Meguiar’s 70th Detroit Autorama

The Ridler and So Much More!

By Eric Geisert   –   Photography by the Author

Tradition is sometimes hard to find, even when something has been around for 70 years but, since 1953, the Detroit Autorama has been able to deliver on its boast of being “America’s Greatest Hot Rod Show.” Through seven decades the Detroit show has demonstrated its perfect blend of tradition and contemporary, with a little sideshow mixed in for good measure.

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To finance the building of their own dragstrip on 60 acres in New Baltimore, MI, members of the Michigan Hot Rod Association not only used their club dues but also organized a car show to raise funds. The car show became the Detroit Autorama, and the track, which opened in 1959, became Motor City Dragway, and closed in 1996.

Many facets of today’s Detroit Autorama are firmly entrenched in its long history. Celebrity autograph sessions used to feature TV’s Batman Adam West or well-known sports figures; this year’s show featured TV personality Dave Kindig, actor Henry Winkler, and hip-hop’s Falvor Flav.

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Thirty years ago, the Autorama debuted the Toy-A-Rama, where collectors and fans of model cars continue to meet and trade. More recent additions to the program include the Mavens Pinstripe auctions where pinstripers from all over the country gather to create artwork and put it up for auction to raise thousands of dollars for the Leader Dogs for the Blind organization.

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One of the most-talked-about trucks at the show featured a complete carbon-fiber Chevy C10 body, engineered and built by Fiber Forged Composites and Z Rodz and Customs for the owner, Rod Parsons, to go autocross racing. To achieve that goal, they used a Moran Motorsports 434ci engine with a Dart LSX-Next aluminum block, a MoTeC M150 fuel injection system, and a Detroit Speed Engineering chassis in the build.

But the main attraction, both in 1953 (when only 40 cars gathered) to today (where 800-plus vehicles are shown), has always been the cars. Located in the Motor City’s downtown Huntington Place convention center (called Cobo Hall for decades) you’ll not only be able to see a wide range of customized vehicles but also a high build standard.

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Jon Hall is a longtime hot rodder and owner of Shadow Rods. He modified the sheetmetal on this XL27 track-nose roadster before giving it to Greening Auto Company to paint, upholster, and mill all the extra parts, including the wheels. Hall was this year’s recipient of the CASI Cup (the show’s highest honor outside the Ridler and Great 8 awards).

In 1964, to honor the death of the show’s promoter who was instrumental in putting the Detroit Autorama on the national map, the Don Ridler Memorial Award was first given out. Open to any type of vehicle that demonstrates exceptional creativity, engineering, quality workmanship, and is of a first-time-shown status is eligible. The one and only next step in the process is to be awarded a BASF Great 8 trophy—the exclusive group of eight car owners from which the Ridler will be picked.

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There was a well-deserved multi-car display of the Alexander Brothers (aka “A Brothers”) creations, including Mike Alexander’s personal Grasshopper pickup truck. Also in the grouping was the Deora pickup—the car the A Brothers won the Ridler award with in 1968.

This year’s eight qualifiers highlighted two facts: This was first time no pre-’49 vehicles were in the competition and, even with two trucks making it into the Great 8, no truck has won the Ridler since the Alexander Brothers did so in 1968 with their custom Deora. This year’s finalists also demonstrated the diversity the Ridler always provides in that a ’67 Nova, a ’65 Mustang, a ’50 Mercury, a ’58 GMC, a ’55 Chevy convertible, a ’69 Super Bee, a ’53 3100 pickup, and a ’78 Mustang were all competing for the show’s highest honor, which is handed out during the last few hours of the show on Sunday evening. The intense guessing game on who will win the Ridler is just a part of the spectacle the Detroit Autorama has always been and will continue to be. MR

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