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The 57th Annual Murray O’ Reilly Auto Parts Autorama – 57th Detroit Autorama
You wouldn’t know it from recent news reports, but the TV and radio reporters have got it all wrong. Detroit isn’t dead. The spirit of the Motor City is alive and well and it was on display at the 57th annual Murray’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Autorama, presented by Meguiar’s.
Over a three-day weekend, thousands upon thousands poured into the Cobo Exhibition Center, the 700,000-square-foot convention facility located in downtown Detroit, Michigan, to check out the latest from hot rod builders from all over the United States and Canada.
Owned by the Michigan Hot Rod Association and produced by Championship Auto Shows, Inc. the Autorama has come a long way in its nearly six decade existence. Initially formed to fund the building of a local race track for hot rodders, the show has grown to what some believe is the most important car show in the country.
That feeling is due, in part, to the creation of the Don Ridler Memorial Award, which was named for an early promoter of the show. Nowadays the Ridler, given to a vehicle that emphasizes exemplary levels of creativity, engineering, and workmanship, has become one of the most sought-after trophies a car owner can attain.
In some years, there seems to be an obvious winner as soon as the announcement on Friday afternoon of the Pirelli Great 8 (what the group of eight contenders for the Ridler each year are called), but this year the competition was close. Featured on www.streetrodderweb.com, each of the Pirelli Great 8 all looked like winners, but the eventual top dog was Doug Cooper and his 1932 B400 that was built at Alan Johnson’s hot rod shop in Gadsden, Alabama. At first glance the Deuce was about as clean a build as you’d ever want but, upon closer inspection, there were literally dozens and dozens of refinements and modifications that made this car like no other, and a deserving recipient of one of the nation’s top prizes in rod building.
Some of the other reasons this show is so successful is there is also a lot to do besides look at the 700 or so cars on display. Customizer (and Bubble Top King) Darryl Starbird was the 2009 Builder of the Year, and he had many of his creations at the event (see page 60 for more on Starbird). One of the most recognized T-buckets in history, the Kookie Car, is so famous it has spawned several clones of it over the years, and one of the best was featured in a special area of the show along with Norm Grabowski, the `50s TV star who is generally acknowledged as the father of the custom T-bucket.
Another attraction was The Motor City Auto Arts Pinstriper Charity Jam, which is a carry over from past panel jams where dozens of pinstripers from across the country donate their time and artwork (much of it created during the show in front of spectators) to a worthy charity (this year it was Leader Dogs for the Blind) and money is raised through an auction of the artwork (see page 48 for more on the auction).
The show is one of seven events STREET RODDER will team with Ford Racing to find the Best Ford in a Ford. Three cars from each event will be picked by a representative from both Ford Racing and the magazine that best represents the hobby and, though some of the top finalists will receive a prize package, the winner will receive a new crate engine from Ford Racing. Rules, requirements, and the list of shows where the awards will be presented can be found on www.streetrodderweb.com.
And, if the acres of hot rods and cool customs wasn’t enough for you, you could travel back in time and hit the basement of Cobo Center, which is where 100 or so beater and traditional type of rods were parked in a show-within-a-show. The Autorama was one of the first indoor car shows in the country to recognize these hardcore hot rods with a place of their own, and the location has a historical significance, too: it was where the first Autorama at Cobo was held back in 1964. Awards were presented (such as the Hard Luck Trophy and the King of Kustom award) and rock-a-billy bands played, and it was a completely different scene than what was going on up the escalator and in the main hall.
Kids are also taken care of at the Autorama with appearances of famous TV and movie cars (such as Speed Racer Mach 5 and two cars from K.I.T.T.), and older folks got to meet and greet Chip Foose and Chris Jacobs from TV’s Overhaulin’ or ogle (or at least get an autograph from) Carolyn Savage.
There were book signings, seminars, and autograph sessions all around the show, but one of the best functions to happen was done before the event was even open to the public. On Friday morning a group of roughly 600 students from surrounding high schools attended a seminar with a guest speaker that has their roots in the automotive aftermarket (everyone from Chip Foose and Troy Trepanier to IHRA drag racers have been featured speakers in the past), and then the kids get into the show to check out the cars before the public does. Many of these pre-adults have never seen cars made before 1960 in person, and many are impressed with what they see. People always wonder “Where are the kids of tomorrow going to get the chance to experience hot rodding?” but it happens at 11 of the shows the ISCA sponsors all around the country.
So it’s safe to say whether you’re a kid or just a kid at heart, the Detroit Autorama is always worth a visit, so start planning a trip–the 58th annual Detroit Autorama is less than 10 months away!