2023 Detroit Autorama

Detroit Does It Again! Highlights From the 70th Meguair’s Autorama

Seven decades is a loonnngg time. 70 years ago, the first color TVs started appearing in a few homes, the Corvette debuted, Swanson introduced the frozen TV dinner, comedian Tim Allen was born, and the first Detroit Autorama was held. Post-World War II hot rodding was also becoming a thing and, as the hobby grew out of its West Coast roots, several other areas in the nation picked up the ball and ran with it.

Rod Parson’s ZR/10 pickup stunned with its all-carbon-fiber ’67 C10 body. Built in partnership with Fiber Forged Composites and Z Rods and Customs, the future autocrosser is purpose-built with a 434ci Moran Motorsports engine and Bowler six-speed paddle-shifted trans. Detroit Speed did the IFS and Quadralink rear on a custom frame and it rolls on Billet Specialties 19-inch wheels.

One group, the Michigan Hot Rod Association, was made up of several very active hot rod clubs in the Detroit area and they collectively wanted to build a racetrack for their souped-up hot rods. To finance the project, they decided to hold a car show and charge admission to create the funds. Little did they know the car show would outlive the racetrack and that the Detroit Autorama would become one of the most prestigious custom car shows in the world.

Jon Hall brought two hot rods to the show (the black American Speed ’33 in the background and the maroon XL-27 roadster up front recently finished in a collaboration with Greening Auto Company). This roadster body is from Shadow Rods, a body manufacturing company Jon owns, and the little tracknose is powered by an aluminum flathead V8 topped with Hilborn-style injection. Hall won the Autorama’s CASI cup this year for his ’27.

Every year the Detroit Autorama has a section of 10 vehicles called the Cavalcade of Customs where traditional custom styling trends are exhibited and there are always some standout vehicles.

Part of its success came from developing an ideal formula for what a wintertime indoor hot rod show should be: live bands playing, vendors selling stuff you need, celebs on hand for autographs, General Motors showing off their latest drivetrains, a huge collectible toy show area and, of course, tons of cars and trucks to check out.

Looking like it came out of some famous hot rodder’s shop, this C10 is actually an all-electric concept vehicle built in-house at General Motors that debuted at the 2019 SEMA Show. Called the E10, it generates 450hp with a 0-60 time of about 5 seconds.

Held at downtown’s Huntington Place (formally Cobo Hall) and presented by O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, the show has two main areas of concern: an upstairs (for all-out show cars) and the downstairs (for the not-so-glossy ones). It’s said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and that’s what you find in the basement of the Detroit Autorama. What started years ago as an anti-gloss version of what is found upstairs, the Autorama Extreme gives space to those who embrace cars that may not have 10,000 hours of build time or a million-dollar budget, but they definitely have an attitude.

Don Snell’s ’33 Ford is a balance of elegance and mad power as his Speed 33 convertible roadster body has been outfitted with a Jon Kasse Boss Nine engine that works out to 520 cubic inches.

Roosterz Rod Shop in Clearwater, FL, gave the Twelve Pack nickname to their ’31 Mercury roadster truck that had many custom features (like a floating yoke rear suspension for the quickchange rear) to go along with the wood seats and floor.

This year the Autorama also acknowledged its heritage by have special parking for cars of George Barris (the Munster TV cars and a Batmobile), a reunion of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s custom creations (such as Tweedy Pie and the Orbitron), and a hometown remembrance of the Alexander Brothers with an eight-car field that included the famous Deora (the 1967 Ridler winner).

What was a ’65 Dodge A100 pickup was transformed into the Deora by famed customers Mike and Larry Alexander (the A Brothers) based on a Harry Bentley Bradley design. The vehicle won the Ridler award in 1967 and the pickup was part of an eight car display honoring the brother’s history of building custom cars.

Every year Detroit also celebrates traditional custom car culture with a 10-car display, and they also hold an art auction in the back of the massive hall featuring work by pinstripers who come in from all over the country to participate and create artwork on the spot. Celebrity interaction has also been a part of Detroit’s long history and this year’s autograph sessions included Dave Kindig from TV’s “Bitchin’ Rides,” actor (and onetime Fonz) Henry Winkler, and rapper Flavor Flav.

Steele Rubber Products sponsors the Autorama’s Preservation Award, which went to Tony Bartone for his reproduction of Connie Kalitta’s ’64 Bounty Hunter Top Fuel dragster (Kalitta being the first to run 200mph at the ’64 U.S. Nationals in the original rail at that event).

Show entries from Canada are fairly common but not too many come from the other side of the world. New Zealand’s Greg Haliday made the 8,500+ mile trip to bring his all-steel ’41 Willys Americar coupe, which had a 10:71 BDS blower atop a Ray Barton 472 Hemi under its hood. Despite the engine’s message, the interior and trunk were elegantly finished.

But the real celebrities of the show are the cars themselves and here you can find everything from scissor-door C8 Corvettes to ’23 Ford T-buckets and everything between. About 800 or so vehicles are displayed, and many attend hoping to be accepted into competition for the show’s highest honor, the Don Ridler Memorial Award, presented by Meguiar’s. Hopeful owners and builders qualify first by being picked to be a part of the BASF Great 8 and then, by late Sunday, a winner is determined from those eight to receive the title of Ridler Winner, the Ridler trophy, and a check for $10,000.

It’s a tradition the Autorama has upheld since the first Ridler award was handed out in 1964, and the competition draws well-known rod builders from around the country (and a few from outside the U.S.), as well as up-and-coming first-timers to what many consider to be one of the biggest stages in hot rodding.


New Jersey’s Luigi Deriggi found his ’50 Merc for sale online in Wisconsin and brought it home in 2013. It was a dream car for him, ever since he saw the Merc Sylvester Stallone drove in the movie Cobra. But before he’d start on it, he was having some paint work done on his ’68 Mustang by Bruce Harvey (from Pro Comp Custom in Glenshaw, PA) who was also building what would become last year’s Ridler winner – the chopped red ’31 Chevy Coupe called ShoBird.

2023 Detroit Autorama, 2023 ridler winner

Luigi and his friend Joey Gambino had started on the car with making some parts and pieces, but it sat in a warehouse before Luigi discussed making it a Ridler contender with Harvey.

Pro Comp took it through the next several levels with the addition of an Art Morrison chassis before modifying the body by performing a 5.5-inch chop, reshaping the nose and wheel arches, and adding Mercedes headlights. The drivetrain consists of a Coyote engine regulated by a Holley computer setup and a Borla stack injection system that runs back to a polished and chromed Winters quickchange (because Luigi was tired of always seeing Ford 9-inch rearends).

Custom valve covers, a handmade grille, and one-off door hinges were also made, and big HRBB billet wheels (20×10 and 22×10) are found on the car’s corners. After Harvey swapped out the Merc dash for something more contemporary, Paul Atkins was called upon to finish the bucket seats and the rest of the interior in different shades of tan leather.

In April of 2020 Deriggi caught a severe form of COVID and wasn’t expected to live, but he persevered and pulled through, and is now happy to see his car finished, a Ridler trophy with his name on it, and a long list of car shows he intends to take his ride to in the future.

2023 Detroit Autorama, 2023 ridler winner

Photos by Eric Geisert

A self-taught photojournalist, Eric Geisert worked for 3 years at VW Trends magazine before joining Street Rodder magazine in 1991. In 2002 he was named one of The 50 Who Made A Difference at the 50th Detroit Autorama and, in 2004, was named editor of Kit Car magazine, a 30-year-old title. By 2006 a move back to Street Rodder came with a Senior Editor position and, in 2007, Eric was inducted into the Circle of Champions, the Detroit Autorama's Hall of Fame. In 2013, at 52 years old, Eric became a freelance writer supplying articles and photography to publications around the world, which allows him to work on his collection of 12 or so cars that includes a ’34 five-window Ford coupe, a '32 Ford roadster, a reproduction '59 Lotus 11, a 356 Porsche speedster, a '55 Chevy 210, and a '59 Karmann Ghia. Over his career, Eric's photographic images have graced 300 magazine covers and he’s written literally thousands of automotive-related articles.