In Detroit, the car is king, or at least for the past 100 years or so. Before that, it was fur--Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac built a fort on le detroit (or in English, the straits) back in 1701. But after the bicycle craze died down in the last part of the 1800s, it was the automobile's turn to reign supreme.
When you drive anywhere near downtown Detroit, you come up with names of neighboring towns and locations that are dear to the hearts of many a car nut. Dearborn, Pontiac, and Rochester are close to historic locations such as Ford's River Rouge steel plant and its Highland Park assembly facilities (where the moving assembly line was first put to the test).
Detroit, along with the American car market, has certainly seen its ups and down over the past few years, though, but the fascination with the automobile has never waned. Witness the Detroit Autorama. Started in 1952 as a way for local car clubs (that organized themselves into the Michigan Hot Rod Association, or MHRA) to raise money for a race track, the event has also seen its ups and downs over the past 5 decades. However, as the show ramped up for its golden anniversary in 2001, there seemed to be a buzz in the air. The buzz continued for the 50th show (a real high-water mark for indoor car shows), and folks wondered what could ever top it.
Well believe this: the show hasn't lost any of it luster in the 2 years since the 50th! In fact, this year's event had all the earmarks of another great show: thousands of spectators flowing into Cobo Hall, a professionally run event with enough to do and see for nearly anybody, and dozens of rod builders from around the country on hand with their latest creations.
And just like Detroit itself, the car is king at the Autorama. Part of it is due to the Don Ridler Memorial Award, which is regarded by many as the top award one can receive for a customized automobile. Since its inception in 1964, rule number one has been that a car considered for the award could not have been shown anywhere else before the Autorama. But that also means any part of any frame, engine, or body, too, can't be shown in public either (but photos of those pieces in magazines is okay). Over the years, dissecting that rule has become a source of consternation for the MHRA, whose members judge the cars and present the award, as well as the car builder.
This year there were dozens of cars vying to be picked for the Great Eight (the final eight cars from which the winner would be picked). One of the best things about the Ridler award is that it can go to any type of vehicle, from coupe to racecar, from Packard to Porsche. Judges look for only three things: creativity, engineering, and workmanship. As vague as those three categories are, it's what you (minimally) need to win the award.
The Great Eight are finalized and then announced Friday morning (the Autorama is a 3-day event), with the contenders having to wait until Sunday evening to find out how they faired. GM Performance Parts awards $7,500 and a new V-8 crate motor to the winner, but bragging rights (for the owner, but definitely for the builder) might be worth even more.
This year, the Great Eight cars came from Montana, California, Canada, Texas, Illinois, and Georgia to compete but, in the end, it was the '37 Willys coupe (with a '41 nose on it) owned by Al Brockly that won the Don Ridler Memorial Award. But if you focused only on the Ridler award, you'd miss out on a whole lot of other stuff happening at the show. Besides a huge toy and literature show, dozens of vendors (including Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler) were on hand to showcase their latest wares. In fact Chrysler even had some of its new vehicles (and one concept car) on display to take advantage of the possibility of some new car sales!
Celebrities have always been part of the Autorama extravaganza, and this year saw a slew of them taking pictures and signing autographs from behind their tables. The Coors Light beer twins (Diane & Elaine) were there, as was R. Lee Ermey (from TV's "Mail Call"), NASCAR champ Sterling Marlin, as well as WWE superstar The Undertaker (who had one of the longest autograph lines we've ever seen at any event!).
But most of the folks who filed into the 600,000-square-foot Cobo Hall were there to see the cars, and more than 600 of them were on display. Musclecars, lowriders, imports, hot rods, kits, and customs all mixed together to help celebrate what the rest of is are always thinking about: cars. And as it's turned out, the Autorama is the one of the best places in the country to do just that!
Dynamic Motorsports is a dealer...
Dynamic Motorsports is a dealer for Superformance in Ross, OH (but they have offices in Reno, NV, too), and they had a GT Coupe on display as well as a Noble M12, both built to the company's exacting standards.
There are a few GT40 kits...
There are a few GT40 kits out there, but when was the last time you saw the prototype of the '05 GT from Ford? Ford SVT (Special Vehicle Team) had one of the company's prototypes on display and had the rear engine cover off for most of the show, exposing the engine and rear suspension components to curious onlookers.
Coast to Coast is based in...
Coast to Coast is based in Beauceville, Canada, and they recently debuted their 'glass Impact II '33 roadster, a design that was taken directly from Richard Berg's America's Most Beautiful Roadster award winner.
Chuck Sampson from Bellville,...
Chuck Sampson from Bellville, MI, has rolled up 2,000 miles in his Shell Valley Cobra in the past 3 years. It's powered by a 302 backed to a four-speed trans.
Ed Johnson says he "drives...
Ed Johnson says he "drives it all the time" when referring to his nostalgia-style '24 T-bucket. It took the Sterling Heights, MI, resident 3 years to finish--a job completed last summer.
Outfitted with a GM Performance...
Outfitted with a GM Performance Parts LS1 motor, Darwin Clark's ultra-cool '54 Vette is set up on a C4-equipped chassis with body and paint work from Advanced Automotive Technologies.
Gary Bragunner filled up the...
Gary Bragunner filled up the fenderwells of his Factory Five Racing Cobra with 17-inch Mustang Cobra rollers, and it looked good!