Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
April 28, 2015

For diehard car show fans, even the best of shows can get long-in-the-tooth when you go to the same event, at the same location, at the same time each and every year. We know; we’ve felt that way ourselves, and often a change of venue or possibly changing the format of the show brings in a fresh perspective with new attendees and new things to do, revitalizing the show and the venue. That said, after 21 years of attending the Silver Springs Ford and Mustang Roundup in Ocala, Florida, each January we can state most adamantly that the Silver Springs show, as locals refer to it, is just fine—don’t touch a thing!

We figure that the show’s staying power has everything to do with its early time frame and laid-back show style. Let’s face it, for most people north of the Florida state line in January it is darn-right friggin’ cold and most likely even snowing! Car show fans across the Northeast have had their Mustangs carefully packed away in their garage or shop since probably early September or so, meaning their Mustang hasn’t seen the light of day for almost four months (that’s a quarter of the year—gone!) and these owners are itching to get their Mustangs out and enjoy some car show camaraderie, stretch their Pony’s legs, and most importantly, enjoy some nicer weather! Throw in beautiful Ocala horse country and the show’s “no judging, just have fun” atmosphere and we can plainly see why this show’s pre-registration fills up in a matter of days and routinely pulls over 1,000 Ford cars, trucks, and Ford-powered vehicles.

After the Silver Springs attraction, the oldest in the state of Florida, was handed over to the state and converted into a state park facility in late 2013 we were concerned the show would have to find a new venue. Thankfully, due to the many hours of work and dedication of Rick Schmidt and his staff at National Parts Depot, the show did indeed go on for 2014. While some attendees were saddened to see some of the attraction’s rides and features go away, most understand that the main reason people attend is to see their car show friends and enjoy each other’s company and talk Fords/Mustangs. Now in its second year of state management in the park system, the show is still just as big as ever.

On Sunday Rick addressed the crowd, asking everyone, by show of applause, if the time had come to take the two-day event down to one, and with our untrained ears it sounded like keeping it a two-day event was the answer. We’ll see what’s in store for 2016’s 22nd annual show, which is planned for January 8-10, but know we’ll be there co-sponsoring the event and saying hello to old friends as we kick off the show season once again.

Saturday breaks early and the NPD staff is up before daylight getting registration ready for the rush of attendees. After over a decade of handling the show, NPD has the process running like a Swiss watch, with alphabetical registration rows, a separate meet-n-greet parking area for clubs to gather and drive in together, and more.
As each participant enters the park, photographers capture them and their ride for posterity. Images are available on site and can be upgraded to display plaques and more.
Each year NPD invites its product partners out to join the event. No products are actually sold on site, but these partners display new products, answer technical questions, and more. Here, Dean Satterfield and Cindy Aden of TMI Products discuss the company’s new seating options with a show attendee.
Additional product partners in attendance, included show regulars Scott Drake, Eaton Detroit Spring, Stainless Steel Brakes Corp, Heacock Classic Insurance, and more. It was a treat for showgoers to be able to speak directly with the manufacturers and get product suggestions and their questions answered.
Of course NPD had several display tables of new products as well and were handing out new 2015 product catalogs for its Mustang, Thunderbird, F-series, and Bronco lines—the enthusiast’s wish book, if you will.
This ’65 G.T. 350 was another crowd pleaser. Owned by Geoff KnobLauch of Newberry, Florida, it had all the right Hi-Po goodies and looked like it was ready to tackle the track.
While Neil had a few dealers displaying their Mustangs for everyone to examine how a “Chadwicked” car looks and feels, Neil wasn’t shy about getting out from behind his display table and showing show attendees how it worked. Here, Neil gives a demonstration on Dana Bowers’ ’65 fastback.
One of the great things about attending the Silver Springs show each January is you just never really know what you’re going to see there. To the casual Mustang enthusiast this looks like a white ’68 Mustang fastback, but those who know their cars (or take a minute to read the owner’s display board) know this is an honest-to-God ’68½ Cobra Jet. This beautiful fastback is owned by Dennis and Cindy Russell of The Villages, Florida.
A new partner this year is Neil Chadwick with Chadwick’s Triple Play car care products. Neil, shown here with Chadwick’s employee Louise Cecchini, has restored over 50 ’65-’66 Mustangs over the years, buying most of his parts from NPD. Neil asked Rick Schmidt of NPD to try Chadwick’s Triple Play on his car collection and Schmidt was so impressed with the product it was added to NPD’s product catalogs!
While many consider Silver Springs a “casual” show, the quality of the vintage Mustangs that show up each year continue to impress us. Take for example Peter and Sandy Van Roo’s ’68 fastback, seen here. This pristine example is not only an MCA Grand National winner, but has taken home several AACA awards and was the first Mustang awarded the MCA’s Thoroughbred grille medallion.
Dana and Joy Cheatham of Lakeland, Florida, have been longtime supporters of the central Florida car show scene, even helping to produce an annual show of their own through their local church. This ’70 Mach 1 came to their possession in a clean, but modified, form several years ago. We’ve enjoyed watching them slowly return the SportsRoof back to a near-concours correct Mach.

Pony Trails

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Each year a cruise from NPD’s Ocala location out to Cedar Key is attended by well over 100 Mustang owners and their families. We had a great time checking out the Mustangs before the cruise, as well as the shops and restaurants and their great coastal views in Cedar Key. NPD hands out maps and makes sure everyone stays safe, including police escorts through major intersections. We were hoping to utilize a ’15 Mustang from Ford’s press fleet, but the one car allotted to the Southeast was not available. However, Ford’s media fleet coordinators, Prestige Auto, graciously offered a ’14 Fusion Titanium with EcoBoost and AWD. It wasn’t a Mustang, but the EcoBoost driveline with paddle shifters was still a lot of fun on the cruise and the extra doors helped with passengers and camera gear!

Mustang Monthly’s “Best Mustang” Award

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Each year we’re asked to pick a “Best Mustang” award from the huge gathering of incredible cars at the Silver Springs show. We’ll tell you right now it is not easy at all. There are so many deserving cars, from concours beauties to tough and ready-to-rock modifieds, the decision has us pacing the showgrounds all weekend going back and forth amongst our top choices. For this year’s event we kept walking back to Stephen Thibodeau’s ’72 Mach 1. Stephan’s Mustang just checked off all the right boxes for us with its superclean exterior, Mach trim package, Cobra Jet Ram Air option, and the stunning red and black interior. We weren’t the only ones, apparently, as Stephan also took class honors in ’71-’73 Mustang as well.

Lee Iacocca Award

As noted in last month’s Pony Tales news column, 2015 marks the end of the Lee Iacocca award. Given to those who go above and beyond in our hobby at several events throughout the year, the first award given each year is right here at Silver Springs. This year’s recipient, Tim Manes, is a good friend of ours and we can state without hesitation that it was an award well deserved. Tim (“Squirrel” to his friends) can be seen at most any automotive venue in central Florida and doesn’t hesitate when someone is needed to tackle a task at an event, put together a meet, or anything else to promote and support our hobby. Known for his Pro Street ’65 Fairlane—which he spent the better part of a decade building—Tim has battled health issues in recent years. As Rick Schmidt choked up announcing the award, we also had a lump in our throat for our good friend Squirrel. In this last year of the Lee Iacocca award we can’t think of anyone more deserving.