The Carlisle fairgrounds have been a destination place for many years if you’re a car junkie. Their brand specific shows usually draw sizeable crowds with the Carlisle Ford Nationals presented by Meguiar’s one of their shining stars. In 2019 they set a new attendance record with over 3,000 vehicles and well over 50,000 visitors during the weekend. Then this little thing called COVID came along and threw everything into a state of confusion. For the folks at Carlisle Events 2020 was a rough one, however, we’re happy to report that in the current diminished COVID environment we are living in – the unthinkable happened – the 2021 edition of the Ford Nationals (June 4-6) set a new attendance record with 3,241 registered show cars. This is significant due to the fact that our Canadian neighbors are still not able to cross the border and always account for a notable percentage of that attendance number. Plans for next year are already in the works with the dates set for June 3-5, 2022.
Calling any gathering at Carlisle a car show would be underplaying what actually takes place. It’s a multi-faceted event that has a show field, themed displays, but is also a venue to buy or sell a car, or parts. There are also numerous aftermarket vendors that cater to the Ford universe with performance and restoration parts.
The Ford Nationals embraces everything Blue Oval, and that gets magnified with the on-site presence of the Ford Motor Company. As a strategic partner, they often have a strong influence on some of the themed displays. This year they were pushing the various flavors of the Mustang, Mustang Mach-E, and the new Bronco. While the electric pony has no clear DNA from Ford’s past, the same can’t be said for the Bronco. You might say that 2021 was the year of the Bronco at Carlisle.
While newly minted Bronco’s were on display for everyone to look at and sit in, the Bill Stroppe Baja Bronco reunion was the most impressive display at the Ford Nationals that embraced the classic Bronco. The Stroppe name might not be as familiar as those of Shelby or Holman-Moody, but he was to off-road racing to what those other folks were to road racing and stockcar racing. On hand were well over a dozen examples of what rolled out of Stroppe’s California shop between 1971 and 1975. Bill’s son, Willie was present during the weekend, along with Bronco historian Todd Zuercher for a seminar on the Stroppe legacy and walk around tours of the display.
At the other end of the Bronco spectrum was Gateway Bronco. Seth Burgett, the founder and CEO of the company was on hand at the Ford Nationals to discuss the state of the current direction that the Bronco hobby is moving towards. His company specializes in the creation of 100% brand new, fully Ford licensed, 1966 to 1977 Bronco’s. These are handcrafted in his Illinois shop, and to date Gateway has produced roughly 100 vehicles in the company’s short 5-year history. Part of his discussion also touched upon the creation of a classic all-electric Bronco, along with a rising demand for a 4-door model.
The themed displays for the 2021 Ford Nationals embraced the 50th Birthday of the Big Horse Mustangs, the Pinto, along with TV and Movie Cars in the Comic Car Con display. The Mustangs spanned from 1971 to 1973, while the Pinto display covered the variations available, along with its counter part, the Mercury Bobcat.