Mustangs by the Hundreds Gallop to Carlisle’s Winter Auto Fest

The winding back roads of central Florida filled early Saturday morning, February 22,2020, with the unmistakable rumble of Blue Oval power. Carlisle’s Winter Auto Fest, the premier central Florida event for enthusiasts and collectors alike, roared to life with virtually every year, make, and model of Ford’s iconic pony car.

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Nearly 400 Mustangs and Ford-powered vehicles lined up early for a piece of prime show space at Carlisle’s Winter Auto Fest.

“Woodward Avenue has nothing on the streets of Polk County when the Mustangs come to town,” said local resident Ben Clemmons. “You literally cannot drive a few hundred feet without seeing a Mustang of some kind,” added an excited Kellyanne Willis.

Held at the Sun ‘N Fun Expo Campus just off Interstate 4, Carlisle Events’ Winter Auto Fest isn’t just about showing and selling cars. “We’re about sharing information and stories which unite the automotive community,” says Mike Garland, Carlisle’s public relations manager. This is a theme you’ll find throughout the weekend’s events.

Participants and parts hunters alike filed in continuously all weekend, keeping vendors and show goers moving. Said one visitor, "if you can't find what you're looking for at Carlisle, well then forget about it, because it doesn't exist."

One of the state’s “can’t miss” events for Mustang aficionados, Mustangs & Mustangs, hosted by the Imperial Mustang Club of Polk County, brings out the best pony cars in a unique display of modern and vintage examples of Blue Oval excitement.

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As if plucked from a nearby hangar, Kathy Gibson’s silver 2019 coupe looked every bit as menacing as its P-51 namesake while garnering plenty of attention across the Sun ‘N Fun campus.

“This is really the first show of the season if you don’t count all the rest of them,” laughed one participant. “There is so much to do here with the auction, the parts, great food, and miscellaneous things to see. Where else, but here and California, can you do this in February?”

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Right at home and soaking up the Florida sun, Falcon Club of America member Bill Shira’s ’64 Sprint looked clean and ready to run.

As if on cue, Ford’s pony cars stretched throughout the field, easily dwarfing nearby clubs and respective brands. “We’re going to have to step up our game next year,” said one Bow Tie brand owner. Drenched in blue skies and cool breezes, participants made final preparations and last minute wipe downs as judges assembled.

This pair of Saleens turned plenty of heads when they arrived together and made their entrance.

Now in its 23rd year, Mustangs and Mustangs “Legends Having Fun” is held in conjunction with the Carlisle Winter Fest at Sun ‘N Fun at Lakeland Linder Airport.  “We get bigger every year,” former Mustang Times editor and Imperial Mustangs’ member Mary Jean Wesche tells us.

“We’re all about having fun,” said Marjorie Daniels, who decided to join her local club just days before. “I’ve always wondered what entering a car show was like, and this is really cool!”

Wain Casteel's period-correct '67 Cougar represented the brand and looked eager to pounce, while John Cole's custom 2008 Mustang proved there was more than enough heat under the hood.

A Blend of Old and New

What was once an “old versus new” mentality, has evolved in today’s show field to include both young and old. While many more seasoned Mustang veterans swapped stories and laughs, the  slightly “younger” crowd could be overheard sharing their own brand of camaraderie.

“Our hobby doesn’t exist without the next generation joining the mix, so I’m happy to see so many young people here,” said Lou Wessle. “To be honest, I really didn’t expect to be as interested as I am in the classics,” added Misty White, a member of the “next Mustang generation.” “But this is great! Everyone has been checking out the older and newer cars and asking questions. That’s why I’m a Mustang girl!”

There was no greater Mustang contrast as these two striking examples. Brian Perez and his 2016 carbon-fiber modified beast spoke to modern advances, while the '68 Shelby GT500 convertible of Andrew Mazzarella dripped with history and ground-pounding cubic inches.

“We come from all over the southeastern U.S. to be a part of this great show and atmosphere,” quipped Art Meyers, who along with wife Reese, proudly dusted off their 2017 Shelby. “How can you beat this?” a smiling Art adds. “Awesome cars everywhere, great weather, and new friends!”

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As if its orange color commanded us to stop, this gorgeous Roush screamer drew us back more than once for a closer look.

With the shadows finally beginning to stretch a bit longer, many embraced the opportunity to explore acres of classic and modern examples of all makes and models. Old friends reconnected, official show swag and manufacturers goodies were snapped up or purchased, and even the DJ conceded to a few more “current” music selections.

“We’ve been to Carlisle in Pennsylvania so we knew what to expect,” announced a wagon-pulling father and son duo visiting from Virginia. “The show cars, like all these Mustangs, just seem so much brighter. If you’re parts hunting at Carlisle and can’t find what you’re looking for here, well forget about it, because it doesn’t exist.”

If your travels include a trip to central Florida early next year, be sure to check out Mustangs & Mustangs “Legends Having Fun” 2021, you just might find exactly what you’ve been looking for.

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About the author

JP Emerson

My affliction with vintage iron is matched only by my knowledge of classic Rock ’N Roll. Although a heavy lean to all things Ford blue, I have a sharp appreciation for all makes and models, especially those that gulp gas and drop oil to mark their territory. Having provided work for multiple magazines, manufacturers, SEMA, and a top secret list of celebrity and auto insiders, I understand the bond between cars and owners.
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