The Best Car Show You’ve Never Heard Of
This is the best car show that you’ve never heard of…well, sorta. The Iola Old Car Show can’t fly under the radar while attracting over 2,000 classic cars and 4,200 swap meet spaces. But in an era where most people can’t buy new tires without tweeting it, the event’s laid-back, low-tech nature makes it feel like a secret hidden away from social media. Now in its 44th year, the tiny village of Iola, Wisconsin, is overrun by enthusiasts and vendors from around the country. While it’s hard to find the town on the map, Iola’s other claim to fame is that it’s home to the publication Old Cars Weekly. The show field surrounds the company’s modest headquarters, so it’s unlikely you’re going to read about this weekend’s show in a competing magazine/website like Hemmings. RELATED: See Photos of the 1974 Volkswagen Beetle Barn Find
Major car companies have also steered clear in the past, and so there isn’t a manufacturer corralling off their own vintage customers just to park the new product around it. That makes Iola feel like a citywide cruise-in where every row of parked classics has the kind of natural diversity that would make an admissions officer jealous.
A street-eating Z28 Camaro might have a camo-colored Jeep for a neighbor, or a post-war Chevy pickup gets flanked by a VW Beetle and KITT replica. Plus, there’s always plenty of interesting AMCs on hand since this is the largest show in the orphan brand’s home state. It’s this kind of variety that keeps everything interesting, and it is the heart of this event.
This national anonymity mixed with Midwestern hospitality mean vanity never makes it past the front gate. A rusty Ranchero gets the same greeting as fuel-injected ’57 Chevy. Besides, most of these people share a common goal – parts hunting.
The swap meet is home to all the components and memorabilia you could ever want—everything from a 1950s Ford dealer gift handbag to roadside scrap iron. There’s enough vendors that you can buy a shell of a car and have the full vehicle restored just from combing the show’s 300 acre site.
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But from the first day this weekend, it was already apparent things were a bit different at Iola. The show built a slick new website that touts celebrity guest appearances. The loudspeaker announcer who usually informs about cheese curds availability was now broadcasting where WiFi hotspots were. There’s even corporate sponsorship with Ford renting featured space to show off new trucks.
It’s all a clear indication that Iola is yielding to modern times. But there is one holdout that is keeping it from being a cookie-cutter car show… the people. While a Ford rep might want to talk about the new F-150, most car guys just really wanted to chat about their first Mustangs. And a father and son skipped meeting Courtney Hansen so they could see their real TV favorite, the tractor-trailer from BJ & the Bear (yes, even classic 18-wheelers are here this year!)
In the days of mega-auctions and connected car shows, it’s easy to now want a larger piece of the automotive community. But if the world around you becomes different, sometimes staying the same make you even more distinctive. Iola don’t go a-changin’.
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Words/Photo Credit: Myles Kornblatt for BoldRide