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European cars come to Gainesville for event at Butler Plaza

As children and dogs scampered between Porsches and Ferraris at the Butler Plaza parking lot on Saturday, classic car owners and aficionados strolled among the over 100 European cars from various decades showcased at Gainesville’s first European Car Show.

The event was sponsored by United Way of North Central Florida, a local non-profit, and Butler Enterprises. According to Butler Enterprises Marketing Director John Dickerson, they had been looking for public events to hold in their plaza since early summer, when COVID-19 cases were decreasing. Dickerson suggested a car show, something he had wanted to do since he joined the company in 2018.

Butler Enterprise owner Deborah Butler quickly greenlit the event, and reached out to potential sponsors. Dickerson says that event sponsorship quickly became “social,” with sponsors committing to the event after finding out other sponsors were also joining. Car dealerships with European brands, such as the Audi and BMW dealerships in Gainesville, were among them.

Hundreds of Floridians attended Saturday’s event. Jeff Hathorn of Gainesville brought his 1959 Porsche Speedster D, of which there are only two in the world, he said. Many of the parts are custom on the car, which he refers to as “magnet” because people are attracted to it at car shows.

“If you eat your vegetables and you do your math homework you can get one of these,” Hathorn told a group of children who came up to ask about his Porsche.

David Bridges, another attendee from Gainesville, displayed his Heritage Motors built replica 1934 Mercedes 500K Roadster.

“It’s just a way to give back to the community. Since all the proceeds go to United Way, you know, it’s just a nice way for everyone to see the car, enjoy the car just as much as me and my wife enjoy the car,” Bridges said.

Alexander Turner, the president of the Villages’ British Car Club, brought out his green 1950 Riley Drophead. Turner says he inherited the car from his father, who purchased it in 1952 for less than $3500.

“My father bought one because he couldn’t fit into a jaguar,” Turner said.

Turner’s Riley was one of the more popular cars at the show. Many attendees were drawn to the car’s history, as Turner included an informational poster about the Riley. He also decorated the car with pictures and mementos from the car’s life. It didn’t hurt that Turner’s his dog Ty was also there to greet the Riley’s visitors.

The University of Florida’s Gator Motorsports also displayed their F21 Racecar, this year’s racecar in the annual Formula SAE competition, where they go head-to-head against over a hundred other colleges throughout the United States.

“I heard about [the European car show] from one of the people on the team, and I figured it would be kinda fun to bring it out and show it off to everybody. Maybe get some support from sponsors or something like that. We’re always happy to show it off whenever we can,” said Gator Motorsports President Mitchell Theoni.

“This is a really great opportunity for our area,” said Staci-Ann Bertrand, who serves as the vice president of economic development for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. “Adding the love for cars and the love for European cars, exotic cars or classic cars is great for our area because we’re bringing in people from our surrounding counties as well as within the Gainesville area to this car show.”

Bertrand said that events like these stimulate the local economy by bringing in new tourists to the area. “It helps to diversify the types of people that are here,” Bertrand added. “The people that come into the area patronize our businesses, our retail stores, and so it is really good for our business opportunities.”

Organizers say the European Car Show will likely become an annual event. Dickerson said that he hopes they host more car events in the future, adding other car shows to their docket, such as those focused on classic cars or hot rods.

Connor is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.