Route 66 town sees post-COVID revival with enormous car show

This past weekend, the rural northern Arizona town of Williams — often referred to as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon” — officially held the 6th Annual Williams Historic Route 66 Car Show. 

Williams, Arizona enthusiastically welcomed visitors from around the world to revel in the beauty of the over 500 cars present. The car show began on Friday June 11, 2021 at 11AM and it lasted until Saturday June 12, 2021 at 6PM. American Legion Cordova Post 13 in Williams hosted the event and helped coordinate it in conjunction with other community organizations.

Lincolns, Trucks, and Buicks — Oh My!

As priceless cars, suped-up hot rods, classic trucks, deuce coupes, and more lined the historic strip of Route 66 that runs through the heart of Williams, so did the locals and tourists. The thunderous purrs of V8 engines filled the streets and matched the roar of the thousands and thousands of visitors admiring the car show. 

And it would be foolish not to note the nostalgic smell that poured out of the rows of cars enjoyed by the gleeful attendees. Sights, sounds, and smells that all had those lucky enough to be there going: “Lincolns, Trucks, and Buicks — Oh My!”

Not all the cars at the show were officially entered into the car show. While technically there was an exact number of cars entered, it would likely prove an impossible task to count all of the unique cars that slowly cruised up and down Route 66 while waving and shouting greetings to those walking alongside them on Route 66.

While I couldn’t ascertain an exact number, the hosts of the car show told me that there were well over 500 vehicles — motorcycles, trucks, classic cars, and hot rods — that were officially registered at the car show this past weekend. All vehicles officially entered were admired by official judges and awards were presented to some of the winners in each of their vehicles’ respective categories. This goes without mentioning the countless numbers of unregistered vehicles.

John Moore, Mayor of Williams and a Republican candidate for Arizona’s 1st Congressional district, helped present some of the winners with an official plaque from the 6th Annual Williams Historic Route 66 Car Show judges. 

Mayor Moore remarked that “this weekend’s car show was definitely one of the best ever.” He went on to say that “it was nice seeing all of the tourists and visitors come into Williams in such large crowds again…the businesses in town always appreciate it when people come to our town.” 

All-in-all, it seems like not only were the visitors pleased with the car show, but the people of Williams were certainly proud to have put it on.

A Tale of Two Cities

What many do not realize, is that the Annual Williams Historic Car Show gives car shows in major cities, like Chicago, a run for their money. Tucked away in the trees populating northern Arizona, the spectacle is truly one to behold.

The 2019 Chicago Auto Show had just under 1,000 automobiles present. And that number includes both the “classic” vehicles (model year of 1989 or earlier) and the newer vehicles (model year of 2018 or later) that were debuted by major car companies, such as Chevrolet, at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show. That estimate is provided on the website of the official Chicago Automobile Trade Association.

Looking at those numbers compared to those in Williams, it is truly exceptional to think that a rural town on one of the last true pieces of Route 66 still can compete with a city the likes of Chicago. At the end of the day, there were over 500 cars that made an appearance at the car show in Williams, according to local American Legion Post officials — meaning that a town of roughly 3,000 people was able to put on a show and draw crowds close to those of Chicago.

A Testament to Rural America

Most certainly, the car show in Williams was not only a breath of fresh mountain air for many, but it was also a glimpse of what returning to “normal” looks like in a post-COVID America. With visitors travelling from all over the world in attendance, masks were scarcely seen. People seamlessly engaged in activities that just a few years would seem normal, but were put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even individuals from other parts of the world visited the town just to get a glimpse of the impeccable cars parked along “Main Street U.S.A.” (Route 66). Mayor Moore informed me that he had run into a group of young travelers hailing from Argentina. A town like Williams not only houses a unique piece of American history, but it also seems to capture the spirit of America that so many from across the world seek to take in. Far from being the last remnants of a classic American tradition, Williams is alive and well.

If you have visited Williams before and you saw the streets of the remarkable town between June 11th and 12th, you would have never imagined it could be so busy. A sight that most assuredly comforted the many small, family-owned, local businesses inhabiting the town, the thousands of tourists and locals swarming the city gave new life to a town emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This car show was much more than a testament to the beauty found in American auto engineering. What it showed me is the resilience of rural America and the ability for towns like Williams to bounce back from a pandemic. While some major cities and rural towns continue to struggle to recover from COVID, the people of Williams have certainly provided the rest of the country a model for bringing things back to normalcy. Or, perhaps, to something better.

Robert Bean is the northern Arizona correspondent for the Western Tribune.

Published by R. M. Bean

Graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2021 with a BS, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Business. Moved to northern Arizona in the Fall of 2017. Fell in love with the people and the area not long thereafter. Follow me on Twitter: @realBobbyBean

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