If there was ever a car show that could be considered a evangelical event for a certain American-made, plastic sports car, the sprawling 2016 Corvettes at Carlisle show fits the bill perfectly, albeit no baptisms or speaking in tongues required.
The language of Corvette is spoken fluently here in the tiny hamlet of Carlisle, PA, a leafy suburb of Harrisburg, not far from famous destinations like Gettysburg, Allentown (Thanks Billy Joel,) and the chocolate capitol, Hershey.
The 2016 Corvettes at Carlisle proved once more why this show is one of the most important Corvette events in the world. With some 50,000 guests and 5,000 Corvettes attending, it’s easy to see how every single year of production Corvette was present and accounted for. In addition, the annual 50th display featured 1966 Corvettes, while the always popular Chip’s Choice invitational focused on Guldstrand and Greenwood Corvettes.
Carlisle And The Surrounding Area
Founded in 1751, Carlisle is a borough–and the county seat–of Cumberland County, PA. Situated in the Cumberland Valley, it’s known as a fertile and productive agricultural region first, and Corvette mecca running a close second.
As of 2014, 18,916 people call the borough home. If you include suburbs in the neighboring townships, 37,695 live in the Carlisle urban cluster, located east of Harrisburg. The downtown area is clean and quaint and hosts the finale of the show when 500 Corvettes drive through the town square. It should be a major part of any pilgrimage to Corvettes at Carlisle.
The Folklore Of This Grandaddy of Corvette Shows Is Decades In The Making
Carlisle Events was founded by Bill and Chip Miller (no relation) in 1974 and Corvettes at Carlisle is just one of many events the company organizes. In 1981, after renting the fairgrounds for each event, the Millers purchased the property, which then totaled 70 acres. Subsequent acquisitions brought its total to the current 82 acres.
Sadly, Chip Miller passed in 2004, but the reigns were passed to the capable hands of his son Lance. The Chip Miller Foundation was created to honor the senior Miller and bring awareness to amyloidosis.
In 1974, the show drew just over 13,000 people. Today, Carlisle Events sees that type of audience in a single day for some of its “smaller events” and averages more than a half a million enthusiasts per season. Corvettes At Carlisle now reliably draw 50,000 visitors and 500 cars.
The Journey to Mecca Begins
As the Boeing 767 took off from SDO, I left behind 30 year old Murrieta, CA., a sprawling, dusty dot on a grid of freeways at the southern tip of Riverside County, and headed to the 300 year old east coast town which is not only the epicenter of all things Corvette, but also ground zero of bloody events that literally forged these great United States.
I caught a connecting flight in Atlanta and touched down in Harrisburg shortly thereafter. After Enterprise issued me an obligatory silver Dodge Dart, I drove to the Red Roof Inn–think Motel 6 on steroids–and checked in. I noticed a 1967 roadster in the lot and several late model ‘Vettes so I knew I was in the right place.
My company’s HR gal booked my trip out of San Diego at 6:30am–ugh–which meant I had to rise at 4:15, drive and hour to SDO and be at security at 5:30…Needless to say I was bushed and crashed shortly after I arrived in PA.
The Show Begins
This year’s event was unusual in that it started on a Thursday. As seasoned car show scribes, we knew the crowds would be small on this work week day, so we took advantage of that and got the “lay of the land…”
After checking in with will call, I stuck the “Media” sticker on windshield and pulled the provided lanyard around my neck and was waived through to the VIP parking lot onto the fairgrounds. The “rockstar” parking proved to be an invaluable perk as it was on-site, close in and a great staging area for cameras, backpacks, and maybe an air conditioned catnap later in the afternoon.
The first thing that grabs you is how big the grounds are, with rolling lawns, grandstands, outbuildings and brick and mortar restaurants and vendor stalls. Corvette America was the featured sponsor this year and their tent loomed on the horizon along with Corvette Racing and Adams Polishes with a huge blow up bottle of the companies detail spray.
For the best view, go to “the Hill,” the highest point onsite and a great way to survey where all the hotspots are.
And there was much to see. The 2016 Corvettes at Carlisle show included a special display of 50th anniversary for 1966 Corvettes, Chip’s Choice; whose theme this year showcased Greenwood and Guldstrand Corvettes, a downtown Carlisle Corvette Parade and Street Party, onsite seminars and parts installations, a massive midway and giveaways including a 2016 Corvette Coupe.
Chevrolet had a strong presence and showed up with a flock of spankin’ new 2017 Grand Sports and a sole 2017 Z06 as well. The Bowtie division also presented new product seminars and Corvette walkarounds with key Corvette VIP’s.
Corvette Racing had a great display as well with new ‘Vettes, a C7.R race car, 5.5L race motor display, accessories and other Corvette performance goodies.
There were many Corvettes for sale as well. From barn finds to restored cars, the Corvette Corral had a big turnout. Notaries and license folk were on site to wrap up the sale too.
Other events like the burnout contest and autocross challenge were crowd favorites and the capper of the event was awarding top notch cars.
Check out this bare C2 chassis for an exercise in factory originality.
Finally, check out the Corvette Caravan that rolled through Downtown Carlisle. Corvettes are good, 500 Corvettes are better…
Some Advice For Noobies
- Think of Corvettes at Carlisle not as a car show, but an event in the town of Carlisle. There is much to explore while you’re visiting.
- Be sure and make time to have dinner in downtown Carlisle
- Book lodging early (like seasoned show goers) to get in the epicenter of the action.
- It was warm during the show. Stay hydrated. There are vendors everywhere or bring your own water.
- The fairgrounds are geographically huge area. Pack light and wear appropriate shoes. Leave Tevas and high heels at home.
- Be prepared to meet and talk to many new friends.
In closing, the show was a smashing success and smoothly executed by Carlisle Events. Thanks to the Miller gang and everybody involved for an awesome event. See you next year!