There are plenty of car shows during the summer. It seems like anyone can create an event who can borrow a parking lot and has more than five classic car friends. Now thanks to the internet, and sites like the one you’re reading, we don’t even have to get up off the couch to get our summer weekend fill.
Still, there are a few events out there that are worth seeing in person. A few of these have even managed to fly under the radar and are unmolested by the skepticism of the World Wide Web. The Iola Old Car Show is one of the few major events that has managed to elude internet fame…well, that was until now.
Every summer for the last 39 years, the tiny town of Iola, Wisconsin, is taken over by more than 100,000 auto enthusiasts. The Iola Old Car Show runs the second week in July from Thursday through Sunday. It offers separate areas for pre-WWII cars, post-WWII cars, modified cars, a “car corral” for selling classic vehicles, concourse quality cars, an area for educational seminars, and the largest automotive swap meet in the Midwest. The total numbers are 2,200 show cars, 4,400 swap spaces, 1,000 corral spaces, and 1,600 camping sites, all spread over 300 acres. So the appearance of the show is at the crossroads of Pebble Beach and Pep Boys, with a little bit of Woodstock.
Since the show is in America’s heartland, there is no shortage of chrome in Iola. This year’s theme placed particular emphasis on two brands from Chrysler: Dodge and the departed DeSoto. But the show was not limited to only one company. With 2,220 cars on display, the rest of America was properly represented and a few imports were also featured.
Because this is in Wisconsin, there is a special affinity for the cars from Nash/AMC. Most of these vehicles were born just a few hours down the road in Kenosha, and while the company has been gone for over 25 years, the spirit is alive and well in its home state of AMC’s main production facility. Every good car show may get a few of the Kenosha-built cars, but Iola is the closest they get to their own feature event.
There is special element to the atmosphere here – a feeling that for those four days everyone is part of the same family. It starts with breakfast when the pancakes will be tossed directly from the griddle to your plate (by request), and continues through the wine and cheese event in the evening (more cheese than wine, this is Wisconsin after all.) There is an immediate sense that we are all related through our passion for cars, and Iola is our family reunion.