Through the weekend of February 26-28, the annual Detroit Autorama presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts lit up the Cobo Center for yet another cutting-edge custom car show. This year I stepped back into the spotlights and shimmering reflections on shiny paint, metal-flake and spotless chrome with a mission: to share my Autorama experience with the world.
No expense was spared on cars featured at Autorama. And many contestants entered to win the honorable Ridler Award presented by Chevrolet Performance, but only eight finalists, the “Great 8,” made it into judging. The lineup included a luxurious 1961 Chevrolet Bubbletop wagon, a graceful ‘38 Graham, a ‘41 Ford pickup respectively named “Mirage,” a mouth-watering ‘52 Mercedes, an all-steel ‘37 Ford Coupe, a radical red ‘40 Willys and even a pleasantly purple 1976 Ford Falcon from Western Australia. Competition was stiff, and each build could have easily taken the Ridler award, but this year’s honor went to Billy Thomas from Georgetown, Tex., and his elegant 1939 Oldsmobile convertible.
This event defines the term ‘eye candy’, and I managed to weave through every single aisle, a point of pride considering all of the brain-stimulating distractions. From one side a 1940 Mercury Coupe featuring a gasp-worthy sparkling yellow paint job with highlights, accentuating its seductive curves, beckoned. Across the aisle, a nosed, decked and shaved ‘53 Caddy that gave new meaning to the term “heavy metal” with its 427-ci LS7 engine, screamed for attention. Before heading to the basement, I passed through the model car and automobilia vendors, waved hello to the pinstripe Charity Panel Jam artists and stopped for a quick bite to eat.
“Glorious” and “basement” are two words that are rarely seen together, but Autorama is an exception. While I made my way to where the driver cars rule, the escalator was packed with amped-up hot rodding enthusiasts who were anxious to see the rough-and-tuff basement builds. It is where all the action lives: Gene Winfield was welding away in the Chop Shop, classy gals were anxiously awaiting the pinup competition and vendors with everything from breathtaking artwork to one-of-a-kind hot rod memorabilia sat proudly behind extensive displays. The smell of old car swirled up my nostrils as I ogled over cars like the late Mike “Chico” Stewart’s original 1953 Plymouth gasser and “Chevamoco,” an original restored racecar that ran on the Detroit Dragway.
Feet and mind weary, the exit called. Before the four-hour drive back home, I of course made one last pit stop. I had to say “hi” to the girls at the Throttle Gals booth and pick up my ritual t-shirt purchase.
Just like that, the weekend passed in a flash. Fortunately, we have many photos allowing the event to live on just a little bit longer, until next year.