Event Coverage

2009 Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals

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by John Gunnell  More from Author

This Midwest Event’s Debut Pulls Out All The Stops

What do you get when 10 of the country’s leading muscle car lovers team up to put on a show in the muscle car-crazy Midwest? Answer: “The ultimate mixed-make, muscle car, dealer-built supercar and Corvette specialty show.”

That’s how show manager Bob Ashton described the Nickey Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals presented by Bill Stasek Chevrolet in Rosemont, Ill., Nov. 21-22. This new event was held in the same building and on the same dates previously used for the Chevy Vettefest. Nine backers from seven states joined up with Ashton to produce it in Metro Chicago.

Few car owners or spectators on our hotel shuttle bus fully understood the changes in the status of the show, but none of them argued with Ashton’s summary of the new venue. All agreed that the cars in the Stephens Convention Center were “awesome muscle machines.” A frequent comment was, “This is better than a show with only Chevys or Corvettes because there’s cars I haven’t seen before.” A few said that they had stopped coming to the all-Chevy event, but would now come back every year again to see different types of cars.

The variey and quality of cars was truly amazing, ranging from one of the eight 1969 Trans Am convertibles built–owned by Rob Lozins–to the last L-88 Corvette that Tom Marcucci entered. Even before buying their tickets, visitors got to see Bill Sefton’s Hemi Under Glass Barracuda, the new Sox & Martin ’Cuda, the Gus Grissom Corvette, and Barrie Poole’s 1968 Cougar drag racer in the lobby. No wonder there was a long line to get in early Saturday morning.

Immediately after entering, visitors found themselves reliving Chicago’s 1960s and 1970s muscle car wars by viewing “dueling” displays from two of the city’s legendary muscle car dealers–Nickey (known for its 427 Chevrolets), and Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge. Nickey and Mr. Norm cars from 1967-2010 were arranged facing each other. Mr. Norm Kraus was shaking hands on one side of the aisle, and Nickey performance guru Don Swiatek was on the other.

The show’s next big attraction was a special Class of ’69 circle set up to showcase the 40th Anniversary of a very hot year in muscle car history. It featured “Top Dog” 1969 muscle cars from various manufacturers, including a Hemi-powered Dodge Daytona, a Boss 429 Mustang, a Mercury Cougar CJ 428, the Pontiac Trans Am Convertible, a ZL1 Camaro, a 440 Six-Pack Plymouth Road Runner, a swoopy Mercury Cyclone CJ 428 and a rare W-31 Cutlass.

To offset the strong GM-Mopar displays by the entrance, the rear of the cavernous building housed the Shelby Snakepit featuring the country’s best “real” 1965-1970 Ford-Shelby models including a 1966 GT40, several Shelby Cobras, and an array of the most significant street and race-prepped Shelby Mustangs.

A “Triple Diamond Corvette Gallery and Competition” sponsored by Mid America Motorworks put the spotlight on the finest restored and original Corvettes that had already achieved Bloomington Gold and NCRS Top Flight honors. The cars in this “best of the best” exhibit were set up in chronological order to show the history of Chevrolet’s fiberglass sports car.

In addition to Tom Marcucci’s last L-88, the Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals featured an impressive Corvette L-88 Showcase with the very best of that breed. Each car in the exhibit was a “real-deal” documented L-88 with an incredible history. Ashton and crew were careful to stick to the gems like Steve Bramati’s 1969 Matador Red L-88 coupe to emphasize that this remains an event that marque enthusiasts will want to attend annually.

The eye-catching CARS, Inc., 1969 yellow pro-street Camaro that won the Fastest Street Car Shootout carried the famous Yenko name on its door graphics, but there were plenty of stock Yenkos in the new show’s “sYc Supercars Showcase” and not all of them were Camaros–or even Chevys. Instead, the presentation focused on all genuine Supercars, starting with Yenko-modified Chevys and including Dana, Fred Gibb, and Baldwin Motion Chevrolets, plus the famous Red Alert LS6 Chevelle quarter-mile racing car and an unrestored original 1972 Hurst/Olds. There were absolutely no “clones” or “tributes” in the sYc Supercars Showcase.

The Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals launched a new Vintage Certification Program for unrestored, original cars, which will start with Camaros and Chevelles. It is designed to encourage owners to maintain their cars in original, as-they-left-the-factory condition. Certified cars will be used to document build methods and other significant and historical features. When it is fully developed, the program will be expanded to cover additional cars in the future.

The show included nearly 300 indoor swap spaces in the south hall. Vendors there were selling everything from intake manifolds to body panels to insurance. The rules said all products and services had to have an automotive tie-in to keep out bed sheet retailers and travel agencies. Since Chevrolet and Corvette vendors were used to selling at the Rosemont in November, they dominated this year’s swap meet. Official Mike Guarise said that as other vendors hear about the success of the show, the offerings are expected to expand. Commercial vendors located throughout the convention center included Mid America Motorworks, Route 66 Motorsports, Reliable Carriers, Legendary Interiors, Keisler Engineering, and restorers including Supercar Automotive.

There was also a collector-car corral where wannabe collectors could find the cars they’ve dreamed of owning, plus a unique VIP Collection of 8-10 extremely high-quality muscle cars for sale direct by their owners. Sellers had to apply to be accepted for the limited space available in the VIP Collection.

Appearances by famous muscle car personalities were scheduled throughout the weekend. Jim Wangers, “The Godfather of the GTO” appeared as part of a very special gathering of authentic Royal Pontiac vehicles, including the original Car and Driver 1964 Royal Bobcat GTO and the CARS magazine 1969 Royal Bobcat GTO. Wangers signed in the booth almost all day long both days.

Corvette racing driver Dick Guldstrand wasn’t able to do his book signing because his wife was sick, but drag racer Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick showed up with his latest “Tameless Tiger” GTO right next to him. Helen Gibb–wife of the legendary performance dealer–was another special guest. Helen displayed memorabilia from her own personal collection in the sYc Supercars Showcase and in the Nickey Chicago display. Her picture-filled scrapbook included photos from the glory days of Gibb Chevrolet in LaHarpe, Illinois, home of the ZL1 and many other Gibb supercars (including Helen’s own Fred Gibb Nova).

Automotive authors Colin Comer, Marty Schorr, Dr. Pete Giminez, and Darwin Holstrom were on hand, as was featured artist David Snyder. Other attractions included oldies deejay Dick Biondi, a Rescue 1 Fire Safety For Kids racing car promotion and charity auction, a junior dragsters display, a kids’ scavenger hunt, and appearances by Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus in connection with the Toys for Tots program–with visitors being able to donate toys.

Though it was not an all-Chevy show, this Chevy-heavy and very special assembly of high-quality muscle was a sight to see. So here’s to the first Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals–may there be many more!

Nickey Chicago owner and show sponsor Stefano Bimbi was happy to have Helen Gibb, the widow of muscle car dealer Fred Gibb, in his stand.

Dave Glass of D & M Corvette Specialties in Downers Grove, Ill., is a big fan and collector of straight-axle drag cars like this “dyno-tuned” 1967 Nova gasser.

John Tinberg of Dwight, Ill., first read about Bill Thomas Novas while in a foxhole in Vietnam. He used the Nickey show to unveil a real one he just restored–stay tuned to Corvette & Chevy for more on this…

This rare Cascade Green 1960 Corvette (one of 65) made it a great addition to Mid America Motorworks’ “Triple Diamond Corvette Gallery and Competition.”

Its Canadian owner tied down this LS6 Chevelle to make it look like original Chevrolet ads for the 454-powered muscular monster.

Roadster and coupe versions of the Cheetah greeted fans entering the Nickey Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals presented by Bill Stasek Chevrolet.

In 2008, Terry Michaelis’ Pro-Team Corvette showed this 1968 Corvette L-88 in “barn find” shape, but this year it featured a Ken and Gary Naber restoration.

The stock Yenkos at the Nats were wild, but this dragster version from CARS, Inc., was a Fastest Street Car Shootout winner.

One of the numerous Chevy “gassers” at the event was this in-the-process 1955 Chevy that Dave Glass and crew are building.

This pedigreed 1966 Corvette racer ran in events at Lynndale Farms, Road America, and Titan Stadium.

Not every car at Chicagoland’s newest event was a high-cube honker, as this 1964 Corvair Monza Sport Coupe proves.

This car has been certified to be the only known 1969 Nova SS with the L78 option and specially-ordered Hugger Orange paint.

Joe and Jacob Anglin brought their rare 1969 Yenko SC Chevelle Sport Coupe.

The last L-88 Corvette is now in the hands of Tom Marcucci of Wixom, Mich.

Stefano and his crew at Nickey Chicago cranked hard to get the 2010 FLP Edition Nickey Camaro SS Twin Turbo ready for this show.


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