The 69th Annual Detroit Autorama

The winner of the 2022 Don Ridler Memorial Award went to Rick and Patty Bird for their radically altered ’31 Chevy coupe. Starting with just a shell of a car, Pro Comp Custom curved, cut out, reshaped, and modified everything to create this vehicle. Then a Shafiroff W-series 509 engine with twin Nelson 72mm turbo intakes was added and the radiator was moved to the rear of the car. A 5-inch chop, 18- and 20-inch Billet Specialties wheels, and tiny Bowties painted into the body’s reveal line are just some of the hundreds of changes made.

… And Ridler Competition

By Eric Geisert – Photography By the Author

Though the Detroit Autorama (sponsored by Meguiar’s and presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts) started in 1954, it wasn’t until 1963 that it was held inside Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit, a location it would continue to use for the next six decades. So, it makes sense that history and tradition are two major facets in the success of the Detroit show, which bills itself as “America’s Greatest Hot Rod Show.”

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Looking like a futuristic ’50s Chevy dealership showroom, a ’55, ’56, and ’57 Chevy were all shown together to great effect at the Autorama. All from Florida’s Snodgrass Restoration Shop, that’s David Snodgrass’ ’56 on the right with its LS3/4L60E drivetrain and Jim Walker’s two vehicles, the ’56 in Sierra Gold and Adobe Beige in the middle and the Orange Effect–colored ’57 on the far left.

The three-day show is split into two parts: The downstairs (called the Autorama Extreme) and the upstairs, and each has their own schedule of celebrity autograph sessions, special car displays, and entertainment. Most of the downstairs vehicles are more “hot rod” than show car, with an emphasis on vintage engines and old-school chopped profiles. Upstairs are the glossy high-end cars with everything expertly put in the right place.

Jeff Bennett’s ’31 Ford roadster from Virginia had a timeless look with its 4-inch channel, ’32 grille shell, chopped windshield, ’50 Ford dash, and ’53 Hudson steering wheel. And don’t forget the ’54 Buick 264 bored to 362 cubes.

The upstairs is also home to the BASF Great 8—the qualifying group of vehicles that compete for one of hot rodding’s highest awards: the Don Ridler Memorial Award.

After a two-year layoff from car shows (or anything else) it was great to see the hundreds of cars and thousands of auto enthusiasts flock into Huntington Place (the new name for Cobo Hall) to check out what the hot rodders had to offer. MR

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Ted Taylor builds a nice car and he says “this one will be primered for life.” The mid-’60s dragstrip look is exemplified by the 12-spoke Radar wheels up front and cheater slicks out back, the 389 Pontiac motor (topped with six 97s) sets so far back it cuts well into the cowl, and the channel-yes/chop-no profile.
Garret’s Rod Shop gave a new look to a Speedstar roadster by changing the hood and doorlines, converting it to a rumble seat and adding ’39 Ford side trim. A Heidts IFS and IRS were also used along with a 376 LS whose exhaust can exit cutouts in the hood sides.
The Khrome Shoppe Coupe won the Ridler award in 1984 when Bob Reed owned it, and it had been sold a few times since. Tony Pisano is the current owner, and he restored the car to its former glory and took home the Preservation Award (sponsored by Steele Rubber Products).
Ford never made a multi-window truck like this in 1935, so John Zakarian added the side windows to his Ford panel to create something new—and it looks like what Ford should have done!
Sean Puz won Best Engineered for his homebuilt and handbuilt aluminum-skinned truck called “Excalibur.” He built his own frame, spindles, stainless front axle, and more in the process and then stuffed a GM CT-525 aluminum engine in the bed.


Matt Chojnacki and Dave Gulda did the build on this ’60 Olds 88 and used a 6.0L LS2 (from a Cadillac CTS-V) backed to a 4L80E for power. The roof is painted Bavarian silver and the body a chalk white after the exterior was shaved of its door handles and trim.
Despite being just into their late twenties, the Root brothers (Ryan, left, and David) have begun making a name for themselves with their attention to detail and clean build style. Inspired by vintage open-wheel race cars, they brought some of those ideas forward with their ’38 Ford roadster, which won the Detroit Autorama’s CASI Cup.
Every year the Detroit Autorama devotes a special area for the Cavalcade of Customs to display some of the country’s best custom cars. This year Rick Spanovich’s slippery ’41 Ford coupe was among the 10 cars displayed.
A display of Zingers was laid out in the center of the hall in the same configuration as they were 50 years earlier at the Autorama. Chuck Miller (a Ridler winner in 1968) built them using scaled-down fiberglass bodies and fullsize engines, like a “Big Daddy” Ed Roth drawing had come to life!
Probably passed by with most of the show’s attendees, the lowkey approach Ken Yanez took to build a car that never existed was stunningly subtle and amazing at the same time. To create a ’59 Pontiac Bonneville pickup, Yanez used parts from many cars: a roof and rear window from a ’60 El Camino, doors from a ’59 El Camino, a rear section from a Safari wagon, and so on. Then came the newly made pieces (a bed box void of any screws and faux 17-inch eight-lug wheels) to complete his design. A 476-inch Pontiac motor was underhood.
Steele Rubber Products sponsored the Master Builder Award, which honors the homebuilder who finished their car without too much professional help. This year’s winner is Jim Bender for his tribute to Jim Ewing’s Super Bell Coupe. Bender’s ride featured a 3-inch chop, 5-inch channel, and a 3.2L, 24-valve Ford motor underhood.
Each year scale model builder clubs gather at the Autorama to show what they’ve built, usually with exacting detail. The Blown Hell A/FX Gasser in the foreground is an excellent example, built by 63-year-old Phil Pertner from Michigan.
Folks marveled at the W18 engine Jim Noble put into his wild ’54 Chevy 6500 farm truck. It’s uses three late-’50s 235 straight-six Chevy engines connected by a chain drive to a single 700-R4 transmission. Noble stated it took 15 years to build the truck.
Celebrity meet-and-greets have long been a part of the Autorama, and this year Chip Foose (left), star of TV’s Overhaulin’, did a straight six hours of autograph signing to meet his fans on Friday, followed on Saturday and Sunday by pro wrestler Sting, ToyMakerz’s David Ankin, and Danny Koker and Kevin Mack from Count’s Kustoms.
Mark Stewart’s “Tantor” ’68 Charger R/T was well presented and sits on an Art Morrison chassis. Besides the PPG black paint and EVOD wheels, the ride boasts a 1,000hp 426-inch all-aluminum engine that puts out 950 lb-ft of torque.
Down in the basement’s Extreme show, Justin Zomback’s ’30 Model A coupe stopped a few folks in their tracks. With an evil chop, pleated roof and running boards, 12-spokes up front and cheater slicks out back, it’s no wonder what caught people’s eyes.
Jeff Betz rolled into the Autorama in his two-tone ’57 Chevy 150 wagon. The Handyman is on a Paul Newman chassis with ’96 Vette suspension, Corvette Z06 disc brakes are on each corner. The body and Glasurit paint were done at Customs by Kilkeary in Pennsylvania.


The BASF Great 8 award is for the collection of eight vehicles deemed to qualify and compete for the show’s highest honor: the Don Ridler Memorial Award. Besides being of a first time-shown status, the vehicle must show the highest level of creativity, engineering, and quality workmanship to win the Ridler.

Don Snell used an American Speed ’33 cabriolet body as a base for his Ridler hopes and, if the Winters quick-change out back and polished kidney bean wheels didn’t say “hot rod” enough, then the injected 520-inch Kaase Boss Nine motor mated to a T56 six-speed trans probably does.
Smoothing up an old ’70 Barracuda makes it sorta look like a brand-new ’Cuda, doesn’t it? Don and Mary Doctor’s HyperCuda was built by Creations by Gemza in North Carolina, and everything about the build was subtle and smartly understated. Brown leather covers nearly every surface inside the car.
The lime green ’70 Challenger, nicknamed “Kryptonite,” comes from Kevin Tirpak and the shop he owns in Ohio: Altered Motion. Nearly every inch of the interior (including the dash) is wrapped in black leather and the ride rolls on blacked-out Forgeline wheels.
Bill Devin was a race car builder back in the ’50s when he developed his roadsters to compete against the Cobra. Skip forward several decades and Chris Wright added new shapes to one of those bodies and had a carbon-fiber body made as a base for this car that he calls a Devin Z. With a 161-pound body and a 700-horse LS7 put through a Getrag six-speed, we bet this ride will howl.
Jim Sappenfield’s ’51 Studebaker truck sure got a lot of attention. Already a round vehicle from the factory, U.S. 12 Speed & Custom augmented the look with wider fenders, a shorter bed, a 5-inch chop, and a 10-inch channel job. U.S. 12 also painted and finished the truck.
You wouldn’t guess this clean-looking ’36 Pontiac might have an 1,100hp Borowski race engine fed by a 76mm Bullseye turbo system under the hood, but that’s the way owners Glenn and Kim See from Greenback, TN, like it! The forged satin gold rollers are from Schott Wheels.
Dale Bernard is a body and paint man and is responsible for the rich-looking two-tone paintjob on his own ’50 Olds 88. The top has been chopped 3-1/2 inches, the hood and trunk nosed and decked, and ’58 Corvette taillights installed. The Mulberry leather interior was stitched by Sew Cool Custom Interiors in Ohio.
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