Perhaps I need a new job – 2012 Autorama

Those of us who live in the southeast Michigan area get a special treat each winter in the form of a car show at Cobo (and no, I am not talking about the North American International Auto Show).  It is not just any show, but a wild intersection of the vast and diverse car cultures that come from the hearts and souls of certified car-nuts.  This is our second year covering Autorama (you can read last year’s report here), and for the second year in a row I picked the Ridler Award winner right off the bat.  Perhaps I should consider a career change – does anybody handicap car shows on TV like Demetrius George Synodinos did for sporting events?  Unfortunately I don’t think that Frank The German has the proper ring to it.

Dean Jeffries' Mantaray

Every weekend visit to downtown Detroit should include a side-trip to the Eastern Market and this trip was no different.  After walking around the show floor whetting your appetite, a grilled steak from the Gratiot Central Market is the perfect ending to the perfect day.  Unlike last year I did not get the pleasure of parking on the roof which means I ended up in a parking garage a few blocks away.  The down side is there are usually a bunch of cool cars on the roof and I really enjoy people who drive their project cars to events (not a big fan of trailer queens or garage queens).  So my first automotive visual of the day was walking in and seeing the MantarayEven if you are not aware of Edward Dean Jeffries (he was soft spoken and not a self-promoter like some others) you most likely know some things he brought to our hobby – he brought his particular form of pinstriping back from Germany after a stint in the army (and worked along side Kenneth Howard) and was well know for lettering and pinstriping cars at the Indy 500, he painted “Little Bastard” on the back of James Dean’s Porsche, he was the first guy to successfully spray metalflake paint and we could go on.

2012 Ridler Award Winner - Dwayne Pearce's '55 T-Bird

Next up were the Pirelli Great 8 and no car stood out more than Dwayne Pearce’s awesome 1955 T-Bird.  I knew right off that this car was special, and mentioned it to my trusty show companion (no, The Stud was unable to attend this year).  The color combination was perfect and it was modified in a unbelievably classy manner (the grille was especially fetching).  This is not an easy thing to do, many custom cars that are built include a few too many modifications.  Restraint does not seem to be a personality trait of people involved in the custom car hobby.  It seems I am not the only one who feels this way – check out The Torque News here to see what others have to say.

1964 Pontiac GTO Pro-Touring

To understand what I mean about restraint, take a look at the Sabretooth GTO from Penfound Design.  I love the exterior, another example of exquisite restraint and class when customizing a vehicle.  Unfortunately the interior just doesn’t do it for me.  Perhaps its just a matter of the color combination, or it could be the amount of detail found in the interior, or quite possible I have no taste.  But I feel a custom car should communicate the same thing on the outside and inside – and if the outside is done in a clean style, then you perhaps shouldn’t pick such a complex seating pattern to go along with it.  But the 3×2 setup gets definite bonus points (I am ashamed to tell you how many of these I sold in the 80s for a couple of hundred bucks a set).

1938 Lincoln Zephyr Coupe

Even though I am a fan of the whole Pro-Touring movement, I can also appreciate other genres of car customizing.  For example, this 1938 Lincoln Zephyr owned by Robert Latuso really caught my eye.  Any chance we get the current Lincoln brand management team to bring back this Lincoln vibe?

1955 Chevrolet Pickup 350

Displays are now as custom as the cars

Car customizing can be serious, but it also can be fun.  And in the case of “fun” you can toss that comment about restraint I made earlier out the window.  Such was the case with this really nice 1955 Chevrolet Pickup “grown” by Gary and Flo Garman.  Once they chose the Watermelon theme and color scheme it was a short trip to bring some fun details to the various components on the car like the radiator paint and the one-off air cleaner above.  These days not only are cars on display, but some owners have built a display that mimics the appearance of the car.  Many displays also have a multimedia screen that tell the story of the project, from pictures of the car before the modifications to documenting the work involved to the team responsible.

1969 Mercury Cyclone II Dan Gurney Edition

1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird

Autorama has a little something for everyone.  Not into Pro-Touring, or other forms of customization?  Then there are always a bunch on nicely restored muscle cars on display like this 1969 Mercury Cyclone II Spoiler Dan Gurney Edition.  These cars were produced with an extra 19 inches of sheet metal in front of the front wheels to improve the aerodynamics and help Mercury’s NASCAR teams fight the winged warriors from Chrysler.  According to this post, only 218 Dan Gurney Editions were made making it the rarest of all the aero cars.

1959 B/Gas Dragster

Slingshot Sally

Interested in vintage race cars?  Or how about cars that look like vintage race cars.  Check out Slingshot Sally’s Facebook page here.  I want a ride!

Gravelton Customs

Guardrail Wing

Chain Shift

Not all custom cars are built to the “nth-degree”.  Many are permanently frozen in the half-finished state that reflects the “I am young and money-is-tight ethos” from the earlier days of hod rodding.  Along with that is the whole junk yard dog mentality of car mods.  Perhaps my favorite detail from the whole show was the use of a guardrail as the spoiler on this monstrosity. Second favorite had to be the bicycle chain mechanism for shifting the transmission.

The Twistin' Trantulas

Autorama features something for everybody.  Love Doo-Wop or Rock-a-billy music?  Have a toy car fetish?  Want to meet a WWE Superstar like Rey Mysterio?  Need some cool or custon automotive art?  Here are a few more pictures from the show to show you what I am talking about.

Rock-a-Billy Music Fan

Hot Rod Rendering by Chris Horning

Want to be a Car Designer?

I had a Fire truck when I was a kid - What do kids today have?

In the end, one thing is clear; the custom car scene has grown over the years to include so many different styles and themes its hard to keep up.  But you can visit an Autorama event near you and get a little taste of pretty much everything.   presentation of the theme of the car.

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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