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Detroit Autorama 2016: Hot Rods, Customs and Classics at Cobo

March 11, 2016 Think THF
Detroit Autorama 2016: Hot Rods, Customs and Classics at Cobo
"Jade Idol II,” built as a tribute to master customizer Gene Winfield’s original, is typical of the Detroit Autorama’s top-tier cars.

Even in the dead of winter, it’s never a long wait around here for the next car show. Soon after the North American International Auto Show closes its doors, we look forward to the Detroit Autorama, the annual show featuring the best in custom cars and hot rods. The 2016 show, held February 26-28, did not disappoint with some 800 vehicles spread over 750,000 square feet in Cobo Center.

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Concept cars of the 1950s were spotlighted. This ’54 Chrysler La Comtess came from FCA’s Walter P. Chrysler Museum. The show car was designed expressly to appeal to women.

Autorama always draws participants from throughout the United States and Canada, but its international reach is growing. This year’s show included a 1976 Ford Falcon from Australia. (The Falcon nameplate survived Down Under long after its U.S. demise in 1970.) Aftermarket performance parts companies, like Summit and Edelbrock, are long-time fixtures at the show, but the Detroit Three are now established exhibitors, too. No, you won’t find the latest models at Cobo, but the 2016 show did include a Chrysler Turbine from Fiat Chrysler’s Walter P. Chrysler Museum, a selection of concept Cadillacs from the GM Heritage Center, and the 1995 Lincoln L2K roadster from Ford Motor Company.

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Rat rodders reject the immaculate presentations favored by most customizers. They don’t get much rattier than this “1940ish” “Chevyish” beast.

Some participants describe Autorama as “the Oscars of the car show world” – a fitting comparison given that Sunday’s Autorama award ceremony took place on the same night as the Academy Awards. This year’s Ridler Award, Autorama’s top prize, went to a gorgeous 1939 Oldsmobile owned by Billy Thomas of Georgetown, Texas. The Ridler, named for early Autorama promoter Don Ridler, may be the most prestigious honor in the custom car hobby. It’s only given to vehicles that are being shown publically for the first time. If you don’t win, there’s no second chance. Winners enjoy a certain immortality. Their names are engraved on the trophy for all time, and photos of their cars enter the online Winner Archive where they inspire new generations of Autorama contestants. The $10,000 that comes with the prize isn’t too shabby, either.

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Not every Autorama entrant is a hot rod. There are a few straight restorations, like this 1966 Chevy Chevelle convertible, in the mix.

As in past years, The Henry Ford awarded its own trophy at the Autorama ceremony. Our Past Forward Award honors the vehicle that best combines the inspirations of the past with the innovative technologies of the present. We also look for a vehicle that exhibits the highest craftsmanship and, in the end, is simply a lot of fun.

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B.J. Boden’s 1985 Ford Ranger, a take on a scaled-down semi tractor, won The Henry Ford’s Past Forward Award.

Our Past Forward winner this year was B.J. Boden of Temperance, Michigan. Inspired by the ever-present semi truck, Boden took a 1985 Ford Ranger and fashioned it into his own little big rig. Boden’s extended cab, complete with suicide doors, came from two donor Rangers and a Chevy Suburban roof. His grille is from a 1952 Ford F2 pickup, while the dashboard came from a 1962 Ford Falcon. True to form, Boden replaced the Ranger’s engine with a turbocharged four-cylinder Cummins diesel. The wood-lined bed features a functional exhaust stack (that belches black smoke when Boden fires up the engine) and a suitably-scaled hitch ball in place of a fifth wheel. It’s a beautiful job, all the more so because Boden did much of the work himself.

All in all, it was another fantastic year at Cobo Center. Warmer weather means it won’t be long before we start seeing some of these great cars back out on the streets.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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