I find myself taking a deep breath having finished absorbing (and digesting) this year’s 63rd Grand National Roadster Show and now prepping for the 60th Detroit Autorama. These two shows aren’t the only indoor car shows around by a long shot, but they’re the two that carry the “weight.” Both are iconic in stature. Between the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award and the Don Ridler Memorial award you see much of what represents the best—a compilation of immense imagination and uncompromising craftsmanship—that our hobby has to offer. And you see it at these two shows first!
For starters, the GNRS has one feature I believe that doesn’t exist at any other indoor car show in the country—an outdoor show! (An idea “birthed” years back during a STREET RODDER editorial meeting.) Rodders arrive on Saturday and Sunday and provide showgoers with a second “gasp”—a car show that rests between the buildings that house the myriad of show cars, trucks, motorcycles, and race vehicles. This year, upwards of 1,000 hot rods were parked between the various buildings. It’s these hot rods that remind me of what’s going on inside is fantastic but what’s going on outside is the reason all of us are so thoroughly consumed with our hobby. The shear ingenuity that’s represented in the rank and file numbers of street rods outside makes me smile. When I’m done viewing the best of what’s inside I am still amazed at what I see outside. At day’s end when asked, “Which car would you drive home?” I would eagerly jump into the seat, twist the key, and drive home any one of the many that rest beneath the sunlight and not the fluorescent lights.
Fellow staffer Ron Ceridono and I have a yearly ritual at the GNRS. Aside from seeing who can eat the most ice cream, churros, fried butter sticks, and an assortment of other health-related foods, we walk between the buildings and get all giggly, adding one after the other to our bucket list of hot rods. It should be noted we always balance our intake of carbs (internal) with a conspicuous sum of protein by going across the street to Brackett Field (planes are hot rods that fly!) and have brunch—a sultry combination of a bacon-smothered three-egg omelet wrapped with buttered sourdough toast that’s lathered with strawberry jam. The secret is to ask for your maple syrup to be served warm, not hot. Carefully pour the aforementioned syrup over the sourdough toast and then let your taste buds takeover. After an appropriate “cooling off” period followed by the obligatory rumble from within, you are ready to walk the GNRS. (Our waitress has been serving lunch at Brackett Field for the past 60 years or so. She always has a comment or two that will drop you even deeper into your seat, you order once, and only once! It’s a small price to pay for being comfortably seated beneath the outdoor awning listening to various private planes landin’ and takin’ off.)
As I find myself garage-bound, punching another hole in my belt, I am thinking about what this year’s Detroit Autorama has in store. It’s the 60th anniversary of “Detroit” (next year will be the 50th Ridler award), all the time the show keeps getting better and better. Detroit has another budding tradition in the Autorama Extreme, better known as “The Basement.” Let’s face it, an outdoor show combined with Detroit in late-February probably isn’t a good idea. Knowing this, credit is given to Senior, which would be Bob Larivee Sr., for bringing back the use of the basement, really the basement, at Cobo Hall. It’s here tradition is once again established with the presence of traditional rods. There’s no denying that The Basement is a show unto itself and appeals to a different segment of the rodding world. Creativity reigns supreme in The Basement and accolades are doled out for working with what you have or can scrounge rather than what you can buy. There is no denying the fun meter is pegged downstairs and if you want a good dose of youthful modern-day hot rodders “doing their thing” then you have to take the escalator ride downstairs not up.
Each year come mid-February this season represents one of my most exciting car times. I am basking in the absolute rush that’s the Grand National Roadster Show and gearing up for the suspense that’s the Detroit Autorama. Yep, a hot rodder’s bucket list most assuredly should hold tickets to this iconic pair of indoor car shows.