For several years already the Muscle Car And Corvette Nationals (MCACN) has brought Chicagoland dwellers and visitors top-notch exhibits of cars from the performance era of America (and Canada). Imagine getting a collection of all the muscle car magazines from the past 25 years, selecting the coolest cars from those issues, and then featuring those coolest cars in a sequence of five years — that’s what MCACN is like.
In the past, MCACN has hosted six out of the eight 1969 Trans Am convertibles. And 16 out of the 69 ZL1 Camaros built in the same year. Get the idea? Different themes to tickle every brand affiliation’s fancy, but it’s the kind of place to develop new fancies too. How could one be a muscle car fan and not attend this event?
So as could be surmised from the above description, there are several themes chosen for each year’s event, and then there are the folks − especially Bob Ashton − who work very hard to find owners of cars that fit those themes. The Chicagoland area is a rich zone for muscle cars and, of course, there’s good scene next door in Michigan, but you’ll find owners and their cars from the far reaches of the U.S. and Canada, folks who are troopers for trailering their car(s) during a season of inclement weather. Here’s a few of the themes below.
The Chrysler Hemi 50th Anniversary Celebration
No, it’s not 50 years since Chrysler introduced the Hemi − it’s 50 since the 426 Hemi was introduced, culminating with a one-two-three finish at Daytona and starting a legend that would last through 1971 (at least in Street Hemi form) and continuing today at drag strips everywhere.
The Hemi is the motor to which all other muscle cars are compared, so it stands to reason its racing history, prodigious power, and rarity give them tons of collectibility in the hobby. MCACN had a large display of Hemis, from the 1964 race cars (some of which were sold to private individuals, not outright race cars) to the actual 1971 Hemi’Cuda convertible that recently sold for $3.5 million
Color My World Display
The muscle car era was a mind-expanding time of day-glow colors, often with punny names for hues that may have been lysergically inspired. While Mopars weren’t the first, both Dodge and Plymouth exploited this more than other brands, especially starting in 1970 with High Impact colors like Plum Crazy/In Violet, Go Mango/Vitamin C, Sublime/Limelight, Top Banana/Lemon Twist, Hemi Orange/Tor Red, Panther Pink/Moulin Rouge, and Green Go/Sassy Grass Green.
Ford had their Grabber colors (although for the Maverick they also used puns like “Anti-Establishmint green”) while Mercury called theirs Competition colors. Li’l AMC? Big Bad Blue, Green, and Orange ruled their color palate. The rest of the brands had a color or two but it’s the Mopars that are the most fondly remembered.
Class of ’69 45th Anniversary Display
Nineteen seventy is often referred to as the pinnacle of the muscle car era but, truth be told, 1969 arguably is the year: Judge, Daytona, COPO, 440 A-body Mopars, Hurst/Olds, Trans Am, L88, A12, Boss Mustangs . . . you get the idea. There was optimism in 1969, while the decline was in full swing in 1970. At the very least, 1969 serves as a cultural landmark, and these are the cars that represent that moment.
You may have heard of the National Corvette Restorers Society Top Flight or Bloomington Gold awards, which are the preeminent Corvette prizes for those who prefer their cars in fiberglass. The Vettes featured here have already won both awards, so at MCACN they competed for the coveted Triple Diamond. Corvettes don’t get any better than this . . . unless you’re into pedigreed Corvette racers, which were in another segment.
Ford Performance/The Cat House
Ford folks often felt left out until the 428 Cobra Jet was introduced in mid-1968. After that, Ford had no excuses for not winning in Main Street, USA. Available in both mid-size and pony car configurations, the CJ could be extremely popular (over 10,000 built in the 1969 Mustang Mach I) or rare (17 Cougar XR-7 convertibles were built with the CJ and a 4-speed in 1970).
Class of 1964 Invitational
True, the GTO debuted in 1964, but there were so many other performance cars available, especially if you dig full-size muscle. This class was perfect for Mopars that were not part of the Hemi display, as earlier in the year Chrysler was producing Max Wedges. Of particular note was a very neat Chevrolet police car stuffed with a 409, and the earliest-known Mustang sold in the U.S.
Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Race Display
You may have read about the PSMDR on SLTV in the past but, unlike MCACN, this is one show where the cars are raced. It’s an equally impressive event, so it’s great to see some of the participants here on display for all to see. The PSMDR participants brought a 1970 Buick GSX, 1968 Olds Cutlass S Ram Rod 350, L79 Chevy II, Torino Cobra, Plymouth GTX, and a supercharged Studebaker Lark, among others.
50 Years Of The Pontiac GTO
You can argue the point all you want, but the Pontiac GTO was the first muscle car. It spawned a host of imitators, but none were the GTO. It wasn’t until the advent of the 1968 Plymouth Road Runner that it became apparent that the GTO was resting on its laurels, but Pontiac responded with the opposite kind of vehicle — the Judge — that exploited another side of popular culture.
When the writing was on the wall with low-compression engines in 1971, Pontiac turned the negative into a positive and produced the 455 HO, an engine that delivered power comparable to its high-compression predecessors. Sure, the swan song 1973-74 cars have been an albatross of sorts, but they have come into their own as fine vehicles that have their own strengths versus the older Goats. Special note: see the red ’64? That’s the original Car and Driver GTO that went against the Ferrari GTO.
Celebration Of The Chevrolet L89
The L89 was Chevrolet’s code for aluminum heads. Offered for the solid-lifter L78 396/375 and the L71 427/435, they are quite rare but sometimes are shrouded in enigma, even among Chevrolet folks. It first appeared for the 1967 Corvette but only 16 were built, shooting up to 624 in 1968 and 390 for 1969. The option became available for the Camaro in 1968 with 272 built and another 311 for 1969. For the Chevelle, the L89 became available in 1969 with 400 built and other 18 for 1970 before it was cancelled with the advent of the LS6 replacing the L78.
Buick GSX Invitational
In 1970, Buick introduced the GSX package for the GS 455 that included stripes, spoilers, and a whole lotta attitude — only 678 were built. The package returned for 1971 with a slew of several new colors but only 124 people ordered one, with another 44 for 1972. This display featured several 1970-71 examples, with a focus on the 1971s.
The REAL Pace Cars
In 1967, the Camaro was chosen to pace the races at Indy; it returned to Indy for 1969. In 1970, the Olds 4-4-2 was chosen, followed by the Dodge Challenger for 1971. The actual cars that paced Indy in those years were present, plus a 1969 Camaro that paced Charlotte.
Perhaps the most popular segment of of MCACN is the Barn Finds. Organized by Ryan Brutt, an enterprising photographer who travels around the Midwest looking for that special car that’s stashed away. This year he had some special vehicles including a 1969 Boss 429 race car that included its flatbed tow truck, a 1971 GTO Judge, a former 1969 Olds F85 W-31 race car, and a trashed 1968 Yenko Camaro.
A host of unrestored cars were invited to participate in the Vintage Certification Program for original muscle cars. Cars that have maintained their original condition could be of any brand and model, so you could see something that you may not see in the other featured classes.
Boss 429 Invitational
It’s no secret the Boss 429 Mustang is one of the most impressive vehicles built during the muscle car era. At MCACN, both 1969 and 1970 were present, including one of each color.
There also were some vehicles worthy of note. One of them was this 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator. A bit over 2,000 were built, available only in Mercury’s bright Competition colors: Orange, Gold, Green, Blue, Yellow; or subdued Pastel Blue. However, several enterprising folks special-ordered Eliminators in other colors − this one here is one of three built in black. It gets cooler, though, as it’s equipped with a 428 SCJ with 4.30 gears!
Speaking of special-order colors, the 1970-72 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was available only in Polar White or Lucerne Blue. However, someone ordered this 1972 Trans Am in Adriatic Blue. It’s a 4-speed car to boot.
Two more special Pontiacs had their unveiling at MCACN:
- This Daytona Yellow 1969 Firebird 400 convertible is equipped with the Ram Air IV motor. Only 17 were built, five with automatic.
- This silver 1969 Firebird is actually the test mule that served as the prototype for the Trans Am. It too is equipped with the Ram Air IV motor.
Take a few minutes to cruise through the below MCACN pics.