A week or so ago, we returned from a whirlwind trip to the Motor City. The visit centered on the 63rd Detroit Autorama, which once again proved to be a stellar event thanks to the folks at Meguiar’s, Summit Racing Equipment, the ISCA, Championship Auto Shows, and the Michigan Hot Rod Association. That’s quite a mouthful with all those sponsors, but that’s what it takes to pull off a show of this magnitude! While we were in town we also dropped in on a few landmark Detroit companies, both new and old, caught up with some hot rod pals from around the country, and had the opportunity to check out a fine array of rods, customs, and racecars.

 

At the front of the Hilton Hot Rods/Ross Racing Engines display were the chopped ’30 Model A coupes of Ross owner Tony Lombardi, with the blown Olds in the foreground, and Sacramento Ford dealer Ray Enos, which runs a supercharged Y-block Ford.

At the front of the Hilton Hot Rods/Ross Racing Engines display were the chopped ’30 Model A coupes of Ross owner Tony Lombardi, with the blown Olds in the foreground, and Sacramento Ford dealer Ray Enos, which runs a supercharged Y-block Ford.

 

Chip Foose won his fourth Ridler award with this radically customized '65 Chevy Impala, "Impostor." Not a panel went untouched before the shortened body was transplanted onto a modified late model Corvette chassis. The Impostor is owned by Canadian rodders Don and Elma Voth.

Chip Foose won his fourth Ridler award with this radically customized ’65 Chevy Impala, “Impostor.” Not a panel went untouched before the shortened body was transplanted onto a modified late model Corvette chassis. The Impostor is owned by Canadian rodders Don and Elma Voth.

The upstairs at Cobo Center was filled with all manner of show cars, and the traditional hot rods and customs on display were impressive. From Galpin Auto Sports’ “Grasshopper” T roadster to Al Bergler’s Cadillac-powered ’40 Ford convertible custom and Bill Bierman’s “Leprechaun” Nostalgia Top Fueler, there was a little something for everyone. The Ridler award always brings out some wild entries, and this year Chip Foose took top honors with his extensively modified ’65 Chevy “Impostor” custom, which was a testament to Chip and his team’s craftsmanship. The Imposter was displayed alongside a nice, original ’65 Impala to help illustrate the dramatic transformation (and the original looked like prime mild custom material itself!)

Inaugural Ridler winner and consummate hot rodder Al Bergler was on hand with his ’40 Ford convertible. It was nicely customized with shaved trim, a Carson-style top, ’41 Studebaker taillights, and a dual-quad Cadillac to complement ’53 Cad wheel covers.

Inaugural Ridler winner and consummate hot rodder Al Bergler was on hand with his ’40 Ford convertible. It was nicely customized with shaved trim, a Carson-style top, ’41 Studebaker taillights, and a dual-quad Cadillac to complement ’53 Cad wheel covers.

Downstairs at Cobo was the Autorama Extreme exhibit, which featured everything from traditional rods and customs to live rockabilly bands. We’ve always enjoyed checking out the stark, innovative cars on display in Cobo’s basement, but we thought it was interesting how the delineation between the cars seen upstairs versus those downstairs is getting blurrier each year. Many cars upstairs, though detailed to a T, have the traditional, bare-knuckle spirit championed at the Autorama Extreme. And much of what we saw downstairs exhibited the kind of craftsmanship and attention to detail we’re used to seeing on some of the finest show cars.

This full-fendered Deuce roadster had a nice ’60s vibe, from its well-dressed 409 Chevy and Moon-style fuel tank to the chrome reverse steel wheels and thin redline tires.

This full-fendered Deuce roadster had a nice ’60s vibe, from its well-dressed 409 Chevy and Moon-style fuel tank to the chrome reverse steel wheels and thin redline tires.

The Hot Rod Industry Alliance hosted a number of seminars throughout the weekend in an effort to invite and encourage the throngs of people in attendance to become more involved with the hobby. We had a good time catching up with builders like Dave Lane, Jesse Greening, and Bobby Alloway after they participated in an HRIA panel discussion on Saturday afternoon. And during the show we also became better acquainted with other builders like Bobby Hilton, who has teamed up with Ross Racing Engines on a group of wicked Model A coupes that we’ll be featuring in an upcoming issue of TRJ.

There were a number of cool entries in the Cavalcade of Customs, but we were particularly impressed with Minnesota hot rodder John Thorpe’s mild custom ’57 Olds. The unusual two-tone brown paint worked perfectly with the air bagged stance and thin whitewalls.

There were a number of cool entries in the Cavalcade of Customs, but we were particularly impressed with Minnesota hot rodder John Thorpe’s mild custom ’57 Olds. The unusual two-tone brown paint worked perfectly with the air bagged stance and thin whitewalls.

Although we could have spent every minute at Cobo taking in the show (and probably still would have missed something), we did make it out to Dearborn to see what the folks at Ford Restoration Parts are up to. They’re the division that oversees all of the licensed manufacturers of reproduction Ford parts, like United Pacific and their Deuce five-window bodies. It’s amazing just how many reproductions parts are available, from the ’30s forward. And we were surprised to learn just how many reproduction parts, especially from the ’50s, ’60s, and later, are made from original Ford tooling. Ford Reproduction Parts and their licensed manufacturers have some pretty exciting projects in the works that are sure to appeal to TRJ readers. Stay tuned for more on that.

Rich Guasco’s Fuel Altereds have been raising hell for decades, and this year was no different. Driver Brian Hope kicked off the Autorama Friday morning with a massive “Pure Hell”-style burnout down Jefferson Street in front of Cobo Center.

Rich Guasco’s Fuel Altereds have been raising hell for decades, and this year was no different. Driver Brian Hope kicked off the Autorama Friday morning with a massive “Pure Hell”-style burnout down Jefferson Street in front of Cobo Center.

We also visited the manufacturing facility of Shinola, a Detroit-based company making some really cool, handmade watches, leather goods, and bikes. We’ve been fans of their products since we first saw them a couple of years ago, and we wanted to see what made them tick, so to speak. Their factory, located directly adjacent to the old GM headquarters on Milwaukee Avenue, houses row after row of watchmakers and leather craftsmen assembling each watch by hand in a slick, smart assembly line arrangement.

The Detroit Road Devils were out in force in the basement of Cobo. Shown here is Zach Fox’s in-progress ’50 Chevy panel truck, with its 2x2-fed inline 6-cylinder tucked into a nicely detailed engine bay. We heard about Zach while touring the factory of Detroit-based watch, bike, and leather-goods manufacturer Shinola.

The Detroit Road Devils were out in force in the basement of Cobo. Shown here is Zach Fox’s in-progress ’50 Chevy panel truck, with its 2×2-fed inline 6-cylinder tucked into a nicely detailed engine bay. We heard about Zach while touring the factory of Detroit-based watch, bike, and leather-goods manufacturer Shinola.

Watchmakers Stefan Mihoc and Jalil Kizy gave us a peek at some of the new watches they were working on while we were there before we headed down the street to Shinola’s flagship store. A chance conversation with the store manager revealed that one of the company’s designers, Zach Fox, is a hot rodder who had a car on display back at Cobo. It turns out that in addition to building some pretty cool lowrider-influenced customs, Zach is a prolific artist and furniture designer. We’ll have more on him in the future as well.

After touring the Shinola factory, we stopped in their flagship store on Canfield Street. We couldn’t help but notice the similarity between the hand-stamped plaques adorning their watch packaging and the land speed racing timing tags we’re all familiar with.

After touring the Shinola factory, we stopped in their flagship store on Canfield Street. We couldn’t help but notice the similarity between the hand-stamped plaques adorning their watch packaging and the land speed racing timing tags we’re all familiar with.

 

While the watches and leather goods are largely assembled in their plant a few minutes away, Shinola bikes are built in their flagship store. The exposed brick walls, polished concrete floors, and sturdy metal fixtures nicely replicated Motor City’s industrial heritage. It’s good to see companies reinvesting in cities like Detroit.

While the watches and leather goods are largely assembled in their plant a few minutes away, Shinola bikes are built in their flagship store. The exposed brick walls, polished concrete floors, and sturdy metal fixtures nicely replicated Motor City’s industrial heritage. It’s good to see companies reinvesting in cities like Detroit.

Despite sub-zero temperatures and more than a little snow on the ground, we couldn’t have had a better time in Detroit. We’d like to thank all of you who caught up with us to say hello, and to congratulate the ISCA, Championship Auto Shows, the Michigan Hot Rod Association, and the rest of the folks behind the scenes for putting together another excellent Autorama.