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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.