IOLA, Wis. – If you’ve been paying attention to the automotive hobby, there is a lot of speculation as to where our enthusiast world is headed. With the strong emergence of electric vehicles, self-driving technology and the overall tendency of today’s youth to gravitate to electronics, there is good reason to wonder where we are going with America’s love affair with the car. But if attendance at the Iola Old Car show and swap meet is any indication, the car hobby is alive and well. Starting in 1973, this show has been a magnet for the classic car crowd. The swap meet is a staple for those looking for those hard-to-find parts. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s, you had to get up, go places and talk to people to get what you needed for your automotive project. While the internet has made that job easier today, many people find swap meets much more interactive and fun – albeit more challenging. As a bonus, you get some exercise.
As of late, like a lot of classic car events after the pandemic, attendance was starting to show a decrease. But the management at Iola pays attention, and they have changed a lot with their event to keep those numbers up. This past year you could find late-model cars along with the many classics on display. As a result – at least in part – the Iola show’s attendance last year broke the records for its entire 50-year history. As important as those numbers are, it was noted that many of the spectators were younger, and they brought friends and the entire family with them. Well done, Iola!
We at Team Shelby received a call last spring from the show’s executive director, inviting our group to attend Iola 2023. It didn’t take long to give him an answer -- it would be an honor. Although not a Ford-specific show, the Fords, Lincolns and Mercury’s in attendance at Iola not only outnumbered most shows, but the quality of the cars was second to none. Conveniently, the Team Shelby display was just a few feet from the Ford display. It is important to point out that membership in Team Shelby does not require you to own a Shelby. Our members own a myriad of cars -- from the Ford Model T to the Ford GT. We simply share enthusiasm for Shelby, Ford Motor Company and our fellow enthusiasts.
If you’ve never been there, Iola is a small, sleepy town in east-central Wisconsin that is nestled in-between farms and lakes. The two-lane roads getting there can be tree-lined, a bit narrow and curvy. If that sounds like fun – well, you are Team Shelby kind of people.
The Iola village population is just 1,236 people. When the show and swap meet are going on, however, it swells to over 130,000! The show grounds cover 300 acres and house 4,000 swap spaces, plus 350 car corral (cars for sale) spaces, 2,500 show/display cars and 1,600 camping sites. You can imagine what it takes to see this entire show. In fact, we put in over 80,000 steps in the three days we were there. Vendors sell car parts, tools, literature -- and a lot more. There are specific areas for Blue Ribbon cars, hot rods, survival vehicles and of course, late models.
Both days and evenings at the Iola show feature various bands on stage to entertain, special rides for the kids (and sometimes adults) and plenty of food vendors. If you’re the nostalgic type, you could have had a discussion with “Eddie Munster” (Butch Patrick) or Beaver Cleaver (Jerry Mathers) at the show. The kids gravitated to Dennis Anderson and his monster truck. Some enjoyed YouTuber Derek Bieri and the crew from Vice Grip Garage, who were restoring a car from start to finish on the grounds during the three days of the event. Many participants noted how friendly and respectful the spectators were. We would be remiss not to mention the amazing volunteers who took care of the people and grounds during our stay.
If you’ve never attended the Iola Car Show, you owe it to yourself to head to Wisconsin to experience the “Midwest’s Biggest and Best Car Show and Swap Meet” – which will run July 11th through the 13th, 2024. You’re sure to have a bucket-list experience. If words such as Mustang, Boss, Shelby, SVT, Cobra, Torino, Cyclone and the like stir emotion in you, this is the place for you.
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS COURTESY TIM STIEVE / TEAM SHELBY