The Best Mustang Shows of 2018
The 2018 show season is about to begin—here are our favorites that should be on your Mustang bucket list
As we write this, it’s mid-January and much of the country is buried in snow and ice, posteriors freezing in record numbers. Even the snowmen are saying, “Dammit, it’s cold out here!” Those winter doldrums lead one’s mind to wander to the warm days of spring and summer and the beauty of the color change that is autumn. When a Mustang fan dreams of sun and warmth their natural tendency is to fantasize about that first time they take the Mustang out of its winter hibernation and hit the road, and that thought turns into the realization that there are still some things you want to do to the car in the (hopefully) heated garage to prepare it for the upcoming cruising and car show season. But what shows are the best to put on the list? That’s what this story is for.
Granted, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of local car shows and Mustang clubs that put on good events, but we’re outlining the biggies here in case you haven’t had a chance to attend them. Obviously, it would take Bill Gates’ money to hit all of them on our list, but these are the shows we have quality personal experience with and can vouch for to you, our loyal readers. So read on and let us know what shows you’re going to. We’ll be at all of them in 2018 in some manner, so hit us up and come say hi.
Las Vegas, NV
The Shelby Bash takes place in Team Shelby’s home base of Las Vegas in March, when the weather in the desert is great—comfortable ’round the clock instead of the oppressive heat of summer. The backdrop is the Shelby-American factory, a great place to hang out, have a car show, and attend a big get-together. For at least one day, everybody goes to the road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to club race with Shelby heritage cars or anything Ford-powered. There is also a poker run and a scenic tour. The focus is on driving, but the event does end with a giant car show in the parking lot of Shelby-American, and even a dinner for participants.
Fabulous Fords Forever
Knotts Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
It started back in 1986, and for the last 32 years the West Coast’s largest all-Ford car show, Fabulous Fords Forever, has taken place in the parking lot across the street from Knotts Berry Farm, the less crowded and smaller theme park a few miles away from Disneyland. Known as “the Knotts show” to most Ford fans, FFF will see its 33rd happening and is always the place to be in the month of April for everything Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, and Merkur. The 2017 show had 1,700 Fords of all types with the vast majority being Mustangs, of course. As in years past, there will be many Ford celebrities on hand to meet, get autographs from, and talk to the crowd. We’ve seen Henry Ford III there, as well as Parnelli Jones, the late Carroll and Clio Shelby, Steve Saleen, Linda Vaughn, Le Mans winner in the Ford GT Sebastien Bourdais, and many more Ford heroes. Knotts is a one-day show and is the place to be if you like Mustangs and Fords.
Carlisle All Ford Nationals
Carlisle Fairgrounds, Carlisle, PA
Of all the car shows we attend every year, one of our favorites is the Ford Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Created and still run by the Miller family, who conveniently own the Carlisle Fairgrounds (meaning they have 100 percent control over all aspects of the event), it is a true family event with something for anyone.
The Carlisle Ford Nationals have quickly become THE destination for Ford lovers from around the world. The promoters say it best: “Why would people travel from across the country for the first time or even from around the world from as far away as Australia to enjoy a National Parts Depot show field laced with nearly 3,100 of Ford’s best?” The swap meet is equally enormous.
The Ford Nats is a three-day show but it could easily host a fourth given the demand and popularity of the Ford brand and dedication of the enthusiasts who attend. If you’ve never been to the Carlisle Ford show, you need to put it on your list.
Hot Rod Power Tour
Bowling Green, KY to Concord (Charlotte), NC
It started in 1995 as a staff-run cross-country road trip with Hot Rod staff project and personal cars and a few buddies thrown in the mix, and has evolved into a massive mechanical orgy of vehicles of every imaginable type with over 4,000 cars at some venues. While it’s not a Mustang-specific event, a ton of Mustangs, both early and late-model, are always present, and since the Power Tour is held over seven days and visits six different cities along the way, there are always new rides to check out at every venue so it’s not the same-ol’ same-ol’ kind of show. Plus, all the Long Haul cars are driven to each venue, where locals show up in force with their own cars, making the Power Tour much more than a “park it and get out the lawn chair” kind of deal. The only downside is expense if you plan to do the long haul, since that involves a week’s worth of hotels and gas bills, but people organize their annual family vacations around the Power Tour so it must be worth it!
Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup
Steamboat Springs, CO
This year, 2018, will be the 30th Annual Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup, and once again it’s being held on Father’s Day Weekend. But trust us, dad will love the beautiful mountain town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which is most beautiful and comfortable weather-wise in the summertime. The Roundup is the largest Mustang event held in the Rocky Mountain Region, and it is easy to see why—three days of events and over 400 Mustangs participating. If you haven’t attended you are missing one of the finest Mustang events in the country. The Roundup kicks off on Thursday afternoon with the Mountain Tour, where typically over 100 Mustangs go for a scenic cruise along the highways and byways surrounding Steamboat Springs to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery. Last year there was even a radio controlled car race for the kids. Friday is autocross day just down the street from the host hotel, the Steamboat Grand, and then Saturday is the Show & Shine in downtown Steamboat. Six blocks are closed off for nothing but Mustangs, and there are plenty of great restaurants, shopping, and even a Farmers Market, so there’s something for everybody and great people watching, too.
Most people leave on Sunday morning, but since there is so much to see and do around this beautiful mountain community, some decide to stay another day and enjoy what the Steamboat Springs area has to offer. The Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup is a cooperative effort of six Colorado Mustang Clubs and nearly 100 volunteers.
Mid America Ford & Shelby Nationals
Mid America is the show for people that like to over-do life. Ninety-five degrees in the shade not hot enough for you? Then go to Tulsa in June in search of triple-digit heat. Put on a driving suit in the middle of the day and road race on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Hallet Motor Racing Circuit, just a 50-mile cruise from the host, Southern Hills Marriott in Tulsa. There’s drag racing Saturday and a huge car show on Sunday. Lately, however, the Thursday night cruise to downtown Tulsa is the most popular event of all. Why is this? Cruisers like the cooler climate of evening, where cars park on the bricks in old town. Shops and restaurants stay open for air-conditioned relief and a cool drink.
Woodward Dream Cruise
Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI
Decades ago, prior to even the dream of “self-driving cars” being a possibility, people regularly fired up their hot rods, muscle cars, and even family sedans and hit the local strips in the pursuit of a good time, the occasional illegal nocturnal speed competition, and meeting members of the opposite sex. It happened in every town across the nation; Detroit’s most famous stretch of cruisin’ action was Woodward Avenue, cutting diagonally through the heart of the Motor City. Woodward was also infamous for factory engineers and marketing types taking out their latest race cars in street clothes, prying on unsuspecting regular people that thought they had a fast car. We’ve heard many stories of Cobra Jet Mustangs, Hemi Road Runners, and big-block Camaros humiliating lesser cars, without anyone realizing they just got their clocks cleaned by muscle soon to come.
As the years went by, many cities curtailed cruising in the name of fuel crises, increasing violence, tragic accidents, and political correctness, to the point that “cruising” morphed into static shows in parking lots. That was fine for awhile, but many of those original cruisers eventually got bored and became nostalgic for true cruising like it used to be—up and down the same boulevard over and over, all night long. That’s why a group of people recreated those glory days of old by organizing the Woodward Dream Cruise in 1995, roughly eight miles of automotive excess, stretching from 9 Mile road in Ferndale up to 17 Mile in Pontiac.
The organizers claim that the Woodward Dream Cruise attracts an amazing 50,000 cars and over one million spectators, which even if close means that it’s by far the largest single-day automotive event in the world. In other words, if you’ve never been, it should most certainly be on your bucket list. It happens every August, so mark it on your calendar for 2018 and we’ll see you there.
August 31-September 2
MCA Grand National
Merrimack, New Hampshire
If you want to attend one event where you’ll find the best of the best, make your way to wherever the Mustang Club of America is holding its Grand National. Typically held on or around Labor Day weekend, the Grand National serves as the MCA’s last show of the year with season-ending awards for the year’s best concours, unrestored, and modified Mustangs. It’s also the only show for the extra-tough Authenticity Award, presented to Mustangs in the Thoroughbred class for reaching the highest level of factory originality. Hosted by a different MCA regional club each year, the Grand National moves around the country. For 2018, the Granite State Mustang Grand National will be hosted by the Mustang Car Club of New England at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Merrimack, New Hampshire, on August 31-September 2.
August 28-September 2
Sturgis Mustang Rally
You may know Sturgis, South Dakota, as the hotspot for an enormous influx of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and all the craziness that that entails, but it’s also home to one of the more unique and action-packed Mustang shows of the year. Rather than being compressed into a day or two at a single venue, SMR’s five-day takeover of Sturgis and the nearby vicinity represents more of a Mustang lifestyle happening, not unlike Mustang Week in Myrtle Beach later in the year. Sure there’s a varied, scheduled itinerary that includes Mustang barrel racing (!), drag racing, autocross, burnout contest, a BFGoodrich Driving School, a rodeo, drifting, a launchbox, cruise, a Mustang-themed auction, and Saturday’s virtual takeover of downtown Sturgis for a multi-block judged car show, but SMR is also a great opportunity to stretch your Mustang’s legs through some picturesque countryside or simply hang out with fellow Mustang nuts for a few relaxing days at the end of summer.
Myrtle Beach, SC
Just like its name says, this is nearly a full week of Mustang action as our favorite cars invade the sleepy beach resort town of Myrtle Beach. Mustang Week—there’s nothing else like it on the planet, and if you’re a Mustang owner of any year Mustang this is THE place to be every year. Every year the event grows and most certainly gets more difficult to manage, yet the Mustang Week crew works hard all year long so that when you drop your hard-earned cash on hotel, food, and more to attend you’ll have a good time. The dates for the 2017 show were moved from July to Labor Day week in September due partially to the extreme heat at the 2016 show, which caused some shock among past participants, but turnout in 2017 was strong and we’re positive it will be even stronger in 2018.
One of the official events that kicks off the week is the Tuesday Meet and Greet in the huge parking lot of Broadway at the Beach. The Week also includes drag racing, an autocross, burnout contest, car show on Friday and Saturday, lots of cruising the streets of Myrtle Beach, and of course Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords Battle at the Beach Dyno Shootout, where MMFF and MM readers bring their hot street cars in an attempt to lay down the biggest rear-wheel horsepower numbers on Pro Dyno’s portable chassis dyno. This year will be Mustang Week’s 17th annual event, proving that a quality event has staying power.
Optima Ultimate Street Car Shootout
Basically a Pro Touring smack down, the Optima Ultimate Street Car Shootout (OUSCI) is the end-of-year fight to the death to find the fastest and most well-engineered pro touring–style hot rod on the planet. There are seven races earlier in the year to determine who gets to go to the “Super Bowl” that is the Shootout the weekend after the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, and in 2017 they even had national television coverage for said events. They’re open to all years, makes, and models of cars (including Mustangs, which are always there in force), with a few classes to separate the more streetable cars from the full-race machines and late-models. Again, not a Mustang-specific event, hence its inclusion in honorable mentions.
Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN)
The cream of the crop in the muscle car world shows up to MCACN, and the last three years we’ve attended there have been special displays of incredibly rare Mustangs and Fords that rarely see the light of day, including special setups for Boss 429 and Boss 351 Mustangs (2015 and 2016, respectively), and last year’s incredible Ford Drag Team extravaganza. This show never fails to make our jaw drop to the floor like you tied an anvil to the lower lip. Even if you’re laser-focused only on Mustangs, there is unobtanium iron present from all the manufacturers, which makes MCACN an absolute must-hit show of every year, which we’ve never ever said before about a two-day indoor car show. It’s that good.
This one falls into the honorable mentions category because it is not a Mustang or Ford-specific event, but if you’ve ever vegged out on the couch in front of the TV and wasted away a perfectly good weekend, then you understand the appeal of Barrett-Jackson’s biggest show of the year on their home turf of WestWorld, which is their own compound just for the Scottsdale show. Watch the rarest of the rare collector Mustangs and Fords cross the block, sometimes selling for astronomical money to rich guys impressing their trophy wives while other nice cars aggravatingly go for pennies compared to what they cost to build. It’s a guilty pleasure to watch on television, but in person is a chance to pretend that you’re a cigar-chomping, martini-drinking high roller with a bidding paddle. Oh yeah, it’s also a fantastic car show if you can put the buzz of auction fever out of your mind.