It's the second biggest car show held each year in Detroit's Cobo Hall, and while the lighting and display poshness suffer badly by comparison with that Other Show, the vehicles are equally interesting--if you can appreciate automotive artistry applied ex-works. AutoRama is one of the premier events at which to display customized cars, owing largely to the prestigious Ridler Award. Named for Don Ridler, a sports hall-of-famer and event promoter who did much to elevate the status of the AutoRama during the 1950s, the award is presented to the best built, most creative customized car making its world debut at AutoRama. We'll show you several of the finalists and you can match your tastes with the judges'.
1955 Chrysler Wagon
Call it the Nomad Chrysler never built but may wish it had. This gorgeous Ridler finalist is barely recognizable as a Chrysler by anything other than its grille and fender lines. The entire rest of the bodywork is totally new, as envisioned and fabricated by Team Revolution. At least it still runs on Chrysler Hemi power.
1960 Rambler "Ferrambo"
Okay, this one gets my vote for the Ridler award. How cool is it to take a frumpy Nash Rambler two-door wagon, give it the face of a Ferrari Lusso, and the drivetrain of a wrecked 2002 Ferrari 360 Modena? It even has custom carbon ceramic brakes and custom fitted luggage packaged under the hood where the pitiful straight-six used to live. Will the owner ever drive it? "I hope so, we went to a lot of trouble making the suspension and brakes work," replied a representative of Divers Street Rods.
1932 Ford "Willett Special"
The purists are all pulling for this one to take Ridler honors. This is as faithful a representation of the roots of car customizing as you'll find on the floor at Cobo. Built to evoke the dry-lake racing era "specials" it employs a '50s aesthetic inspired most directly by the Vogel and Max Balchowski lightweight '32 roadsters. Power, however, comes from a thoroughly modern Viper V-10.
1936 Ford Ute
Perhaps this would be our Aussie boss's pick, as it was originally built as an Australian Ford Ute-one of 118 ever built. It was found in terribly derelict shape, missing most of its parts after several restoration attempts had been started. Then it was shipped to Gerald's Hot Rods in Indiana and transformed into what you see now, powered by a 502 horsepower GM 454 crate motor and a five-speed 700 R-4 transmission.
1948 Triumph "Trium-Phant"
Another favorite of mine on the show floor was this quirky little British oddball, built as a 13-year labor of love by a local South Lyon, Michigan enthusiast. The original bodywork, which was a bit too tall and overly formal for the car's short overall length has been handsomely lowered and re-sculpted, preserving the essence of the original but vastly improving the proportions. Power comes from a Chrysler Hemi, and the entire front clip motors up to show it off.
1931 Ford Tudor Sedan "Witchy Woman"
This is how they used to build customs: Chopped six inches, channeled four inches, fitted with '39 Chevy tail lamps, a '32 Ford grille, riding on '35 Ford wire wheels and painted a '54 Plymouth shade, "Witchy Woman" runs an Offenhauser modified Ford flathead V-8 inhaling through twin Strombergs and exhaling out headers with integral (and we imagine cursory) mufflers. Just as God intended.