The high-dollar-custom Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama gets a lot of worthy attention, but real salt of the earth Detroit car culture can be found in Cobo Hall’s basement, The promoters bill the area as Autorama Extreme, and I always make it a point to check out the cars and people downstairs. There’s usually something worthwhile down there like “the first Mustang,” a bassackwards, mid-engine Ford F-1 pickup, or even an Allison V12-powered ’39 Chevy.
This year, walking past the bandstand where a local rockabilly band was doing a Jerry Lee Lewis song, I spotted something around a corner and immediately recognized it as a Duesenberg I’d written about before here at TTAC. It’s a distinctive car. For aesthetic reasons, I doubt anyone would make a replica. So even before I got near enough to see the longhorns up front and the tailfin that looks more like a hunchback’s deformity in back, I knew it was the so-called Tom Mix Duesenberg — a real Doozy in more ways than one.
I’ve tangentially touched on the topic of this post, the famous art deco “Round Door Rolls-Royce”, before when discussing Audi advertising and some Detroit history. On my recent trip to Los Angeles to drive a McLaren 675LT (you think Jack Baruth is the only TTAC staffer who can swing the loan of a supercar?), I took the opportunity to visit the newly renovated Petersen Automotive Museum and the unusually bodied Rolls happened to be on display right where you walk into the building.
It’s a striking looking car, to say the least, and a multiple show winner undoubtedly worthy of historical note. Almost more interesting than the car, though, is the way its tale is presented and what that teaches us about the way ideas get entrenched, how a single facet of a story can obscure its context. (Read More…)
As the owner of a proper California-built custom, I’m always on the lookout for down-at-the-heels examples of the breed when I return to my former state of residence. Last month, I spotted this flamed-and-custom-grille-equipped Eldo in a San Jose-area yard. (Read More…)
From the ridiculous to the sublime. After subjecting you to that curious Hudson Terraplane “coupe”, please consider this my apology. A visual palette cleanser, if you will. Before organizers let the public in to the Detroit Autorama at noon on the Friday of the show, members of the media can get in at 9 AM while the Ridler Award competitors and other top-quality, high-dollar customs are still being set up in their sometimes elaborate displays. Those displays in the front part of Cobo Hall include stands to jack the cars up off the floor so you can see the undercarriages, mirrors to do the same, professional lighting, build books and hero cards. There was one car in the front of the hall, though, that had a decidedly minimalist display, just enough machine turned aluminum floor tiles so the ’32 Ford roadster’s retro bias ply tires weren’t sitting on bare concrete. (Read More…)
While the annual Detroit Autorama always features many outstanding examples of the automobile as art, there are usually at least one or two vehicles that vividly demonstrate that one’s technical skill (or the financial resources to pay someone with the requisite technical skills) can sometimes reach where one’s artistic talent or aesthetic taste fails to grasp. This Hudson Terraplane “coupe” based on a Dodge Ram 2500 Diesel pickup is without question an impressive build, and it drew some of the biggest crowds of any car at this year’s show. But then, bad traffic accidents draw lots of gawkers too. (Read More…)
The Detroit Autorama has a definite blue collar vibe. Even those of the half million dollar cars competing for the Ridler award that are “bought, not built” are paid for by couples who obviously are affluent, but who have made their money not as doctors or lawyers or financiers but rather from operating some kind of small business enterprise. Most owners participate one way or another in their builds and most also have some experience working with their hands. Last year I had the chance to visit the facility where Chevy has the COPO Camaros built and I was present to watch two owners take delivery of what is essentially a $100,000 toy. One of them, Dan Sayres, of Waverly, West Virginia, now owns a number of automotive related businesses, including a collision shop and a recycling yard. He told me that he started with a single tow truck. It takes some smarts to go from one used tow truck to buying purpose built drag racers. Of course, you don’t need deep pockets to come up with a big idea. From the mid six figure Ridler competitors to the unfinished projects in the basement, there are lots of big ideas at the Autorama, not all of them successful. One of the biggest ideas, both figuratively and literally, is the car that Tom Carrigan built because he thought he could do it.
I’m so glad that Al Grooms brought his truck back to the Detroit Autorama this year. Last year it was the car that everyone that attended the show with whom I spoke mentioned. He hasn’t made any changes to it, but there are so many clever touches that it’s hard to take in all at once, which is why I was happy to have a second look. Al lives in Ohio and works in a steel mill and he is undoubtedly a deviously clever man. He was having so much fun with the people coming up and admiring his project that I’m sure his facial muscles were sore from grinning. (Read More…)
Please consider this post to be an exercise in automotive ecumenism. Sometimes car enthusiasts like to separate into tribes, Fords vs Chevys, road racers vs drag racers, customs vs concours. About a year ago I wrote a piece for Hemmings about the competition at the Detroit Autorama for the Ridler Award, that show’s top prize. Apparently some people are rather orthodox and fussy about their view of the car hobby. A few of the comments complained that Hemmings, a publication often devoted to 100 point concours or historically significant collectors’ cars, had deigned to slum among the customs at the Autorama. Before I had a chance to respond and point out that the same family that was showing Chip Foose’s Eldorod at the 2013 Autorama had won “best of show” with a prewar Mercedes at the 2012 Pebble Beach concours, a couple of other readers pointed out that the build quality on a Ridler level custom is at least the equal of a top shelf concours winner. We provide detailed coverage of the big corporate auto shows here at TTAC, but we haven’t covered the custom car scene much. That’s a shame because the Detroit Autorama is probably a better expression of enthusiasts’ car culture than the big NAIAS held a couple months earlier in the same Cobo Hall.
Did you see the video about Ford’s new panel forming tech? Ford’s Freeform Fabrication Technology, F3T. Gizmodo called it a 3D printer for sheet metal but I think it’s more of a new take on traditional metal shaping tools since it’s essentially taking a large power hammer, reducing the scale of the work tools down to stylus size so very small sections of the panel are shaped at a time and digitizing the process.
I think it has potential for the car hobby well beyond letting Ford make prototype parts or short run niche vehicle body panels fast. I think it could bring coachbuilding to the masses. Right now it takes a lot of specialty machines and tools and years and years of apprenticing and metal shaping to be able to make a one-off fender, let alone an entire car. Imagine being able to take a CAD drawing of the car of your dreams, downloading it into a machine, and watch it start shaping fenders, hoods and doors.
What a cool idea!
What a freaking scary idea! (Read More…)
Almost every time I go to a car show I see something that reminds me that skill in shaping metal and plastic doesn’t necessarily translate into aesthetic taste or talent. Last year at a Woodward Dream Cruise event I saw what at first glance appeared to be sort of a Dodge Viper, but actually was a C4 Corvette with some creative fiberglass work. Then, a few weeks ago at a spring shine-n-show in northwest Detroit I spotted this not-so-cute ute.