2013 Car Craft Summer Nationals: In Search of Enthusiasm

The Scene at Car Craft
Every street inside the fairgrounds was like this. All Photos by Randy Stern

This is not the place where you can curb your enthusiasm.

Admit it, you love customized cars. You love to see someone take something ordinary and elevate it to the next level. There is an excitement around checking out some cool rims, putting on faster tires, the sound of engines ratcheted to gain new horsepower and admiring all of the modifications one could do on any car.

Our vehicles are our canvasses. If we choose, we can create something special that speaks to our enthusiasm. We also have the chance to honor heritage while crafting something cool inside and out.

It is the way of car.

There is no place to celebrate the art of car customization than at an event – such as the Car Craft Summer Nationals.

Held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in mid-July, Car Craft magazine invites their readers, fans and other enthusiasts to see what is possible to customize your ride.

Since 2005, Chevrolet Performance has been the primary sponsor at the Summer Nats. Formerly known as the GM Performance Division, they are now tasked to not only create everything from engine and exterior modifications, crate engines and other performance enhancing products for GM vehicles. Chevrolet Performance now includes special vehicles for sales to the public – including the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro Hot Wheels edition. Plus, they now have incorporated their motorsports efforts from NASCAR to NHRA to some grassroots racing.

Hot Wheels 1967 Chevrolet Camaro

The Summer Nats gives Chevrolet Performance an opportunity to interact with enthusiasts by showcasing their latest products and various applications of these modifications. This included complete cars developed by the teams at Chevrolet Performance. To augment the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro Hot Wheels Edition, a 1967 Camaro was modified to match the newer model with the same paint, wheels and some upgraded items inside and out. This event also marked the Minnesota debut of the 2014 Camaro, the 2014 Chevrolet SS sedan and the COPO Camaro model.

Visitors also got to meet Linda Vaughn, the first lady of auto racing, and Courtney Hansen, host of Spike TV's Powerblock. Chevrolet Performance brought Vaughn and Hansen to Summer Nats to engage with the visitors by signing a special poster featuring the both of them. if you really want to talk to two attractive women who have deep knowledge of the world of the automobile – Vaughn and Hansen should be on the top of your list.

No Summer Nats would be complete without some interactivity. You could bring your car to do burnouts, find out how much power your car has on a dynometer, learn modification tips and even build your own model car.

The big draw is the plethora of cars that grab every piece of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. In 2012, over 5400 vehicles participated in the Summer Nats. It appeared to be about the same number this year. The best way to describe most of the participants would be muscle cars. The majority of them would date right in the 1960s through the early 1970s. The names of Chevelle, Camaro, Challenger, Firebird, GTO, Barracuda, Charger, Dart, Mustang and Corvette were commonplace across the fairgrounds. There were plenty of other muscle cars to view from the Buick Skylark GS and Regal Grand National, Oldsmobile Cutlass S and 4-4-2 and the AMC Javelin and AMX. I often had to remind myself that these were the cars of my early childhood – the heroes of American might of that era.

It is quick to judge Car Craft for being all about the muscle car. There are more than enough custom performance modified cars on display from early classic muscle to their modern heirs. Mixed in with these customized cars are some real gems – original vehicles with little or no modification. This is where you find the real stories at the Summer Nats.

1972 Plymouth Barracuda

For example, I met the owner of a very rare 1972 Plymouth Barracuda. He was the only owner of a base model – something you no longer see amongst that generation of the car. The owner bought his new from a St. Paul dealer and had kept it since. The only options on the car were the automatic transmission, whitewall tires and full wheel covers. The gear lever was on the column – unlike most Barracudas of its time. What made this more interesting was the Slant Six under the hood. It is not just rare do you see base Barracudas, but ones powered with the 3.7litre in-line that was the backbone of Chrysler since its inception in 1959.

Another owner happily told me his story of his 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais coupe. Downsized Cutlasses were split into two lines – the fastback Salon models and the formal roofed Supreme coupes. The Calais sat on top of the entire lineup as a upgrade from the Cutlass Supreme and offered some special decor inside and out. This white example had the Oldsmobile 5.7litre V8 – a kissing cousin to the Chevrolet Small Block of the same size. Originally, the downsized Cutlass had GM’s THM200 automatic connected to every engine in the line. These automatics were a bit faulty, so the owner tore out of the THM200 and replaced it with a THM350 – better suited for the 5.7litre's torque. It was the only modification this owner to made to an otherwise original Calais.

Even more compelling was seeing my first Ford Mustang II in a very long time. As a former owner of one, eyeing one brought a flash of memories (good and bad) of my 1974 Ghia hardtop. Instead, I spotted two – both Cobras. The one had a great story behind it. The owners, named "Mustang Sally," showed off her back-and-gold 1978 Cobra with plenty of original pieces in tact. Under the hood was the 4.9litre V8 that saved the Mustang II until its conversion into the Fox platform. It had some mods to it, but the 302 V8 was ready and willing to show a few doubters how fun a Mustang II was in its day. Sally had her story of her Mustang II Cobra – another one of many told at the fairgrounds during Car Craft Summer Nats.

These three examples provided context in a realm of automotive enthusiasm lost amongst the loud engines, the resto mods and the modern performance types. These are vehicles with historic significance carefully stewarded by its faithful owners. If there is a spirit of being at the Car Craft Summer Nationals, it is the balance of discovering these vehicles and having these conversations, along with seeing other cars that are reminders of the essence of this event.

Buick Regals

However, there is actually a larger prize. One of the most covert operations of this event is where the editors of Car Craft would scout for new subjects to photograph for the magazine. If your car is worthy of the magazine's pages, your vehicle might be photographed that weekend to appear in one of their issues. This was one of the things brought up by a few participants at the fairgrounds.

Though some of these cars have appeared in Car Craft, what about those who do not show up on their pages? This is where the rest of us come in. I found some vehicles that are worthy of V&R's site – and a lot more for other professional media to capture. We are happy to give these unsung heroes a chance to shine.

That, in essence, is what automotive enthusiasm is all about.

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