July 12, 2002

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A handful of Mustangs and Fords showed up for the 17th annual Knott's Berry Farm/Fabulous Fords Forever car show.
Two Ford legends--Carroll Shelby (left) and O. John Coletti, chief engineer, Ford Special Vehicle Team Engineering.
There were a lot of Cobras in attendance.
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What do Mustangs and income taxes have in common? Well, both were on people's minds at the 17th annual Ford Western Region Car Club Council-sanctioned Fabulous Fords Forever one-day outdoor event, held April 14th (one day before income tax day,) at Buena Park, Calif.'s popular Knott's Berry Farm Ghost Town & Amusement Park.

This year, over 1800 special interest Fords, from Model Ts to Focuses, rolled through the gates of Knott's Independance Hall parking complex from all across the Golden State, as well as eight surrounding states and Canada. Out of that number, 737 of them were Mustangs, with the ratio of late-model versus early-model being about 50/50.

Ford Motor Company always uses the Knott's event to showcase many of its new vehicles, and this year was definitely no exception. Assembled in the infield for over 20,000 spectators to view right next to the Fabulous Fords Forever bandstand (which featured '60s surf music by The Torqueys) were both the 2003 Mach 1 Mustang (which should be in production after January 1), and the '03 Mercury Marauder.

One of Ford's more unusual displays was the auto manufacturer's new Think light duty vehicles. Ford displayed two of their "golf carts on steroids" in the infield area, while an additional five Thinks were used by Ford Western Region Car Club Council officials to shuttle dignitaries around the event.Also assembled in the infield were the winners of last year's event along with all the Ford and Mustang car club booths, a pedal car exhibit, and Ron Main's "Flatfire" Bonneville streamliner, billed as the "World's Fastest Flathead" at 287 mph.

Ford Racing Technologies traveling road show was also there, and FRT Performance Advisor John Vermeersch even pulled his trusty 427 SOHC 1961 Ford Starliner out of mothballs for the fans to see.

Ford Special Vehicle Team was also in attendance with the highly-touted "Super Stallion" Mustang and SVT's killer 2002 Focus out for fans to marvel over.Then too, it wouldn't be a Knott's Berry Farm event without the unflappable O.J. "John" Coletti, chief engineer of Ford's Special Vehicle Team Engineering department. He was in attendance with his lovely wife Judy. There's nothing like a weekend away from Dearborn in the Southern California sun, right John?Over in the private sector, Saleen Performance's presence was felt and seen. Kingpin Steve Saleen was mobbed by autograph seekers throughout the entire day, and appeared to be enjoying himself thoroughly. Also in attendance were members from both Team Saleen and the Saleen Owner's Enthusiast's Club (SOEC) which signed up new members, and fielded questions from Saleen owner/enthusiasts. No surprise, since it seems like 80 percent of the Mustangs in California are either Saleens or wear Saleen body kits.

Knott's is always the place where SoCal late-model tuner shops like Xtreme Mustang Performance, Advanced Engineering West, Chicane Sport Tuning, F-1 Auto Body, Ground Pounder Design Concepts, Stallion Auto Concepts and others show off the latest in customer cars.

For example, Xtreme Mustang Performance used the show to debut its new air-to-air intercooler design installed on Ralph Staph's supercharged 1999 Mustang GT. Dyno tests on Ralph's Mustang revealed a whopping 422 hp to the rear wheels. Pretty darned good for a 4.6 2-valve engine.

Each year the Knott's event also commemorates the milestone anniversary of a special interest Ford vehicle (or in this particular case vehicles) with this year being the 40th anniversary of the Shelby Cobra and the 35th anniversary of the Mercury Cougar.

Assembled for review in the Independance Hall infield at Fab Fords 17 was Carroll Shelby's very own CSX 2001, the first small-block Cobra ever produced, along with #98, Shelby's very own personal 289 Cobra Daytona coupe. Likeable Hank Williams' 289 Cobra (one of the winningest Cobra show cars of all time) was also on display, along with Dick Smith's #198, the fastest and winningest 427 big-block ever, and numerous other milestone snakes.Out in the parking lot, you could also find the Shelby American Cobra Caravan, along with 49 privateer Cobra entries both genuine, and replica. (Oops. Can we still say Cobra replica without being sued?)

Of course, Shelby himself would make an appearance to sign autographs at the 1 p.m. infield autograph session, along with My Classic Car cable TV host Dennis Gage, the former "Miss Hurst" Linda Vaughn, and Stephanie Baldwin, Ms. California 2002.

Also on hand was a full representation of vintage Cougars, ranging from Cougar XR7s to Boss 302-powered Cougar Eliminators.However, there's only one winner of the coveted Johnna Pepper Memorial Trophy at the end of the day. This year it was Huntington Beach, Calif.'s Art Hopkins with his Twilight Turquoise 1968 Cougar XR7-G. The "G", for those of you too young to remember or so old you've forgotten, signified it as a Dan Gurney special edition.

Over on the truck side of the coin, the big winner of the Bill Stroppe Memorial (Perpetual) Trophy was the mild custom 1997 Ford XLT 150 belonging to Steven Grunder of Groveland, Calif. The annual award was presented by Bill Stroppe Jr. and Dennis Gage.

If you're thinking about attending Fabulous Ford's Forever 18, just one friendly remember: The event is either on or around income tax day. Think pleasant, happy thoughts. And get your entry form in early.