Zephyrhills Auto Events, The Tradition Continues.

The Zephyrhills Auto Events, formally known as the Zephyrhills Autorama, is a collectors and classic car swap meet, car corral, custom car show, and classic car auction. It is the longest running and largest event of its kind held throughout the State of Florida. The event happens twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall, and has taken place on the grounds of Festival Park in Zephyrhills, Florida for over 30 consecutive years.

The family-friendly event, located a short 15-minute drive north of Tampa, with its favorable year round climate brings folks from across the United States and Canada to buy, sell, and in general, just enjoy all things automotive.

Zephyrhills Events DSC_0837In 2015, due to contractual issues, the event was in jeopardy of closing down. Local officials were doing what they could to save the event, as they were well aware this event was directly responsible for a sizable, positive, economic impact on the local Zephyrhills community.

When it looked like there was no way to proceed, a husband and wife duo stepped forward and offered to take over and keep the tradition alive.

Craig and Joann Pearson were well known in the local automotive community as the promoters and organizers of the Winter Extravaganza at Sumter County Fairgrounds, in nearby Bushnell, Florida. The Winter Extravaganza was also a large automotive swap meet, car corral and custom car show. “We knew there would be some growing pains our first year at Zephyrhills, but we couldn’t stand by and watch the event go down the drain.” Craig offered.

You could find everything from vintage pedal cars to automotive-themed neon clocks at this event

With the city’s blessings, the Pearson’s secured the proper permits, did the necessary marketing, and prepared to open Festival Park for the 2015 fall edition of the Zephyrhills Autorama. Before they could open the gates, the Pearson’s were made aware that a gentleman somewhere in Arizona , had trademarked the term “Autorama.” This gentleman contacted the Pearson’s to let them know he would be gracious enough to allow them to use the term for a slightly phenomenal fee.

“We were still in the planning stages at that point,” Craig recalls. “With this new information in hand, we simply decided to change the name to Zephyrhills Auto Events, and that worked out well.” Continuing on with the necessary permits, and confirmed dates from Festival Park, an agreement with Vicari Auctions to conduct the classic car auction, everything was in place. All that was left to do was load in the 1,400 vendors scheduled to take part in the event, and open the gates to the public to enjoy four days of any, and everything automotive.

Vicari Auctions Means: SOLD

From its home office in Harvey, Louisiana, Vicari Auction Company conducts classic and musclecar auctions across the Southern United States, including venues in New Orleans, Biloxi, Mississippi and Nocona, Texas.

Pete Vicari’s passion for classic and musclecars inspired him to enter the classic and musclecar auction arena over 20 years ago.

His pastime hobby has grown into a successful auction business that attracts hundreds of cars to each event with sales reaching into the millions of dollars. The 2015 year marks the first year for Vicari Auctions at the Zephyrhills Auto Events.

When the gates opened on day one, large crowds of gear heads and automotive enthusiasts made their way through the turnstiles, each with their own agenda. Regardless of what these motor heads were searching for, there was a very good chance they would find it, somewhere, on the grounds of Festival Park.

This event offered just about anything automotive, or even automotive related, that you might imagine, from t-shirts and hats to an alternator for a 1965 Mustang. Whatever you were searching for was located somewhere among the 1,400 vendors, all you had to do was find it.

As we entered the grounds of Festival Park, we concentrated on finding 10 of our favorite vehicles to feature in this particular article. First, we roamed the show car area and found a few cars that had promise, then we went to the auction lot and again, found several vehicles we thought might work, but I was totally amazed with the area labeled as the Car Corral.

This area had over 300 hundred classic automobiles, all in various stages of restoration, awaiting a new owner. Everything from a 1954 Chevy pickup truck held together with bungee cords, to a fully restored 1935 Series 20 Cadillac. With this in mind, our Top 10 favorites of the Zephyrhills Auto Event contains show cars, auction cars, Corral Cars, and a few very unique items we discovered while making our way through the show. Here are the Top 10 favorites from the Zephyrhills Auto Events.

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This Florida Snow Blower sparkled in the hot Florida Sunshine.

10. I just couldn’t help myself on this one, there was no way I could omit this first item on my list. A vintage, 1999, two-horse power, Briggs and Stratton, Florida snow blower. This beautiful, jade green metallic and chrome snow blower is the handy work of the guys at Custom Plating Specialists in Brillion, Wisconsin. 

“We’ve been coming down here for the last 10 years or so,” the young man behind the counter tells us. It’s one of our most productive shows we attend all year.” It seems the snow blower started as a joke in the shop, but when it was finished, the guys thought it would be a perfect snow blower for someone residing in Florida. We couldn’t agree more.

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9. Next on our list; we found a rat in the Car Corral. This really cool 1939 Plymouth half-ton pickup truck came from local enthusiasts, John Garcia of Tampa. John was quick to point out the chopped top and suicide doors as well as the headers that were intentionally installed backwards. The truck sits on a Chevy S-10 chassis and is powered with a 350ci Chevrolet coupled to a GM 700R4 automatic transmission.

The bed is hand-fabricated and John explained the large wind up key in the side of the bed, is really not functional. The headlights on this rat are believed to be from a 1908, or maybe a 1910 Buick Touring car, John couldn’t remember the exact details.

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8. Pistorius Collectable Autos of nearby Tampa, brought this fully-restored, 1935 Series 20 Cadillac Sedan to Zephyrhills. One of two in existence today, this four-door, five-passenger, Fisher-bodied car is considered extremely rare. It features an adjustable steering column, wire wheels and a “Goddess” radiator ornament.

Factory installed adjustable rear shock absorbers; radio and heater were considered as accessories. Standard equipment included, among other things, window pull shades, blanket rail, hand pulls and “cats eye” cigar lighters. The car sold new in 1935 for $2,645.00. Today, the price is considerably higher, well above seven figures.

7. This very pretty dark green, 1932 Ford five-window coupe caught our attention as we roamed through the Car Corral early on Saturday morning. Mike Doyle, from Fort Myers Beach, made the four-hour drive to Zephyrhills to be a part of the event. The car sits on a custom fabricated steel tube chassis, with a 3-inch drop on the front, and four-link suspension on the rear that provides just the right amount of “old school” rake.

Mike’s Ford sports a 400ci, naturally-aspirated Chevrolet with a GM Turbo-Hydramatic TH400 automatic transmission. The leather interior, rumble seat, hood louvers, and detailed pinstripping, set this rod apart from the rest.

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6. Almost directly behind Doyle’s five-window coupe, we noticed this extra clean, light blue, 1937 Ford Business coupe parked under the only shade tree on the grounds of Festival Park. The car belongs to Frank Paoneffa from Polk City, Florida. “I’ve been coming here for many years.” Frank stated. “I really enjoy the auction, and the swap meet area is one of the best in the state.”

This beautiful old Ford sits on a custom, hand-fabricated tube steel frame with a Heidts Mustang II front suspension, and standard leaf springs in the back. The brakes are upgraded to duel piston discs on all four wheels, and the horse power is provided by a 350ci GM naturally-aspirated crate motor with a standard GM TH350 automatic transmission. The interior was exceptionally neat and clean; the leather buckets, VDO gauge package, custom wood grain steering wheel, power windows – all in all, just a beautiful ride.

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5. As we made my way to the food truck with the ½-pound hot dogs, we observed this next car for the list. We couldn’t help but to think back to the days of cruising down Main Street with your best girl riding shotgun, sock hops and drive-in movies. This beautifully restored, all original, 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 resides in the garage of Frank Dawson, from just down the road in Tampa.

Frank’s Fairlane is a classic example of automotive styling of the 1950’s, with the wide white wall tires, tailfins and fender skirts. The 292ci V8 Ford is original to the car as well as the four-speed manual transmission. Anyone old enough to remember going to the drive-in to catch the latest Elvis movie, or parking down by the river with your best girl to watch the submarine races, will totally understand why this car made our list.

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4. After consuming one of those obnoxious ½-pound dogs, with chili cheese and onions, we made my way over to the auction lot to see what we could find. Lot number S537 caught our eye. A very different looking, 1947 Chevrolet pickup truck. The simple Raspberry paint job with purple accents was very pleasing to the eye.

This full-blown custom was mostly Corvette under the sheetmetal with a LT1 300 hp engine and a 700R4 transmission. The truck is equipped with a power tilt hood, and remote suicide doors, power steering, brakes and windows, including the rear cab window. Suspension is late model Corvette with drilled and slotted 12-inch discs on all four wheels. The truck rolled across the block and bidding quickly rose to $26,000 but stalled with this figure as the owner did not remove the reserve, and this beauty returned to the lot unsold.

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3. This next car was also scheduled to go across the Vicari Auction block, and the author’s lovely wife, who had tagged along to take in the auction, informed him that she would look really good cruising the beaches in this particularly pink Thunderbird. This 1957 Ford Thunderbird is completely original and was special ordered in this distinct color.

The 312ci Ford motor and automatic transmission was in the car the day it was delivered. The car is equipped with the factory soft top, padded dash, power steering and brakes. Fender skirts and the original Town and Country AM radio still works like new.  The author briefly thought about how his wife would look driving this pink T-Bird, but quickly dismissed those thoughts when the bidding exceeded $52,000.

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2. The most unique combination to go across the auction block Saturday afternoon was this 1959 Chevrolet Brookwood station wagon. The car was completely restored and featured a big block 348ci Tri-Power motor, and a 700R4 automatic transmission. Attached to the rear bumper was a 1957 Milo Craft, 14.5-foot wooden runabout with a Mark55 Mercury outboard motor. The car and boat were offered as a complete lot and sadly, the reserve of $45,000 was just $1,000 away from being met.

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1. Without a doubt, our number one favorite vehicle of the Zephyrhills Auto Events is this beautifully preserved, not restored, 1954 Ford F-Series pickup truck, owned by 92-year old Michael Decker from Zephyrhills, Florida. Michael bought this truck new from the local Ford dealer in 1954 and as he puts it, “I’ve just always took good care of her.” The truck is 100 percent original, and of course has required some repair over the years, but this truck is absolutely beautiful no matter how you look at it.

The 279ci motor and three-speed manual transmission are still OEM and the factory wooden bed has been replaced with a local Hart Pine. The only other change to Michael’s truck is that he replaced the standard 14-inch  wheels with newer 15-inch wheels. “The thing rode like a truck so I changed the wheels to smooth out the ride,” Michael said. If you were ever looking for a classic example of what a man’s love for his vehicle looks like, this is it.

A beautiful 1912 Indian board track racer and a gorgeous 1912 Brass-era Model-T were available for sale during the four-day event

On Sunday afternoon as the vendors packed up their remaining inventory, and the Car Corral emptied out, the Pearson’s, stood rightfully proud of the results of their first efforts with this iconic automotive event. Thousands of automotive enthusiasts had purchased tickets and attended the event, a record number of vendors filled the grounds of Festival Park, and the auction was considered to be very successful. With results like this there is no reason to believe that the Zephyrhills Auto Events won’t continue for another 30 years. Kudos to the Pearson’s and their entire staff for a job well done.

Photo gallery


The next Zephyrhills Auto Events is scheduled for February 18 – 21, 2016. For additional information visit : zephyrhillsautoevents.com

About the author

Chuck Green

As a professional writer, and photographer Chuck has always had an affliction for anything related to motorsports. Over the years he worked events from local short tracks to the high profile series of NASCAR, Indy Car, IHRA, and NHRA.
Read My Articles

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