2021 Carlisle Ford Nationals Beats Attendance Record

2021 Carlisle Ford Nationals Beats Attendance Record

The Carlisle fairgrounds have been a destination place for many years if you’re a car junkie. Their brand specific shows usually draw sizeable crowds with the Carlisle Ford Nationals presented by Meguiar’s one of their shining stars. In 2019 they set a new attendance record with over 3,000 vehicles and well over 50,000 visitors during the weekend. Then this little thing called COVID came along and threw everything into a state of confusion. For the folks at Carlisle Events 2020 was a rough one, however, we’re happy to report that in the current diminished COVID environment we are living in – the unthinkable happened – the 2021 edition of the Ford Nationals (June 4-6) set a new attendance record with 3,241 registered show cars. This is significant due to the fact that our Canadian neighbors are still not able to cross the border and always account for a notable percentage of that attendance number. Plans for next year are already in the works with the dates set for June 3-5, 2022.

Calling any gathering at Carlisle a car show would be underplaying what actually takes place. It’s a multi-faceted event that has a show field, themed displays, but is also a venue to buy or sell a car, or parts. There are also numerous aftermarket vendors that cater to the Ford universe with performance and restoration parts.

The Ford Nationals embraces everything Blue Oval, and that gets magnified with the on-site presence of the Ford Motor Company. As a strategic partner, they often have a strong influence on some of the themed displays. This year they were pushing the various flavors of the Mustang, Mustang Mach-E, and the new Bronco. While the electric pony has no clear DNA from Ford’s past, the same can’t be said for the Bronco. You might say that 2021 was the year of the Bronco at Carlisle.

Ford had two displays on hand during the weekend. One was by the main entrance, and one in the Manufacturers Midway. The 2021 Bronco and Mach-E took center stage at both displays. Also prominently displayed were a pair of Ford GT’s in a rather contrasting condition. The bare carbon model was used by Ford as a test mule and didn’t have any drivetrain.

While newly minted Bronco’s were on display for everyone to look at and sit in, the Bill Stroppe Baja Bronco reunion was the most impressive display at the Ford Nationals that embraced the classic Bronco. The Stroppe name might not be as familiar as those of Shelby or Holman-Moody, but he was to off-road racing to what those other folks were to road racing and stockcar racing. On hand were well over a dozen examples of what rolled out of Stroppe’s California shop between 1971 and 1975. Bill’s son, Willie was present during the weekend, along with Bronco historian Todd Zuercher for a seminar on the Stroppe legacy and walk around tours of the display.

For those that wanted a Stroppe Baja Bronco, they could be ordered through any Ford dealer. Each one started life as a Sport Bronco at the factory before being sent to his facility where they would receive numerous suspension and equipment upgrades. All were painted with a metallic blue on the roof, Wimbledon White from the drip rail to the beltline, and Poppy Red from the beltline down at the factory before being shipped to Stroppe’s shop. Because no production numbers were kept, estimates range from about 400 to 650 units built between 1971 and 1975.

The Stroppe display also included a fully restored 1965 Mercury C-Series transporter and a 1978 Stropped race prepped Jeep, both owned by Wayne and Robin Schmeeckle.

Also on display was Parnelli Jones 1963 Mercury Marauder that set the pole at the 1963 Daytona 500, and had back to back wins at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1963 and 1964. Stroppe was Parnelli’s off-road co-pilot for many years, and their relationship spanned both NASCAR and off-road racing for well over a decade. The 1984 Ford Ranger included in the display was also another Parnelli vehicle that was campaigned during the mid 1980’s. Both cars belong to Brent Hajek.

At the other end of the Bronco spectrum was Gateway Bronco. Seth Burgett, the founder and CEO of the company was on hand at the Ford Nationals to discuss the state of the current direction that the Bronco hobby is moving towards. His company specializes in the creation of 100% brand new, fully Ford licensed, 1966 to 1977 Bronco’s. These are handcrafted in his Illinois shop, and to date Gateway has produced roughly 100 vehicles in the company’s short 5-year history. Part of his discussion also touched upon the creation of a classic all-electric Bronco, along with a rising demand for a 4-door model.

Hand crafted vehicles usually come with a premium price. Gateway offers three trim levels that start at 150 grand with their Fuelie Edition, while the top of the line Luxe GT Edition starts at 300 grand. In the middle of those lies their Coyote Edition with a 200 grand price tag.

The themed displays for the 2021 Ford Nationals embraced the 50th Birthday of the Big Horse Mustangs, the Pinto, along with TV and Movie Cars in the Comic Car Con display. The Mustangs spanned from 1971 to 1973, while the Pinto display covered the variations available, along with its counter part, the Mercury Bobcat.

Some of the movie cars on display were recreations, while a few were the actual originals. Both of the Starsky & Hutch Torino’s are the original vehicles used on the show and still retain all the mounting hardware for the camera equipment. One is owned by Joe Caldwell, and the other by Steve Bordi. The Dragula from the Munsters TV show is also an original and former child star Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster on the show was in the house to sign autographs.

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About the author

John Machaqueiro

John has been immersed in the car hobby since his teenage years. A fan of endurance racing, and muscle cars, those interests have evolved into a journalism career that has allowed him to photograph and write about them.
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