels courtesy of a Matt Kesatie custom tune.
Jim Vecchiano brought his Mustang GT out to the show along with its near twin owned by our pal John Nall. Both cars feature an SVT theme and numerous custom touches. The two try to hit as many shows as they can.
Not just a Mustang show, Ponies Under the Palms caters to all Ford-powered machines, and Marty Quadland 1933’s Ford stopped us in our tracks thanks to the Coyote engine under its hood.