After two years of delays and cancellations, Detroit’s gearheads finally have something to look forward to.
Autorama, one of the largest and most respected auto shows in the country, returned to Detroit’s Huntington Place on Friday for its 69th annual event. Over 800 personalized cars, trucks and motorcycles will be on display as they compete for the coveted Ridler Award, one of the highest honors in the custom car world.
Named in honor of the show’s original PR director, Don Ridler, the award goes to the car judged by the show’s judges to be the most creative—along with a $10,000 cash prize. Championship Auto Shows President Pete Toundas said that following the cancellation of the 2021 show due to the rising COVID-19 pandemic, he expects competition to be tougher than ever this year.
“People had a lot of time in 2021 to work on their cars, either finish them or rebuild them to make them better,” Toundas said. “The cars will be the stars. People will be absolutely blown away by some of these creations.”
The show is an opportunity for car lovers to get up close and personal with vehicles they’ve seen on TV or in magazines, allowing them to peek under the hood and chat with the car’s owners. Visitors will find restored 1930’s Flatheads, high-end performance vehicles, and everything in between, offering something of interest to virtually every automotive enthusiast.
Dewayne Noble brought his project — an orange Volkswagen display that includes a neon orange classic Beetle and restored family heirlooms — from Reynoldsburg, Ohio for his first Autorama appearance. He worked on the exhibit with his wife, son and daughter, and while they weren’t able to join him on the show, he said the memories his family created putting the project together were priceless.
“We raised our kids to appreciate what you have, regardless of how old it is,” Noble said. “My daughter (is) now a local union welder because she had that hands-on experience. There is a lot of family history here.”
Noble is one of many show contestants who lack formal auto mechanic training. Part of the show’s appeal is that it welcomes hobbyists to exhibit their work alongside big-name professionals – giving customizers a chance to learn from one another.
“To see all these phenomenal looking cars – I’m impressed,” said Noble. “What an honor to be among the greatest car manufacturers and car designers.”
Arguably the biggest name on the show is Chip Foose, the Santa Barbara, California-based star of the reality TV series Overhaulin’, which ran for 9 seasons on TLC. Foose is a legend in the custom car world and has four Ridler awards to his name – more than any other winner. He will spend Friday afternoon at the show signing autographs and taking photos with fans.
More: Check out this restored 1932 Ford at Autorama
Other prominent appearances include Danny Koker and Kevin Mack from the History Channel series Counting Cars, WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Sting and David Ankin, star of the Motor Trend TV series Toymakerz.
While the star power is a big draw, Toundas said another highlight of the show is the 50th anniversary display of Zingers — full-size model cars that were released as DIY kits in the 1970s.
“These things look like Hot Wheels on steroids; You won’t believe how cool they are,” Toundas said. “We decided we were going to have all kinds of zingers built together at once, and I think it’s been (about) 34 years since that happened.”
On the lower level of Huntington Place, visitors will find Autorama Extreme, a “show within a show” featuring more than 200 traditional hot rods inspired by the 1950s. Among them are a 1948 Diamond T, a 1955 F-500 and a 1960 F-100 owned by Trenton resident Jack Burnette, who said the cancellation of last year’s event was such a disappointment that he ended up going to another show because So he was “banged out”.
“I think there’s a lot of catching up to do,” said Toundas. “We are absolutely thrilled to be back.”
The show runs through Sunday, with day tickets starting at $25 for adults and $10 for children under 12. Entry is free for children under the age of 5. Visit autorama.com for more information.
Lauren Wethington is a reporter for Breaking News. You can email her at LGilpin@freepress.com or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.