Detroit City Council Bans Autorama Bandit Jump Over Seemingly Nonexistent Confederate Flag
Until Tuesday, organizers of the 2019 Detroit Autorama were planning on opening the show on March 1st with a car jump by a replica Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am Firebird. A couple of years ago, the Autorama featured a jump of a Dukes of Hazzard “General Lee” Charger replica, to considerable press coverage, including here at TTAC.
This year, the same group of car enthusiasts that put on the General Lee jump, Northeast Ohio Dukes, was going to be back on Atwater Street behind Cobo Hall, only with a black and gold Pontiac, not an orange Dodge. When it comes to famous fictional car jumps, the Bandit’s Mulberry Bridge leap is right up there with the General Lee’s vault in the Dukes’ opening credits, and the Autorama jump was going to be part of a more general tribute at the custom car show to the late Burt Reynolds, a Michigan native, who starred in SATB.
Detroit’s City Council, though, has put a kibosh on the jump, apparently over a nonexistent Confederate battle flag, voting 7-1 to reject the jump. In the 1977 film, the black and gold Trans Am wears a period-correct Georgia license plate on the front of the car. The plate’s Confederate war banner offends current woke sensibilities.
The fact that the stunt car wasn’t going to have the flag, and the fact that Autorama has been bringing tens of thousands of fans and their money to downtown Detroit for over 50 years might have persuaded normal people not to make a fuss, but Detroit City Council is populated by politicians, not normal people.
During the council’s Tuesday debate on a permit for the jump, Councilman Scott Benson said “Autorama, which has a history in the city of Detroit, also has a history of supporting imagery and symbols of racism, oppression and white supremacy as well as American, home-bred terrorism right here in the United States.”
That “history of supporting imagery….” was apparently a reference to the 2017 General Lee replica jump, and hopefully not an allegation that folks in pointy white hoods clog up the aisles at Cobo every year in early March. There are plenty of hoods at Autorama, but they’re all on cars, and more likely to be tangerine orange flake, baby, than white.
While it’s true that symbols of the Confederacy have become touchstones for controversy in recent years, I have to say that Councilman Benson’s hyberbolic rhetoric impugning Autorama organizers as racist white supremacists seems foolish to me, at least based on what I have seen at the event. Putting aside the fact that there were plenty of African-American folks watching the 2017 General Lee jump (I was there), flag or not, the closely related custom, hot rod, and drag racing communities (Autorama’s official sponsor is the Michigan Hot Rod Association) are the most ethnically diverse subcultures of the automotive world.
While the Detroit area’s Concours of America and Eyes On Design car shows are far from “lilly white,” as a more working class show there are simply a lot more black, Asian, and Latin folks, percentage-wise, attending Autorama than those other two shows. I go to many, many car shows and the Detroit Autorama has the most ethnic and racial diversity of any I’ve visited. Not just attending, either. Black car owners and builders have been Ridler Award finalists in recent years. Similarly, show organizers have placed low riders from California-based Latino car clubs in prominent positions at the front of Cobo’s main hall. It’s a high honor in the customs world to have your work in the front of Cobo, where the Ridler finalists are displayed. In conjunction with Low Rider magazine, this year’s show will also feature 17 cars in the Low Rider Magazine Invitational.
Contrary to photos and videos of the Northeast Ohio Duke’s Bandit replica, and the group’s assertions, Benson said after the vote that the Trans Am, “still proudly flies a Confederate flag, which is a symbol of oppression, slavery, as well as home-bred American terrorism. So this body said we are not going to support that type of symbolism nor the audacity to support that type of activity in the city of Detroit.”
Benson accused the Northeast Ohio Duke’s of misleading the city concerning the 2017 jump. “The Confederate flag which has been a symbol of all of those items was proudly displayed within the last two years during an Autorama car jump when they came and expressly said they would not display that symbol during the jump,” Benson said. “Come to find out they actually displayed that symbol, and that can be seen in YouTube video jumps they did on Atwater Street.”
At the time, Northeast Ohio Dukes told the city and show organizers that as the flag was on their General Lee’s roof, and since they were doing a jump, the flag would not be visible to the street level crowd. How credible or not that claim was, the city apparently accepted it at the time.
The Autorama’s media liaison said, following the vote, that organizers had no comment other than the fact that they were trying to resolve the issue with the city.
[Image: Northeast Ohio Dukes]
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Personally, I would rather not have the jump because I don't want to see a second-gen F-body destroyed like they did the (admittedly very far gone) Charger two years ago. Maybe it's best that the Confederate flag be on the front bumper--theoretically the very first part of the car to be smashed.
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