Payne: Hold on, Detroit 4Fest joins Metro Detroit's fall auto-palooza

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The Detroit Auto Show may be downsized for 2021, but late September is still shaping up to be a major auto blowout in southeast Michigan.

Jeep announced this week that it will sponsor Detroit 4fest — one of the country’s premier off-road events at Holly Oaks ORV Park, Metro Detroit’s sprawling off-road playground. Scheduled for Sept. 25-26, Detroit 4fest will be sandwiched between the Detroit Auto Show’s Sept. 21-26 Motor Bella event and the American Festival of Speed, Sept. 30-Oct. 3.

Jeep Wrangler rock crawl at Holly Oaks ORV Park.

With Motor Bella and Festival of Speed held back-to-back at M1 Concourse in Pontiac — and Detroit 4fest taking over Holly Oaks 30 miles north off I-75 — the auto trifecta will move the epicenter of car shows to Oakland County, away from its traditional TCF Center location in downtown Detroit.

The three events should attract tens of thousands of auto fans and automotive media as they promise experiential showcases craved by automakers. A key reason the Detroit Auto Show had move its January dates to late September was to open up outdoor opportunities for automakers to display their wares to showgoers. Manufacturers are keen to show off their vehicles beyond old school, convention-hall static displays.

Like adjacent music stages at a music festival, the three auto events promise a lollapalooza of automotive hardware — and could just chart a way forward for what next-century auto shows could be.

Jeep Wrangler surveys the landscape at Holly Oaks ORV Park.

Detroit 4Fest will be a showcase for the latest Jeep concept vehicles and Mopar accessories geared to adventurous consumers. In 2020, the event attracted some 680 off-road participants from novices to seasoned off-roaders. Fans can can come watch for free — with 4Fest offering a slate of events including live music, a vendor village, on-site camping, off-road driving instruction and seminars, Jeep Gladiator Challenge, and more.

"The Jeep brand is excited to power Detroit 4Fest again in 2021,” said Jeep brand boss Jim Morrison. “Jeep will celebrate with its owners and off-road enthusiasts and new products like the electrified Wrangler 4xe, the Wrangler Rubicon 392, and the all-new Grand Cherokee."

In the spirit of auto shows, 4Fest also hopes to put on a charity event to raise money for local Detroit causes.

With the rugged Ford Bronco hitting the market this summer, 4Fest should also be one of the first venues for Bronco and Jeep Wrangler owners to go head-to-head on challenging off-road terrain. 4Fest dovetails with the Detroit Three’s increased emphasis on off-road vehicles and pickup trucks.

“It will be like muscle car days with dirt,” smiled Z Performance's Tom Zielinski, who is organizing the event. “Wrangler and Broncos — not to mention the new Ford F-150 Raptor and Ram 1500 TRX super trucks. 4Fest is an experience unlike any other where you can drive your own rig at an ORV park.”

Jeep Wrangler atop the Mashed Potato Hill obstacle at Holly Oaks ORV Park.

The Detroit Auto Show’s Motor Bella event will be aimed at a more traditional auto show clientele eager to see the latest cars and SUVs. With automakers like General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. promising a new generation of electric vehicles, it could offer the chance for customers to ride in in the latest EVs around M1’s 1.5-mile test track.

Though it's unclear how many automakers will attend the Motor Bella, the Detroit Auto Dealers Association — which runs the show — expects multiple brands will be represented. Set up on M1’s 87 acres, the event is expected to include new vehicle debuts. DADA expects the show will return to TCF Center in 2022.

“(Motor Bella) will be a mobility-filled event. One that will provide our show partners with a cost-efficient backdrop to share all of their brands, products and technologies in a fun and festival-like atmosphere that’s completely outdoors,” said Detroit Auto Show chairman Doug North in a statement.

The American Festival of Speed, organized by M1’s own Pontiac Motorsports Exposition, will immediately follow Motor Bella and 4Fest and will take aim at higher end clientele.

Modeled after the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, the M1 event will be showcase for some of the industry’s fastest super cars — as well as historic race cars. Fans will get to watch fast-lap competitions as well as take rides.

M1 teased its Festival events last summer when it hosted four classic Shadow Can Am race cars. The foursome — one of them fired by a 1,000-horsepower Chevy V-8 – celebrated the opening of M1’s events facility that will be an asset to both the Motor Bella and Festival shows.

M1 has hosted Roadkill Nights powered by Dodge during the Woodward Dream Cruise, an event that has attracted nearly 50,000 fans. Festival of Speed also has ambitions for a black tie Charity Ball intended to benefit Pontiac charities. All three events will take place in Oakland County.

"Detroit 4Fest brings something new and exciting to the Oakland County Parks and to the Holly and Groveland communities with this unique off-road event," said Dan Stencil, Executive Officer, Oakland County Parks and Recreation.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne