The car show at MIS

Entrance to Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn MI

Although Saturday was an unseasonably hot and humid July day, it did not deter the hundreds of classic car owners from attending the annual Onsted Car Show. Vehicles of every description, from time periods spanning the early twentieth century to the present day, were lined up in orderly rows in the central paddock of the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. While the main attraction of the car show was to compete for prizes, exhibitors also had the opportunity to test drive their cars on the MIS racetrack. A parade of classic vehicles waited patiently at the track entranceway, the owners eager to drive on the pavement made famous by NASCAR drivers. Even kids were able to get into the act; as I glanced up, I saw a caravan of gocarts speeding in orderly fashion around the track. Many of the exhibitors had pictures taken to commemorate the day; these photos were proudly and prominently displayed on dashboards and windshields throughout the venue. As I made my way through the massive collection of classic cars, I was hopeful that a few of the many muscle cars on exhibit would have female owners.

I didn’t have to wait long, as one of the first cars I noticed was an “In-Violet” 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda. The introduction of the ‘Cuda in 1964 preceded the phenomenon known as the Ford Mustang by two weeks. While the Mustang is recognized as responsible for the term “pony car,” the ‘Cuda – as a small-bodied car with a large engine – was considered part of the category, along with the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, Mercury Cougar, AMC Javelin, and Dodge Challenger (Timeless Rides). The strict definition of the muscle car refers to intermediate sized vehicles (Muscle Car Club); however, auto manufacturers beefed up pony cars by inserting larger engines and high-performance options as a way to broaden the muscle car category and take advantage of its growing popularity. These high performance pony cars appear to be admired by many female drivers. The majority of the women I have encountered at car shows thus far have driven Challengers, ‘Cudas, or Mustangs. No doubt the vehicle’s smaller size- which contributes to easier handling – is partly responsible for its popularity among female drivers.

I discovered that the ‘Cuda owner had a long history of muscle cars. Living in a small town near the speedway most of her life, she spent her teenage years cruising the main drag in Adrian, Michigan, often stopping at drive-ins along the route to meet up with friends. While the muscle car is strongly associated with Detroit’s Woodward Avenue, smaller towns in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana had main thoroughfares on which cruising and street racing were popular activities and means of socialization for teenagers during the 1950s and 1960s. To the woman with the purple ‘Cuda, cruising is now a family activity, as her husband and sons share in her passion, often accompanying her to shows and local cruise-ins in their own cars, as well as helping her with maintenance and car repair. As she expressed to me, driving the ‘Cuda is a way to connect to her past as well as share her love of cars and cruising with friends and family.

As I meandered through the sea of cars, a 1973 bright blue metallic Mercury Cougar convertible caught my eye. 1973 – the year of the oil embargo and new EPA regulations – was considered the beginning of the end of the muscle car era. Indeed, 1973 was the last year of the Mustang-based Cougar, as well as the end of the Cougar convertible. The Cougar’s owner – a woman in her late 40s – told me that the car was a way for her family to share in something – cruising and car shows – they all enjoyed. The family aspect of enjoying the muscle car is a common theme among female muscle car owners, and is a part of classic muscle car culture that was initially surprising to me. Rather than an expression of power – which is often how high performance cars are regarded by those who drive them – the majority of women I have talked to view the muscle car as a way to share the past and experience the present with family and friends. While women appreciate the performance of the muscle car, its greatest source of power appears to be its role as a shared source of pleasure and a common bond among family members. It will be interesting to see if this theme emerges among other female muscle car owners I encounter in the course of this project.

While the majority of women I have met thus far drive classic muscle cars of the pony variety, I was pleased to find two women at the Onsted show with vehicles that auto aficionados would define as true muscle cars. The first car was a 1967 Pontiac GTO. As the owner told me, she had always wanted a GTO as a teenager, but had to wait until her five children were grown before purchasing one. She did much of the restoration on the car herself, teaching herself along the way. The second car was a 1970 Chevelle, which the owner told me had always been in the family. I hope that these four muscle-car-driving-women will agree to participate in this project and tell me more about their experiences with the American muscle car.






2 thoughts on “The car show at MIS

    #   aberdeen car hire on 07.29.11 at 6:06 am     

    Driving, across the country or merely a state line or two, is the quintessential sport. Our cars transport us to destinations like family reunions, vacations and honeymoons. You won’t find it on the front page of the sports section, but driving, windows down, music blaring and sunshine hot on your face has become a tradition that’s getting more popular every year.

    #   Mark on 08.26.11 at 10:04 am     

    The muscle cars of old. I am grateful I was born early enough to enjoy thees cars when they hit the market. I can still remember the jacked up rear ends and how cool it looked, plus the sounds of the exhaust. I Think the Road Runner was one of my favorites, but then again i’d take them all.

    My first car was a 65 Ranchero with a 289 Hi-Pro engine, no where near a “Pony car” but it was Hi-Pro and that made all the difference to this 18 year old driver.

    I did have an early muscle bike, if there were such a think it was a Kawasaki 500 triple, it it’s it was one of the fastest bike out there.

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