LONDON, ON – It apparently takes more than lousy weather to dampen the enthusiasm of car buffs as thousands spurned chilly winds, grey skies and heavy downpours to check out an estimated 2,000 vehicles on display at the eighth annual Fleetwood Country Cruize-In.
Threatening conditions had organizer Steve Plunkett concerned that the three-day automotive extravaganza at his sprawling country estate near London would be a wash-out. However, his thoughts after the weekend show had wound down were totally positive.
"I had fun, I really enjoyed myself," said the London philanthropist who has turned a modest gathering of a few vintage cars into an outdoor show without parallel on this planet. It has also raised more than $2 million for 33 charities in Southwestern Ontario.
The action kicked off with a Friday night rock-and-roll concert featuring Frank Valli (whose life story was the focus of the hugely successful Jersey Boys musical) and his group, the Four Seasons.
The show, held in a huge big-top tent, was a sell-out, with about 3,500 swaying to the music. The following evening, a dinner show featuring Paul Revere and the Raiders, was another success with 1,400 patrons.
The prime attraction each year, however, is the vast array of vehicles displayed in the park-like setting of Plunkett’s 42-hectare estate. It’s an eclectic collection that ranges from vintage originals to the latest exotics, plus hundreds of customs, muscle cars and hot rods.
The weather had an obvious impact on this year’s car count, but the numbers still exceeded the turnout at any other outdoor car show. Ironically, Plunkett said a number of show regulars left their cars at home because of the rain, but still showed up as spectators.
"I thought we salvaged the Saturday show quite well; the number of cars and spectators was quite good, considering the weather," said Plunkett. "I thought Sunday would be a total write-off because of the rain, but it let up and we had a decent turnout that day as well."
As I wandered about the estate, I was continuously attracted by interesting vehicles. It didn’t matter what type of vehicle one preferred – there was something to satisfy every passion. If you like sports cars, there was a pristine yellow classic MG rubbing shoulders with a Lotus Elan and a Lotus 7, while a gathering of MGBs hovered nearby.
If you’re into muscle, there were hundreds of examples to peruse. One that caught my eye was a gorgeous deep candy-apple-red ’69 Mustang with virtually everything under its hood finished in sparkling chrome.
Flawless custom paint jobs were abundant, but two that I found especially appealing were a chopped ’38 Chevy sedan, finished in an amazing lime green pearlescent hue, and a similarly altered tangerine pearl ’35 Ford, complete with a matching trailer. Parked side by side, they looked stunning.
A ’33 Ford Cabriolet, immaculately finished in a warm sandy gold colour and dripping with chrome everywhere, would be an award winner at any custom car show.
Traditional hot rods were plentiful, including a ’32 Ford three-window coupe that was finished in a deep burgundy paint with hot flame accents. In contrast, a ’49 Chevy fastback sedan, dubbed the Steam Punk, was barely recognizable as its owner had converted it into a monstrous rat rod, altering virtually every panel on the car.
Another "monster" rumbled through the park – it was some form of ’40s truck body mounted on an oversize frame and powered by a massive Caterpillar diesel engine.
Less-radical vehicles vied for show-goers attention, too. A tidy late ‘50s Buick convertible sat quietly, while Cadillac Eldorados of similar vintage, immaculately restored, reminded visitors of the era when fins were "in."
A group of Chevy Corvairs clustered in a grove of trees near a pond, while a Thunderbird club staked out higher ground, displaying both classic and modern generation models on an elevated tee on Plunkett’s private golf course.
One area featured old trucks, including a Mack highway tractor, a restored Ford flatbed and a vintage Ford gasoline tanker from the long-gone Supertest Petroleum fleet.
There was also an interesting assortment of prestigious sports cars, including a Lamborghini, a Ferrari F430 and a group of Porsches.
A flotilla of Amphicars took visitors for rides in a large pond on the estate, demonstrating the dual-purpose capabilities of these increasingly rare vehicles.
Of course, capping the show was Plunkett’s own 70-car collection, including 49 Cadillacs, some that extremely rare. His beautiful car salon, featuring the most valuable cars in his collection, drew a steady flow of visitors, while another indoor display of dozens of cars and collectible memorabilia was a popular stop as well.
With so much to see, it’s no wonder the Fleetwood show continues to draw such impressive numbers of spectators and show vehicles.
If you haven’t yet made the trip to this event, make a note on your calendar to attend the 2013 edition next June. For more information, check out the website at www.fleetwoodcruizein.com.