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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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