Mustangs Dominated, But Variety Flourished At Fabulous Fords Forever

Mustangs Dominated, But Variety Flourished At Fabulous Fords Forever

After 30 years, “Knott’s” remains a favorite Ford show. It’s mainly casual, but often edgy. It’s also big, and best of all, it offers a lot of different Fords to ogle. This is especially true if you’re packing some Ford history. While Fabulous Fords Forever, held at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, definitely celebrates the new and trendy, it has the bandwidth to go far beyond the current model cycle.

Fab Fords even has the room for emerging trends in its historical ranks. A few years back someone blew a whistle and first-gen Broncos showed up en masse. They marked a newfound appreciation for Ford’s original off-road gangster. Bare, basic, and typically packing a small block V-8, the original Broncos had been discovered by a new generation of owners who prize their hardcore off-road credentials and elemental two-box styling. Now a Knott’s fixture, the Bronco corral features dented dirt specialists and glossy boulevardiers standing side by side — and seems eager to accept the new Bronco when it finally arrives.

Parked among the Shelbys was this must-be-a-clone ’67 GT500. Looking stock from a distance, it actually packs Coyote power, a manual trans, and plenty of restomod touches. The quilted interior treatment is an eyebow-raiser to the modern eye but in keeping with the mid-century modern Shelby design language. We counted only four obviously original Shelbys on hand this year.

A far newer trend is the Econoline vans that first dared to strut their day-at-the-beach shtick last year. There were just a handful of them, mainly decked out in ’60s camping chic, and this year proved 2017 was no fluke. A platoon of the mobile boxes showed this year, spanning everything from the newest big Transits rigged for overlanding and ranging all the way back to the ’60s when you could still find a parking spot in a National Park, much less at the beach.

By The Numbers

Continuing their trend of world domination, Mustangs were the overwhelming majority at Fab Fords again this year. A surprising number of them are current Coyotes, followed by plenty of daily wear Two- and Three-Valve cars. There were plenty of classic Mustangs (and but one Mustang II), sort of split between restored-stock and restomod examples.

Total Performance era muscle Fords remain a strong minority; a few tattered originals and a good showing of restored examples being found. Original Cobras, once a show highlight, are now extinct at Knott’s but replicants of all descriptions are numerous, while the nifty ’50s crowd and Model A and T guys have faded to background filler, if present at all. The show marked the 110th anniversary of the Model T, for example, and at least one was entered but we never saw it.

The best anniversary was marking the Cobra Jet at 50 with a few SS racers and personalities present, but here’s how all the numbers broke down:

• 1,021 Mustangs

• 86 Broncos (all but three first gen)

• 39 Lightnings/Raptors

• 34 Fairlanes/Torinos

• 30 Galaxies

• 30 Focus (includes SVT, ST, etc.)

• 29 Thunderbirds

• 29 Mercury Cougars

• 25 Model As

• 23 Rancheros

• 20 Falcons

• 17 Crown Victorias

But, as always, it’s Mustangs that carry the show. The legions of patiently restored first-gen ponies have thinned like the morning mist in favor of driven restomods, but it’s bad-boy Foxes and S197s making up the bulk of non-Coyote Mustangs. Many of these — including the aught specials, such as the Bullitts and Mach 1s — are loved but somewhat worn daily wear, but we don’t mind.

Tom Duncan had the sole Sunbeam Tiger this year. A scruffy ’65 with a ton of track cred, Tom says, “there’s nothing left of it original,” and for years his main play was vintage drag racing it. Then it sported 4:11 gears on a spool, but wears 3.00 cogs and a limited slip now that he’s just driving it around.

Fab Fords is truly a show for the real-world enthusiast aiming to see a lot of interesting Fords. The 34th annual show will take place next year, and we expect it to center around the Mustang’s 55th birthday. For now, we captured a dozen of our favorites from the 2018 show here. For more, be sure to scope out the full gallery below.

Everyone should have one big-block and one small-block Shelby. Don Johnson has owned the white ’67 GT500 since 1990, but the red GT350 he displayed alongside has been his just three months. He’s looking to put the correct air cleaner and a few other authentic pieces on the small-block, but isn’t haunted by concours concerns. He also has a green ’67 fastback for the street and a ’64 coupe with 2×4-barrel tunnel ram for drag racing.

Galpin Ford big wheel Ken Lohr and pro-shoe Steve McCord have paired up in this Elliott Fisher Racing-built American Iron Extreme road racer for open-track giggles. Some jollies: ESR showed them $250,000 worth of receipts for what started as a body in white. There’s no guessing where the money went when peeping the 800-horsepower, dry-sumped Yates NASCAR mill; four-speed Jerico; and beautiful workmanship.

Fresh out of the JBA Performance shop in San Diego, Bob George’s ’66 Fairlane 500 looked perfectly fit to show or rumble. Originally a 390 S-code car, it was elevated to period-correct 427 standard, including 3.25 gears in the 9-inch, and a prepped C6 trans in the tunnel. The car has an outstanding owner pedigree, including John Lingenfelter, and has accrued only 16,000 miles. Bob says it’s mainly for show and cruising now.

At Knott’s more for sale than show, this burly Class-8/pre-runner was all-new — and the first of its breed we recall seeing at Fab Fords. Big-inch Clevors are typical in this class; this one was wearing a 442-inch dry-sumped thumper from Patton Racing Engines. Rated at 720 horsepower, it heats a Mogi C6 trans and Chrisman 9-inch. Chassis and suspension were gleaming new; the whole thing rolls on 17-inch wheels and 37-inch tires. We’re glad we don’t have to feed the 85-gallon fuel cell.

Highlights of the modern pre-Coyote Mustangs at Knotts are the Cobras, Mach 1s, and Bullitts. All are consistently well represented every year, and as we see here Fab Fords likes to mix like-minded cars together, hence the ’68 Highland Green machine standing with the SN95 and S197 Bullitts. Prized as much for their specialty status as their wonderful driving manners, the Bullitts seem to attract more show than go modifications.

Suicide-door Continentals made prime time when Marilyn Manson de-flowered them on MTV; two — both convertibles, both slammed, both from pro shops— were on-hand this year. This one from RMD Garage in nearby Long Beach boasts Coyote power and a rather sophisticated raspberry leather interior. As Doug Kielian says, these are one of the few cars that look good with huge wheels.

Dude, we thought we’d seen every Fox ever made, but when we tripped over Diego Rivera’s Sage Green coupe we were seeing something new. The last-of-the-carbureted ’85 is stone stock from the air silencer to the wheels, wears an automatic trans and only 68,000 miles. Well, almost stock. Diego put some 9- and 10-inch Pony wheels and 245/275-17 rubber on board, along with a Zacatecas, Mexico license plate (He lives in Van Nuys, California). Your author had never seen this color in person; Diego says it’s one of just 37 so sprayed.

In the dancing elephant class we came across this appliance white Police Interceptor Crown Vic. A mix of performance and officer Oppy, it’s said this machine hits the slalom course occasionally and no doubt gets more than a few fellow motorists to slow down thinking the heat is on. The dyno sheet is square at 360 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque thanks to the Vortech blower from Crown Vic specialist and the thing looks like a lot of fun in a big way.

OK, you can win bets with this one. Ford did sell a Durango and it’s not from Australia. The work of National Coach Corporation in Gardena, California, the Durango was a Fairmont Futura with a fiberglass cargo bed. The conversion was sold in Ford dealerships for $2,500 over the Fairmont price and used 200-cube sixes. Sales figures are sketchy — somewhere between 85 and 200 were claimed built —and this one got the treatment in May 1981. Just the sort of oddball we expect at Knott’s…

Old-timers probably remember Doug Kielian’s chop-top Fox. The sharp blade at Auto Kraft in Lincoln, Nebraska, Doug lowered the lid and flared the fenders on his personal ride when it was new in ’89 and has driven it 94,000 miles since. Not actually in the show, but spectating just over the fence, the blue hatch must have the last ball-drive Paxton blower still feeding a Fox, not to mention a CB radio, GT-40 crate engine, and Baer Brakes. Doug, being Doug, washed only the right side of the car to highlight it was driven from Nebraska to SoCal.

Performance-oriented restomods such as this black coupe are the rage in the classic Mustang ranks at Fab Fords. The rules seem to be any sort of modern suspension, brakes, wheels tires and interior mods are good, while engine mods gain points for at least hinting at period correctness, hence the new specification carb-in-a-box Paxton centrifugal seen here. In that way the classic ponies and Foxes share the same zeitgeist plus many of the same mechanicals.

Photo gallery


About the author

Tom Wilson

Infatuated by things that make noise and go fast, Tom has been writing about cars and airplanes for over 35 years. So far that’s meant a decade editing Super Ford magazine, plus long associations with Road & Track, MSN Autos and more lately Kitplanes magazine. It’s also meant some SCCA racing and a lot of fun sampling everything from Trans Am cars to F1 chassis as part of “work.” Besides the racing hobby Tom enjoys flying his biplane, plinking tin cans and messing around with telescopes.
Read My Articles

Blue Oval Muscle in your inbox.

Build your own custom newsletter with the content you love from FordMuscle, directly to your inbox, absolutely FREE!

Free WordPress Themes