2014 Fleetwood Country Cruize-In

Record turnout caps Canadian auto extravaganza’s first decade

Published: June 17, 2014, 2:00 PM
Updated: April 29, 2018, 2:35 PM

2014 Fleetwood Country Cruize-In - cars and crowds

LONDON, ON – A year ago, London, Ontario car collector and philanthropist Steve Plunkett was set to pull the plug on his annual Fleetwood Country Cruize-In. After nine years organizing this automotive extravaganza at his 105-acre estate, he was tired.

Fortunately, however, a number of people, mostly out-of-towners, convinced Plunkett to stage the event again in 2014. The result was overwhelming.

"We’ve had the biggest turnout ever, a record number of entries," Plunkett, a self-confessed gearhead, said after the 10th edition of show concluded. "It was overwhelming."

Despite trimming the event back to a two-day affair and eliminating the live evening entertainment to help reduce his workload, Plunkett estimates more than 6,500 vehicles and at least 25,000 spectators visited his sprawling estate on the June 7-8 weekend.

The crowd on Saturday, especially, was massive, taking advantage of perfect weather to stroll among the more than 4,500 vehicles that had rolled in for the show. There was a lengthy lineup of cruise vehicles waiting when the gates opened at 7 a.m. and they were still arriving at noon.

In fact, by 10:30 a.m., one vendor had already handed out the 3,500 brochures he was giving as each car passed through the gate. Traffic was backed up in all directions as both cruisers and spectators waited patiently to get to the property.

There were enough cruise cars parked on the shoulders with overheating issues that they’d have filled out a decent show on their own.

What draws so many to the Fleetwood show each year is the fact it’s such an eclectic mix of vehicles. Muscle cars, hot rods, customs, even rat rods, share space with vintage machines such as Model Ts and brass-era classics.

One moment you’ll be checking out a bug-eye Sprite, while right beside it there’s a pristine ’57 Chevy Bel Air convertible or a perfectly restored Plymouth Roadrunner.

Also scattered among the acres of vehicles this year were numerous classic trucks, including a vintage Labatt Breweries barrel hauler and an immaculately restored Streamliner highway transport truck.

There was even a bit of a nautical theme, with a collection of vintage outboard motors on display, located next to a flotilla of Amphicars that were taking spectators for rides through a pond and stream flowing through the property. One gorgeous red and white ’55 Chevy convertible had a matching fiberglass boat from the same era hitched to its bumper.

One reason for the record number of entries this year was the celebration of the Ford Mustang’s 50th anniversary. While Plunkett is a died-in-the-wool Cadillac aficionado with more than 40 examples of the premium brand in his 70-plus car collection, he reached out to Ford to make the Mustang the marque of the show.

It’s estimated about 2,000 Mustangs were displayed – many in a huge area dedicated exclusively to pony car owners. The array of ‘Stangs featured examples from nearly each of the 50 years it has been produced, including the soon-to-be-released 2015 Mustang, which was making its public debut in Southwestern Ontario. For Mustang fans, the sprawling field of coupes, convertibles and fastbacks was pure ecstasy.

The Fleetwood show has been described by experts as the largest outdoor car show in North America – and the turnout this year only affirms that claim. In addition to the huge variety and vast number of vehicles participating, however, the event also provides a rare opportunity to tour Plunkett’s personal auto salon.

The interior of this impressive building is designed to replicate the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria in New York, where luxury automakers used to show off their latest products to the rich and famous.

Displayed in this unique setting are several gems from that era, including a few immensely valuable, one-of-a-kind cars that highlight Plunkett’s collection, such as a 1934 Cadillac V16 Convertible Coupe built by Fleetwood and a 1938 Cadillac Series 60 Roadster with the body custom-built by Brunn.

The latest addition is the immaculately restored1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville concept car that was the star of GM’s 1949 Transportation Unlimited exhibition – held in the Waldorf ballroom, of course. This priceless, hand-built car was one of four prototypes introduced at the New York show – and the only one still in existence.

There are other attractions in addition to the cars. A couple of restored military jets performed a mid-day flyover; vendors were set up in barn hawking everything from automobile art and memorabilia to muscle car parts; live music kept the visitors entertained; there was even an area where one could chat, get autographs and even take photos with such celebrities as motorsports marketing legend Linda Vaughn, better known to racers and racing fans as Miss Hurst Golden Shifter; U.S. cable TV car show host Courtney Hansen; actors Bo Hopkins and Candy Clark from the classic movie American Graffiti, plus California customizing legends George Barris and Gene Winfield.

Proceeds from the event, which had generated more than $1 million prior to this year’s show, will be shared by 27 London area charities.

While Plunkett wouldn’t say he’s 100% committed to another show in 2015, he did concede he’s already working on plans that may include a Dukes of Hazzard tribute. Sounds like another record in the making.

Be sure to check out the full image gallery below.