It has to be one of the greatest “car guy (or gal)” occasions on Earth and the stats for the car show event never fails to amaze. I’m speaking of the annual Eastern Division AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) National Fall Meet in Hershey, Pa. Admittedly, I write about this show, now in its 64th year, every time I attend. I just can’t resist sharing its highlights. Perhaps it’s my hope to convince everyone who likes the vintage car culture to add “attend Hershey” to their bucket list.
On my visits to the Hershey Meet I look forward to three activities: the car corral, the auction and the car show. While the swap meet is also a huge part of Hershey, I spend little time among the vendors looking for spare parts, etc. because I don’t own a vintage vehicle. Before I forget, I hasten to add, if you think you might make the trip to Hershey in 2020, get online today and make motel reservations as soon as you finish reading this article. Trust me when I say that it is really hard to find close-in motels near Hershey if you wait until next year. I save Thursday through Sunday for my Hershey sojourn and reserve a motel room for three nights. I drive the nearly 600 miles to Pennsylvania on Thursday, enjoy the car corral on Friday and the RM Sotheby’s auction on Friday evening, attend the AACA car show on Saturday and return to Michigan on Sunday. Expect to drive approximately 1,200 miles round-trip. And also be mindful if you decide to drive out on the Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes, you will need $118 for the tolls. A trip to Hershey makes one appreciate the no toll freeways that we enjoy here in Michigan, potholes and all.
What makes the Hershey Meet special is best revealed by sharing the event’s statistics. You can’t have a discussion about the Hershey Meet without mentioning the weather. In past years, especially before most of the activities were moved to a hard, asphalt surface, autumn rain storms would turn the grass-covered grounds into a muddy mess. I have heard horror stories from past attendees who described how tens and tens of thousands of visitors, walking on the soft, rain-soaked landscape over four days, churned the pasture-like grounds into a muddy quagmire. Naturally, wet weather has an impact on attendance and has a big impact whether vehicles owners, vendors and attendees will show up. So attendance can vary, but the figures I’m about to share are probably pretty close to the average in recent years.
The AACA Eastern Division National Fall Meet organization in Hershey must recruit 750 volunteers to assist with set-up, parking details, booth sitting and other tasks. It is necessary to arrange for 600 qualified individuals to judge the 1,500-2,000 vehicles in the Saturday show. Between 9,000 and 10,000 vendors (that is not a typo) show up each year to peddle their wares in the parking lot (used in summers for the nearby Hershey Park amusement park) to peddle things like old catalogs and brochures, hubcaps, engine blocks and you name it. The vendor space measures over 134 acres. On the 15-acre horse-shoe-shaped car corral grounds over 1,000 vehicles are lined up in rows on both sides of the paved roadway enticing visitors to get out the checkbook and buy a vintage car. Each car has a price tag in the window. The AACA provides nearly 110 acres of pasture land for public parking and each day those lots are nearly full. Needless to say one needs to wear their most comfortable shoes (or boots on those rainy years) because there are miles of walking to see all the vehicles on display and visit all the vendors.
As in past visits to Hershey, I do like to pick my favorite car in the car corral and in the judged car show. It is tough to pick my favorite car corral vehicle but if push came to shove, I would have opted for the really beautiful 1959 Buick Electra 225 convertible shown with a nice light turquoise color with an unusual frog-y green interior. I’m a huge fan of the delta-winged Flint product with the soaring fins and the canted headlights. In the car show event on Saturday I spotted two Mopar products that drew me like a bear to honey. Both were fabulous eye candy, but I’d pick the 1960 red Dodge Polara convertible as my first pick and a 1960 light blue Chrysler New Yorker hardtop as first runner-up. Both were immaculate and on any part of the either car, engine bay included, one could serve lunch on any surface. Both are amazingly rare automobiles and incredibly beautiful examples of Chrysler chief designer Virgil Exner’s Forward Look.
A big Hershey highlight is attending in the exclusive Hershey Lodge the annual RM Sotheby’s auction event, held both Thursday and Friday night. This event is more upscale than the RM Auction that many readers may attend in Auburn each spring and fall. The number of vehicles offered this year totaled over 200 and the two-day bid total came to $15.6 million. The top selling vehicles (with bid price in parenthesis) included a 1930 Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton by Fleetwood ($1,221,000), 1931 Marmon Sixteen Coupe ($550,000), 1911 Oldsmobile Model 28 Autocrat Roadster ($495,000), 1931 Duesenberg Model J Limousine ($451,000) and a 1908 Oldsmobile Limited prototype ($423,000.) RM sources reported that bidders hailed from 23 countries, with 97 percent of the vehicles sold. As a member of the press I was able to obtain a media pass and could enter the main auction room filled with bidders, but was asked to remain standing at the rear of the room. However, average Joe non-bidders can enjoy the auction goings-on by watching a large video screen in the hall outside the auction hall. Unfortunately, there is no seating available.
Another suggestion to consider if you visit Hershey next year is a trip to the nearby AACA Museum. It’s only a stone’s throw from the Hershey Park grounds (161 Museum Drive, Hershey) and is well worth the effort. It’s a great option if the weather is not optimal. Information about the museum can be found at www.aacamuseum.org, or call 717-566-7100. There is an admission charge but plenty of free parking is nearby. Of special note: The last time I visited the museum, in 2016, the one and only 1895 Benton Harbor automobile was on display at the AACA Museum.
Right now, put the 2020 dates of Oct. 7-10 on your calendar and reserve motel space and make plans to attend next year’s fabulous Hershey Fall Meet. You will not be disappointed – unless the rain gods misbehave. This year the weather was perfect with temps in the 60s and mostly sunny skies. An idyllic car guy or gal experience.
• Trivia answer: For 13 years about 80 vintage vehicles were invited to participate. The event started in 2005 and its last year was 2017. Funds were raised for first the Krasl Art Center, then for Hospice at Home.
Dar Davis founded the Lake Bluff Concours and chaired the event for many years. He has been writing this column since 1999. He can be reached at email@example.com.