Among the automotive elite, Detroit’s Cobo Hall is well-known as the home of the North American International Auto Show, one of the premier events on the annual auto show circuit. Yet perhaps only the true Auto Savant realizes that, each year, a little more than a month after NAIAS, Cobo is the site of a similarly world-class automotive exhibition that holds the same position in its part of the universe that the other Detroit auto show maintains for the new-vehicle industry. I’m writing, of course, about Autorama, the long-running hot-rod fest that’s now in its 60th year and wrapped up this past weekend.
Now, I know there’s some snobbism about custom shows, and yes, there is a markedly different ambiance at Autorama as compared to NAIAS. I can tell you, though, there’s certainly no less passion about the cars. Autorama even has its version of the North American Car of the Year prize: The Ridler Award.
The honor is named after Don Ridler, an early promoter of the event who died suddenly in 1963; it goes to the vehicle making its public debut at Autorama while also excelling in terms of creativity, engineering and workmanship. This year, the 49th Ridler Award went to a stunning 1955 Ford Thunderbird owned by Dwayne Peace of Tyler, Tex., and created by a team that included the Torq’d Design Lab (under the direction of Dwayne’s son Jonathan Peace); Greening Auto, located in Nashville; and Paul Atkins Interiors, of Hanceville, Ala.; and Advanced Plating, also in Nashville.
This was without a doubt one of the most sophisticated-looking customs I’ve ever seen, as even though just about every piece of the car was massaged in some way or another, the individual changes themselves were fairly subtle. As a result, the T-Bird doesn’t look like a “typical” hot rod, but instead reminded me of a factory-built concept car that might have graced NAIAS in the early 1960s. The interior was particularly striking, with a clean, minimalist vibe, setoff by excellently executed brightwork, and it perfectly complemented the car’s uncluttered exterior. And speaking of exteriors, my photos really can’t capture how incredible the paint job was. The gleaming red created a nearly hypnotic effect, so that if you stared at it too long you felt as if you were falling into a deep deep pool of maraschino cherries.
Of course, regardless of what the Thunderbird looked like, it definitely had a hot-rod’s engine. On the one hand, in an appropriate example of synchronicity, the powerplant here takes a page from the current Ford playbook by relying on a twin-turbo setup like today’s EcoBoost engines. On the other hand? There’s definitely more “boost” than “eco” going on, as the folks at Gale Banks Engineering have squeezed 1,150 hp out of the Thunderbird’s 6.0-liter V8.
There were hundreds of other cars, trucks and motorcycles on display as well, so be sure to check out the gallery for more pics!
1.-5. Some photos of the Ridler-winning Thunderbird.
6. A glistening blue 1933 Ford Tudor with the requisite flame accents.
7. An exceedingly rare 1934 Hupmobile Cabriolet that wouldn’t have been (too far) out of place at a Concours event.
8. There were plenty of 1932 Fords, but this was one of the nicest.
9. Here’s a 1933 Ford with an interesting take on the Buick porthole theme.
10. This 1953 Chevy pickup was a Ridler finalist.
11. Just indulging my weakness for lowriders … check out those wheels!
12. This 1934 Ford got the polished-metal treatment and really stood out.
13. Another Chevy pickup, from one of our local tuning shops.
14. The Roswell Rod, an homage to the legendary Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, an early icon of custom-car culture and the artist behind the inimitable “Rat Fink” character.
15. The “Imperial Speedster” was developed from a 1959 Chrysler Imperial as a sort of personal concept car.
16. And here’s an actual 1959 Imperial.
17. Originally a 2008 SEMA project to promote BASF paint, this 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL is still making the rounds—and I still love it!
18. The third generation Corvette is by far my favorite; it’s hard to believe this came from Chevrolet.
19. Another rarity: An Olds Cutlass 442 W-30, packing a 455-cubic-inch V8 that originally made 300 hp and 410 lb.-ft. of torque.
20. Living up to its name, this is a 1954 Buick Special.
21. All the way from British Columbia, this 1967 Ford Shelby GT500 was a Ridler finalist.