Looking Back at Some of America’s Most Beautiful Roadsters

By Brian Brennan

It’s just around the corner … the 2024 Grand National Roadster Show (GNRS), the 74th presentation, will be upon us. The GNRS is known for many things but the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) award, you know the perpetual nearly 10-foot trophy itself, is older than many of us (although not all) and represents more than a “car show” trophy. The list of and the accomplishments that these roadsters represent to the history of hot rodding cannot be underestimated.

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02 1929 ford dry lakes first ambr winner
The year 2024 will represent the 74th Grand National Roadster Show and somewhere in there is the first AMBR winning roadster in 1950. Often referred to as the Niekamp roadster, the ’29 Ford is in its “dry lakes” form. Owned for many years by Jim “Jake” Jacobs of Pete & Jake’s, fame he then sold it to Pete Petersen who bestowed it to the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Winning the AMBR is indeed a “big deal” but often these cars represent trends in design and style, stance, color, and accessorizing. These hot rods represent where our hobby was, is, and where it is going. This year should present a great look as to what’s happening in our arena for “what’s new.”

The perpetual nearly 10-foot trophy is an iconic fixture itself and when a hot rodder sees it he or she instantly recognizes what it represents. The trophy has been around since 1950 and is always one of the elite awards our hobby has to offer. Something not understood about the rules regarding the AMBR … it is awarded to a roadster (no roll up or fixed side glass) that represents roadsters, roadster pickups, phaetons, and specially built hot rods that resemble a ’37 or older U.S. manufactured roadster). It should also be mentioned that this award is also held for roadsters shown in competition for the first time. To get these amazing builds as much publicity for the builders and manufacturers who participate, the owners may release build photos on social media and in print such as the tech stories we do in Modern Rodding prior to the AMBR competition.

03 red 1932 ford highboy roadster and red 1929 ford highboy roadster
Two of my favorites: left is the ’87-winning Ferrari V-12–powered ’32 Ford highboy roadster owned by James Ells and built at Roy Brizio’s. It is reminiscent of the Burnett/Magoo Deucari that won back in 1979. To the right is the ’29 Ford highboy roadster owned by Dennis Varni featuring Ron Covell scripted sheetmetal with upholstery and paint handled at Boyd Coddington’s shop.

This prestigious award was handed out for the first time to Bill Niekamp with his ’29 Ford roadster now on exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Over the years such notable builders and owner/builders have competed and won America’s oldest and most prestigious of hot rod awards. The likes of Geroge Barris, Lil’ John Buttera, Richard “Magoo” Megugorac, Boyd Coddington, Chip Foose, Ron Covell, Roy Brizio, Troy Trepanier, and Bobby Alloway, to name but a few. To go along with the perpetual trophy is a replica trophy, a jacket, and, of course, the $12,500 check supplied by ARP.

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04 jack chisenhall 1932 ford highboy roadster 2023 ambr winner
Just last year Jack Chisenhall’s ’32 Ford highboy roadster powered by a lil’ Hemi took home top honors. What will win this year?

This is an event that should always be on your “bucket list” regardless of how many times you have shown up. It’s time to show up once more. MR

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