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Report from the Field: AutoRama 2011
AutoRama rolls into Detroit each February. And when I say it rolls, I mean it rolls. Over 500 hot rods, customs and muscle cars are driven or trailered to Detroit’s Cobo Hall. The show fills two levels of exhibit space. Many of the cars are local
Detroit and Michigan enthusiasts, and yes, these beauties get driven to the show, even in winter, in the Big D. Cobo Hall (named after a former Mayor of the city) is home of the North American International Auto Show in January. The “Auto Show” as we affectionately refer to it here, showcases the new releases and concept cars direct from manufacturers. Their display areas are lavish with carpet, wood flooring, interactive exhibits and lavish media exposure.
Not so, the Auto Rama. Originally a winter break, swap meet for parts, such as now vintage Edelbrock valve covers and intake manifolds, the Auto Rama served as the sign up session for the upcoming drag racing season at Detroit Dragway. Local car club members arrived in their hot rods and street machines. There are no glam displays here, just bare cement floors and just enough roping to keep the too curious from overlooking the “please do not touch” signs.
Today’s venue tours the country, displaying custom cars competing for the coveted “Riddler Award” and visited by the likes of George Barris and Chip Foose. The show has a far reaching audience, and includes the antique toy and die cast sales area, vendor (parts and services) area, motorcycles and bicycle show, lots of automotive art on display and for sale. Notably, the annual pin striping contest and auction raises money for charity, this year, leader dogs. Perhaps the most interesting part of the display is in the downstairs exhibit hall. The Extreme AutoRama.
During my annual pilgrimage to the AutoRama, in quest of Thunderbirds and Mopars, I spied some modified little birds and one 1965 Thunderbird, and no retro birds. AutoRama does not disappoint. The antique toy show and sale is always a treat, and new comers are easily spotted, as they exclaim, “I had one of those when I was a kid!” The bicycle and motorcycle areas are complete with custom made 2 and 3 wheel creations with deep metal flake paint jobs and lavish ornate chrome and metal work. Among the vendors were Ford, Gm and Mopar performance groups, a variety of aftermarket parts vendors and sweet roasted almonds vendors. The aroma and sweet almonds and the distinct smell of pin striping enamel lets you know this is a car space extraordinaire. You can watch the pin striping artisans at work. They don’t visit much while they concentrate on their craft, but between brush strokes they are cordial and dismiss much flattery regarding heir work as, “no big deal.”
Among cars on display there is a strong mix of real drag cars from the 1960’s…Mopars especially with the wheel base altered and super stock name plates I remember seeing race at Detroit Dragway as a teenager. Custom cars are here too. Wild body lines, bold metallic colors, in paint jobs so rich and deep you’d think you could stick your finger into it. Plated everything from brake drums, and suspension parts, to theme shaped bumpers. The interiors are deeply upholstered and set up with custom made dash and consoles. Current custom projects display across the country on the tour, as well as “restored” customs from days gone by. I had always wondered how old fiberglass and body fill held up on those old show cars in California from the mid 1960’s. From what I’ve been told, many of those old customs found their way into a barns and warehouses for hibernation (40 years worth) as the hobby wrenched and redefined itself, for those cars, only to be discovered, as the new, “barn find.”
There are not many low rider, hydraulic lifter type cars at this show. The preponderance is clearly muscle, and new entries (Mustang, Camaro and Challenger) highly tuned by aftermarket vendors, join the display.
A special display this year included Hollywood star cars. The Ghost buster ambulance, Monkee Mobile, Starsky and Hutch Torino and the Green Hornets (TV series) Imperial took over the center display area,
The entire show smacks of testosterone, though many women attend and have their own cars on display. True to its origins, the show links to horsepower, but an honest interpretation of the experience is “Autos as Art.”
I spotted Challengers here. A half dozen 1970 and 1971’s for sure. Some had been restored and others had bigger modern crate engines installed. One has the big 24 inch wheels and short side wall tires. It looks like one of those DUB 1:18 scale die cast cars. Not my fav, but I give credit for workmanship and mechanics. Several new Challengers were on hand, and a stop to the Mopar traveling merchandise trailer, and the die cast toy show emptied my wallet and added significant finds to my collection. Challenger has not fallen victim much to the low rider hydraulics, DUB and Heavy Hitters, lambo doors, tall tires look…and I for one am glad. I spied a half dozen new Challengers and photos will follow. Among them were the 512 (viper V 10, 512 signifying the CID) Drag Pak, a Blue IE 392, which I took a spy photo from back room prior to display. A Challenger from a local race track, with pace car graphics. I spoke to the Jeg’s Rep and asked about their Drag Pak Challenger and was told it was being modified for the upcoming season. Spade customs displayed a car. In the Motown alley the new Ramchargers Drag Pak was posed next to the original 1960’s era Ramchargers competitor.
At the die cast and toy show I acquired:
AMT 1:24 scale plastic models preassembled: 2010 SRT8 Panther Pink, 2010 Detonator RT Classic, blue (sort of B5 ) SRT8 and a Deep Tidewater Blue RT Classic.
Hot wheels metallic Green (before we know about Viper Green or Green With Envy) 08 SRT with sunroof (guys I can’t believe I missed this one! There is a similar non metallic green (sub lime), with no sunroof!!!
AMT 1:24 kits; 2010 red SRT8 and Blue RT classic
Maisto 1:18 special edition in black with yellow graphics and wheels
Hwy 61 2008 production SRT in silver (still looking for Orange, Black and White)
Mopar T shirts; 1970 on front/09 on back
New; grey shirt, front says “a stock Challenger is fast” (orange RT pictured), back says “Mopar (performance parts) makes it Bad ass” (Mopar 10 pictured)
New orange with silhouette outline of rear ¾ view driving away
New Mopar w/ Drag Pak pictured.
Which leads me to the other show…the Extreme AutoRama. In many ways, better than the uber polished refined cars upstairs, where the panels are so straight and smooth, that the unforgiving high gloss black paint jobs, have nothing to hide or forgive. Downstairs the show is considerably ‘grittier’ as evidenced by the unwashed cars of the local club. To vision these cars, think, rat rod, old school, vintage Edelbrock nameplates on parts, flat head engines, louvers, “Drag Strip Girl” drive in movies and “Hot Rods from Hell” sort of thing. The image fills with the look of an unfinished or ‘junky’ jalopy, but in reality, these, one of a kinds, are kindred spirit of an entire culture. The weathered graphics on trucks that would have signified a former commercial use, and the flat finish and rust brown texture, with rough welded chopped tops, are not of distress, but of intentional and deliberate and skilled craftsmanship…it’s done that way on purpose. Think of high school welding class projects. Mostly, one sees roadsters from the 20’s and 30’s. Many of those were also languishing barn finds, as well as many all original, untouched survivors from the 50‘s and 60‘s (showing the appropriate patina of wear, rust and repair).
And there is culture here. While upstairs the grey beards clearly outnumber the demographic of any other enthusiast group, in the basement is a mix of 20 some things and their small children, grey beards and more women than in the big show. And the culture. Out of place are guys like me with no piercing or tattoos. Among the women, think, pin up girls, Betty Paige, black hair, bangs and bandanas with the knot tied in front…sort of like the Rosie the Riveter look. This is one friendly group of enthusiasts. There are no roped off areas and no “do not touch signs,” The men and women are outgoing and quick to visit about their art, their car and their fashion. Think skull shift knobs and pin striping, think smart, creative and hard working! Old school gear heads in a younger man’s (and woman’s) body. There were no rat rod Thunderbirds of any generation here, save the survivor 65 I saw with the club display.
I encourage you to visit the Motor city for AutoRama. Hotel accommodations range from the pricy, elegant Renaissance Marriott next door to Cobo Hall, or the brand new Motor City, MGM Grand or Greektown hotel and Casino complexes, or the clean, safe inexpensive Sleep Inn near my house, an 11 minute drive from downtown. The show runs a three day weekend. I attend on Friday afternoon when the doors open at noon. There is a website for the show. With enough notice, I welcome you to Motown, and will help with local arrangements and some sight seeing.
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