Cars galore at the Route 66 Festival
The Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Illinois celebrates the biggest and best cars in the US - and rightly so, says Sean O'Grady

"Come to Springfield," the PR lady said to me. How could I resist? Home to Homer, Bart, Marge, Krusty the Clown and all the other Simpsons characters. What would I say when I walked into Moe's Bar? Well, there is more than one Springfield in America and The Simpsons isn't actually based on any one in particular. And the Simpsons characters aren't real people. OK, I knew that. But we can all dream.

Even though I was denied one set of American icons I did find another crowding the centre of Springfield, Illinois. About 1,000 prime pieces of American metal, 70,000 visitors and a band comprising eight Elvis impersonators crowded into the centre of the town for the Route 66 International Festival, which takes place there every year.

It's a huge slice of Americana, dominated by the cars, and a pretty good barometer of what's up and what's down on the American classic scene. The Ford Mustang, in all its iterations, is clearly enjoying a boost to its already considerable popularity, as is the Ford Thunderbird, and the Corvette. So far, so predictable. But I was struck by the number of obviously rejuvenated 1960s and 1970s "muscle cars" in attendance, such as the Pontaic GTO and Chevrolet Chevelle. But it don't really matter what badges they were wearing. From grand 1930s Chryslers through outrageous 1950s Cadillacs to the present retro-look American products such as the Chrysler 300C, you were invited to be be shocked and awed by American automotive power.

Sadly, Route 66 itself doesn't exist any more, although the bits of road that made it up are still there, along with the old-school American diners, strange little museums and special road signs to guide you along it. You'll never find a more authentic way to visit "Main Street America" than to thread along a little bit of the Mother Road in a hire car with petrol at the equivalent of £2 a gallon. The American way of motoring ain't dead yet.

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