Ford Fans And Owners Filled The 2019 Route 66 Mother Road Festival

For 18 years, the Route 66 Mother Road Festival has celebrated specialty cars, fun, and the nostalgia of the historical landmark road. Held annually during late September (September 27-29 this year) in downtown Springfield, Illinois, this year’s car show packed the place, filling the streets of downtown with block after block of beautiful vehicles.

Participants traveled from across the country to spend the weekend parked just off the old Route 66. In addition to the car show, the Bonnier Events promoters serve up an evening car cruise, vendors, live music, a burnout challenge, and Miss Mother Road pin-up girl contest.

The Friday evening parade stretched well into the darkness as over 2,000 custom and classic cars kicked off the weekend's festivities. The Springfield streets were filled with onlookers in lawn chairs who got a huge dose of Fords of every shape and size.

The car show began in 2001 in downtown Springfield, moving to the Illinois State Fairgrounds a couple of years later. When it popped the seams on the acreage at that location, promoters once again moved it back to downtown where it has stayed until the current day. Over 25,000 spectators are reported to enjoy the spectacle each year and this year saw capacity crowds on the streets and sidewalks while enjoying the beautiful fall weather.

Friday night’s cruise encompassed over 2,000 vehicles parading from the east side of Springfield into the streets of downtown led by a police escort. The cars started rolling out of the staging area at 7:00 pm and were still moving out of the lot over two hours later. Spectators lined the sidewalks along the way, cheering their favorite iconic vintage vehicles and taking plenty of pictures. The participants get into the spirit of Route 66, dressing in ’50s and ’60s styles and tossing candy to the kids.

One interesting observation I made is that despite all makes and models of cars intermixed among the festival, the Ford enthusiasts seem to congregate with one another, as did every other brand-specific admirer.

“These cars bring back so many good memories, especially when talking to fellow Ford fans,” Joe Hanraddy, one of the local spectators says. “I drove a ’57 Ford in high school; that was the best car I ever owned. I had so much fun cruising the main streets of town in mine. These cars sure do bring those days back.”

Steve Engberg’s “Elvira” is this '69 Boss Mustang. The Mount Pleasant, Iowa builder has fabricated everything in this slick, powerful Mustang and has enjoyed every minute of it. “Elvira is Eleanor’s meaner younger sister,” Steve says. “Everything on the car has been modernized in the build. This is my ultimate Mustang and I’m proud of what we have accomplished.”

As the sun rose on Saturday morning, attendees were already picking their spots and moving into the blocked off downtown area. It didn’t take long for space to be at a premium with all makes and models from every year on display. Cars continued to roll into the streets throughout the morning and early afternoon.

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Camp chairs were placed on the downtown sidewalks with neighbors becoming quick friends, talking about their cars and the modifications made to them. Bottles of window cleaner, aluminum polish, and tire shine were being used in abundance as the car enthusiasts prepared to be judged.

Norman Spires from Danville, Illinois attended with his 1967 Ford Fairlane. The ultra clean lines caught the eyes of many onlookers as a constant procession circled the car. The beauty took first place in the Best Ford (non Mustang/Thunderbird) category.

“This is a great show for meeting up with my friends year after year,” Jon Shannright says. “We park as close to the same spot as possible, so they know where to find us. And we meet a lot of new people every year too. We’ve made a lot of good friends we see all over the country at different shows.”

The historical downtown provides a picturesque background for the cars and their owners. Visitors to the show also experience a plethora of Lincoln sights and memorabilia, along with the nostalgia of the old Route 66 highway. Vendors provided a bounty of souvenirs for the show-goers, and a performance marketplace also offered attraction to the restoration fans.

Tim and Barb Wise found their 1969 Mustang online thinking they were going to build a muscle car. They had no idea what they had bought until reviewing the VIN tag. Their car was one of only 50 1969 Mustang "E cars" built by Ford to compete in the Mobilgas Economy Run. With much research and some technical assistance from FOMOCO, they spent four years bringing this rarity back to its original state.

As the day passed, the streets grew more and more crowded. Spectators got up close to look at the cars and admire them. It was unusually noticeable to witness parents holding their children close in respect to the cars on display.

“I like the cars with lots of unique little features,” Todd Anderson, from Peoria, Illinois says. “This year, I have noticed many cars with unique shifters and really cool shifter handles, kind of a trend.”

No disco ball jokes because Perry “Butch” West placed a ton of effort into his '77 Pinto Cruising Wagon. Butch purchased the car new as a driver for six years until putting it literally “out to pasture.” Just a few years ago, he set out in his small workshop to restore it and add a newer 5.0-liter engine, transmission, and 8.8 rear. Count on seeing a feature story on this one in Ford Muscle.

Anderson’s son, Dylan, chimed in, “These cars are cool and I want to build one for me to have when I grow up. I just can’t decide which one is best.” The six-year-old was attending his first big event with his dad. Todd said it was a lot of fun to watch his son look at the cars with fresh eyes.

From vintage Ford dragstrip iron to the pin-up girl contest to late model muscle, the festival featured something to trip everyone's trigger.

“I remember going to car shows with my own Dad,” Todd added. “I want my son to know about these vintage vehicles and appreciate them the way I do. And, if he wants to build a car when he’s old enough, I’ll be there helping him out every minute.”

Quickly becoming a favorite pageant at the festival, the Miss Mother Road contest attracted several ladies who live the pin-up lifestyle. Miss Aurora Borealis was the Mother Road Champion, with Miss Ruby Steele taking home the Miss Route 66 (first runner-up) title. Miss Molly Mayhem was the third winner of the weekend as Miss Route 55 (second runner-up.)

Chris Kraft from Benton, Illinois owns this 1967 Mercury Cougar. It was a family restoration project that he and his brother pursued. Their own body shop gave them a good venue to work over the resto-rod and show off something unique to the Ford crowds.

Around 3:00 pm on Saturday, the smoke began to roll out from Washington Street as the burnout contest got underway. Spectators quickly gathered to cheer for their favorites. It didn’t take long for the smell of burnt rubber to overtake the area. The winner was a local, Billy Reese, with his 1988 Chevy S-10. Jimmy Dixon, Pana, Illinois, was the runner-up in his 1975 pick-up truck.

With so many cars on display, it was tough to pick our featured favorites. After much walking, looking, and with a lot of careful consideration and conversation with the participants, we determined the top five Fords at the event. No matter if you are into Ford in general or a specific model or even production year, there was a good chance there was something for you to take-in at this annual tribute to the mother road.

About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
Read My Articles

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