earlier. It was the idea of Johnna Pepper, who in 1983 had just wrapped up a 23 year career with Ford Motor Company. As a retirement job of sorts, Ford had appointed Johnna their Ford car club coordinator and his first task was to commemorate the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Mustang in 1984.
How it all started
With the backing of Ford Motor Company and the assistance from several Mustang and Ford clubs in Southern California the resulting "Mustang Jamboree" was presented at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center at Griffith Park on April 15, 1984 and was enthusiastically attended by over 500 Mustang and hundreds of other Ford-powered participants.
In fact, participation was so good it was clear an all-Ford car show should be an annual event. Backing from Ford was easy enough to gain; with the success of the Mustang Jamboree Johnna had demonstrated he could get hundreds of Mustang, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury enthusiasts to show their cars, thus paving the path to the wonderful relationship between Ford Motor Company and the Ford car clubs in the western U.S. that we enjoy today.
The first step to a permanent annual show was to organize the participating clubs into the Ford Car Club Advisory Council, then exhorting Ford clubs in Ford’s Western Region to join. Johnna also produced a monthly calendar and a monthly newsletter—“Tin Lizzie”—that was sent to all clubs on the council.
At the Meetings
Meetings for the new all-Ford show were held at Ford’s offices in a converted Spanish style ranch house on W. Sequoia in Anaheim. During the November 16, 1985 meeting, after looking at several venues, Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park was unanimously chosen as the location and the date set for April 13, 1986.
Notes from that meeting show "judged categories" would be balloted by participants, a design theme and name for the show need to be chosen, there would be no door prizes or raffles and Johnna Pepper will serve as event Chairman. The following meeting on November 30th, the name of "Fabulous Fords Forever!" was unanimously chosen, the details for the first flyer were discussed and club assignments such as Registration (MOCC), Parking (SDMC), Ballots (CTCI) were assigned. The final decision was for 42 show classes (including 9 Thunderbird and 13 Mustang) and the entry fee set at a whopping $2.00.
Implementing the Plan
Flyers were distributed at the January 11th meeting and over the next two months word of the huge show were spread by the car clubs and Mr. Pepper working with the Ford News Bureau. In January plans for hotel accommodations were firmed up at $30 to $45 a night, show equipment, trophies, and shirts were ordered and at this first event a fashion and costume show was also planned. Participants were encouraged to dress the part to coincide with their show vehicle and a fashion show would be staged during the day with the winner chosen by the fashion editor of a local newspaper.
Entries flooded in at an unbelievable pace, the hotels were sold out by early February and the show was looking to be a huge success. Registration closed on March 15th and in three short months, with a total of 1,324 cars registered, the first Fabulous Fords Forever! show was rolling.
In 1986 Knott's had no roller coasters and no water park, in fact, the area where the water park is now was still a dirt parking lot known as the Rhubarb Patch. The available parking lot was smaller than the one used now and that first year, several classes including Cougars and Cobras were parked in the dust of Rhubarb Patch.
Tedium was added to the dust the first two years via the voting process. Show participants voted on the cars and plaques were awarded at the show’s end, but only after club volunteers in a hot tent in the middle of the show area tabulated the ballots. Even with the primitive computers of the day—this was 1986—collecting and entering the ballots took until well after 3:00 p.m.
Other highlights of the first show would be more familiar to today’s participants. The goody bag included flyers provided by all supporting car clubs and a cloisonné pin commemorating the event (now an anticipated yearly tradition). The clubs had a small area near the main tent to set up canopies and hand out information. Celebrities attending the first show were Sally Struthers (All in the Family) with her early 1936 Ford V8 convertible and Richard Carpenter (The Carpenters) with a 1958 Edsel. Both entertainers and their cars were one of the highlights of the show just as today’s racing and entertainment celebrities continue the tradition. But that first year it was astounding to the organizing clubs and Johnna Pepper just how many beautiful stock and restored Thunderbirds, Mustangs and other Fords filled the lot at Knott's. And to think only the current Mustangs were fuel-injected.
Before the sunset following the successful First Annual Fabulous Fords Forever show, the wheels were already rolling for next year's display of Ford history.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in the history of Fabulous Fords Forever!