Muscle Car Heaven

The annual Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals event affectionately known as the “MCACN” among high-octane V8 enthusiasts everywhere never disappoints. The thousands that attended this year’s event were dazzled with the vast array of high-horsepower machines spanning over six decades of Detroit Muscle. Held every November in the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center just outside the Windy City, it’s just below the flight path of inbound and outbound jet airliners taking off and landing from the bustling O’Hare Airport that’s just a stone’s throw away. Now in its 15th year, the MCACN show needs to be on your bucket list if you love muscle cars as it’s been the epicenter since 2009 for all glorious things that have big V8 engines wrapped in curvy sheet metal, splashed with wild paint colors and stripes that burn your retinas. 

“We have special exhibits within the show and even though the primary focus this year was on rare Ford and Mercury muscle cars, Boss Mustangs Cyclones, and even a rare AC Cobra, we had a variety of really cool Mopars,” said Bob Ashton, Managing Member – MCAN LLC. “This year’s show was another success as both the car count was a rock-solid 562 vehicles and the spectator attendance was up. Our staff did a great job in making sure the show ran flawlessly and everyone had a good time.” Among the Mopar® exhibits within the show was “The Dodge Charger – Revolution and Evolution” presented by the Wellborn Muscle Car Muscle Museum. This display celebrated the first three generations (1966 – 1974) of the Dodge Charger that reshaped the industry and became a part of American Pop Culture through the car’s appearance in films and TV shows. It also told the story of the generational design changes of the Charger. Some of the great examples on display included R/T and Daytona models powered by 440-cubic-inch big blocks or the mighty 426 Street HEMI®engine. One that stood out a mile away was a 1971 Charger R/T painted in optional “Panther Pink” and sporting the optional deluxe wheel covers. It was a “one of one” and even though it looked like a big wad of bubblegum on the show floor, it was very cool. Que up the Pink Panther movie theme song courtesy of Henry Mancini on your turntable and invite the neighbors over to stare at this rare piece of Dodge muscle. 

Along with the Charger exhibit at MCACN, Ashton and his staff worked hard with owners and restoration shops who used this show to unveil their completed projects for the first time. In many cases, these projects took years to complete and are the “best of the best.” This year, there were many awesome Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars being unveiled, including two 1970 Plymouth Superbirds that even included one that left the factory with an ultra-rare 426 HEMI engine under the hood. Other Mopar machines that got unveiled were a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner convertible, a 1971 Challenger R/T with a 440 Six Pack still owned by the gentleman who bought it new, and finally, a stunning 1970 Challenger R/T convertible that just completed a detailed restoration and was reunited with its original owner. 

On the other end of the muscle car spectrum was the immensely popular “Barn Finds & Hidden Gems” section. These were unveilings of a different sort. No $40,000 paint jobs, polished chrome, reupholstered interiors and recreated assembly line paint markings and stampings for that over-the-top restoration searching for an elusive 1,000-point tally from discriminating show judges. This was the polar opposite. Many of the “Barn Finds” were literally dragged into the convention center covered with dirt, dust, mice and bird droppings, and that unmistakable moldy and dank smell that permeated from the interior. These cars epitomize the term “diamond in the rough” and the phenomena of the “Barn Find” movement can be attributed to Ryan Brutt. This passionate enthusiast makes it his mission to scour the countryside in his trusty 2009 Challenger R/T peeking into garages, sheds, fields and barns. He speaks to the owners in a friendly manner while taking many pics of the once mighty muscle cars slowly rotting back into the earth. Within the Barn Finds & Hidden Gems section at MCACN, there were many rare Mopar vehciles looking shabby, worn-out and somewhat sad. These former street bruisers included a 1970 Plymouth Superbird, 1970 Road Runner, 1964 426 Max Wedge Belvedere, 1969 Dodge Charger R/T, HEMI Coronet R/T, Super Bee and 1970 440 Six Pack Super Bee. There were more worn-out but unique machines looking as if they were survivors of a nuclear war, but we didn’t care, they survived the jaws of the crusher for us to swoon over.

For Bob Ashton and his staff of volunteers, it’s a labor of love putting on this show. The planning begins at least 10 months out and throughout the summer, the gospel of the MCACN can be seen at many major shows, such as the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals, Roadkill Nights and others. Bob walks these events looking for cool cars to have at MCACN and gets inspiration from current trends in the muscle car hobby. When asked what his favorite car was from this year’s show, Bob had to think about it for a moment. “I love every car that comes to this show, they’re all so unique. But I must say, that black 1961 Plymouth Savoy with the Long Ram Big Block really stood out for me!” 

If only the cars we saw at MCACN could speak, what tales they could tell. From when they rolled off the assembly line all fresh and brand new, to abusive owners who rode them hard, and to street racing victories when the engine screamed for mercy, and when they got parked and forgotten. We could write endless novels on their exploits. Maybe it’s just as well their tales remain silent, we probably wouldn’t believe any of it! 

Here’s our massive photo gallery from the 2023 MCACN show showing everything from pristine restorations to muscle cars yanked from fields. What’s your favorite Mopar vehicle and why?