Detroit Show City – The 69th Meguair’s Detroit Autorama and Ridler Award Presentation
For nearly 70 years, the Detroit Autorama, presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts, has drawn hot rod builders from around the country to gather in Motown and show off their most recent creations. That tradition returned with triumphant energy March 4-6,2022, as the Autorama showcased hundreds of cars and attracted thousands of enthusiasts to help kick off the 2022 show season.
It goes without saying that the previous two years have been extraordinary in testing one’s limits. The 2020 Detroit Autorama was the last show to be held inside downtown’s massive Cobo Center (since renamed twice – it’s currently called Huntington Place) before the lockdown, and it was the first event back in the facility 24 months later, which made it a welcome sight to the people of Detroit. Aided by decent weather, folks flocked by the thousands to see what was new and to voice their own vote on what car should “win the show.”
But besides the cars, there was a lot to see and do over the three-day happening, which started with a parade of celebrities signing autographs. Builder and TV star Chip Foose kicked things off on Friday with a six-hour signing session, followed by the wrestler “Sting,” “Toymakerz’” David Ankin and, closing out the show from TV’s “Count’s Kustoms,” Danny Koker and Kevn Mack.
History is always a big part of this Autorama. A group of Zingers, built by 1968 Ridler winner Chuck Miller using half-scale bodies and full-scale engines, was were meticulously displayed in the same configuration as they were five decades ago to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The 90th anniversary of the ’32 Ford was also observed with a grouping of Deuces, and the annual Cavalcade of Customs had ten sharp-looking vehicles parked together to showcase all things kustom. Tucked into a large corner of the room was the 29th annual Toy-A-Rama (where you could get your fix of rare Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning toys, as well as vintage advertising memorabilia), or you could visit the Heroes of Speed race exhibit that covered past and present race cars or even the Model Car Contest and view well-built scale models of famous cars or any number of wild new creations.
For many years the “show” portion of the Detroit Autorama has been split in two, with an upstairs full of glossy and refined cars and a downstairs (nicknamed the Autorama Extreme) that showcases more rough and ready hot rods. Rusty finishes are not only allowed, they’re encouraged! Incredibly popular, the downstairs show operates as a separate entity, with its own entertainment (rockabilly and Blues Brothers tribute bands), art show (nationally known low-brow artists selling artwork), and awards presentation. Ironically, some of the best-known people from the upstairs world such as fabricators Josh Shaw, Fay Butler, and Ron Covell, to Big Three designers including Larry Erickson and Tom Peters, young gun builders like the Root Brothers (Ryan and David), as well as legendary customizer Darryl Starbird were all handing out awards to the owners of cars they had picked.
But it’s the upstairs show that put the Autorama on the map nearly 70 years ago, and folks can come and see just about every genre of automobile, truck, boat, and race car displayed here. It really is a diverse gathering of everything automotive.
The biggest award, of course, is the nationally known Don Ridler Memorial Award presented by Meguiar’s, named for the early promoter of the show who brought professional car show organization to the group of hot rod clubs that became the Michigan Hot Rod Association. (It’s worth noting that current MHRA president and head Ridler judge, Butch Patrico, celebrated 50 years of Autorama involvement this year). Every year a couple dozen car owners think they have what it takes to win the prize, and those entries are narrowed down to the BASF Great 8, a highly prized level of recognition in itself. From those eight vehicles, one is chosen on Sunday evening to represent the Autorama’s highest level of creativity, engineering, and quality workmanship, and it’s always interesting to see what wins.
After nearly two years without a Detroit Autorama everyone was happy to see it back and up and running and, judging by the large crowds, thousands of car fans were too.
Photos by Eric Geisert