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Iola Car Show Experience


The iconic tower at the Iola car show grounds

Towards the end of 2018, I wrote a blog and recorded a podcast about some of the things I wanted to accomplish this year with Wisconsin’s Outdoor Explorer. Things like snowshoeing, visiting more state parks and doing more photography work are all on that list. Some of those things, I’ve accomplished or am still working on, some will have to wait until next year, I’m looking at you Apostle Island Ice Caves. One of those things that was on the list for this year was going to the Iola Car show for the first time. I love classic cars and having never been to this show was, honestly, kind of embarrassing. I made it a priority this year to make it to the show and see what it was all about.

Part of what I want to accomplish with Wisconsin’s Outdoor Explorer is to give you ideas on how to get outdoors. Whether that’s from interviewing others throughout the state on things they are doing or sharing my experiences of things I’ve done. I want to give you honest opinions and options so you can make the most of your outdoors. That’s why I’m going to share with you my impressions of the Iola Car show and whether this event should be on your bucket list of things to do in Wisconsin.


Just a little background first, the Iola car is in its 47th year and attracts about 125,000 spectators each year. It’s considered one of the largest cars show in the United States. That’s an increase of almost 9500 percent for the small town of Iola with a population of about 1300 people for three days. All there to see some of the best cars in the nation show off their beauty.


You'll find many different cars and trucks from all eras.

The event takes place from Thursday to Saturday on the second weekend of each July. And really what better time to enjoy a car show. It’s full summer in Wisconsin and the weather is great. I decided to attend this year’s event on the first day. You can start your day when the gates open at 6am, but I decided to wait a bit and got there around 9am. The weather on the day I went was perfect. It was a beautiful sunny day with temps in the mid 70’s all day.

Parking is the first thing you’ll notice. The car show is set up in a pretty large open area in Iola. Surrounding that area, are a lot of private properties all willing to let you park on their lawns for a small fee. Most parking fees ranged from $10 to $15 dollars. I ended up settling for a lot that charged me $12. I was fine with that, because it was closer to one of the gates and almost in the middle of everything.

I parked my truck and grabbed my backpack full of camera gear and headed to the entrance gate closest to me. I thought having more than one way to get into the event was a great idea. This makes getting into the event easy no matter where you park.

My first impression of the event was awe. I was amazed by all the vendors that were set up or the swap meet portion of the show. See, it’s not just a car show, it’s also a place where you can buy and sell anything to do with the automotive industry. Car parts, toys, signs, you name it, it was most likely there. It's just a matter of finding what you’re looking for. I decided to hold off on exploring the swap meet area until later. I wanted to check out some cars first.


You'll see cars from the 1900's all the way through the 1980's

The first area I went to was large lot used for spectators to bring in their show cars for the day. One of the cool things about Iola is that you can bring in your own classic car and show it off. As long as you meet their requirements, you can drive right into the grounds park your car and enjoy the day. I wound up visiting this area multiple times throughout the day. As more cars came in, it filled up more and some cars left and others took their spot. So, it was really cool to see the different cars added as the day went on. I walked around and saw some amazing feature cars that were invited by the car show to come. These cars are usually unique in some way. For instance, maybe only a few were made or they are in mint condition with all the original parts. I’ve known a few people who tried getting their cars into these areas and they are a very selective. I would suggest to take your time and take all these cars in. Iola usually does a theme each year and this year was car clubs. Area car clubs were asked to come in and show off their cars. There were Corvette Clubs, Ford Clubs and even an ice drag club from Merrill.


I then decided to grab some lunch and head over to the other side of the grounds to the car corral. The car corral is an area that you can bring your car if it’s for sale and show it off to potential buyers. I wasn’t interested in buying a car, but I wanted to see what was out, the prices they were going for and honestly, I wanted to check out more cars. After all it’s a car show. I’m glad I did. There were a lot of different cars and trucks for sale and in the car corral was probably the most unique car of the whole day. The gentleman selling it said it was one of three made and he was asking only $125,000 for it. It was the most expensive car I’ve ever seen and it was a beauty. That was one of the great things about the car corral, you really didn’t know what you were going to see. Some cars were show ready others needed a ton of work. Either way, it was another great place to check out some classic cars.


The swap meet area is the largest portion of the entire show.

My next stop was exploring the swap meet area. The first thing I should tell you about this area is that it’s large, it’s larger than the actual car show portion. To be honest, it’s so large that if you stopped into each one, you’d never see them all in the three whole days of the show. I did more of a walk around approach. I walked up and down a few rows and if I saw something that interested me, I stopped an checked it out. There was so much to see in this area, it truly was amazing. From car parts to oil cans, if it dealt with cars, it was in there. There was even a barn dedicated to toys. It was filled with hot wheels, models and games all related to the automotive industry. I walk this area for a few hours stopping along the way to see what I could see. I didn’t stay on any direct path trying to take in as much as I could.


From toys to trucks, you'll find it at Iola.

Before I left for the day, I did one more walk around in the spectator car area to see the new cars that came it and then I headed home. There were other activities that went on after l left, like a car parade. But I really like getting up close and personal with the cars and really looking them over, so I wasn’t disappointed in missing that. If I would have went on Friday or Saturday, there would have been opportunities to meet some personalities like Catherine Bach, she played Daisy Duke on the 80-television series, “The Dukes of Hazzard” and other automotive industry professionals and celebrities. But I really wanted my first Iola experience to be about the cars.


I had a great day checking out all the great cars and my advice to you would be to put this on your list of things to see. Even if you have little interest in cars, the spectacle that is Iola is impressive. To have this many people gather in such a small-town warrants at least one visit from you. But be advised, you won’t see everything there is to see in one day and make sure you wear comfortable shoes. It’s a lot of walking and I mean a lot of walking. I will say, if you have a hard time getting around the event offers motorized personal transports that you can rent for the day. You can even reserve yours online before you get there. They make it really easy for anyone to get out and enjoy a day at one of America’s largest car show. The Iola Car show, gets my recommendation as a must see as one of Wisconsin’s Outdoor Explorers.



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