Detroit, Michigan, long known as the center of the American automobile industry, has also been host to the second-oldest custom car show in the world: the Autorama. Devised more than 50 years ago to aid the Michigan Hot Rod Association, the Detroit Autorama has become a benchmark for the creative energy of hot rod builders from all over North America.

Part of the success of the event falls to the Don Ridler Memorial Award, presented to a first-time-shown vehicle that exhibits innovation with no small amount of aesthetic beauty. Back in the early '60s, Ridler was the promoter of the Autorama, and his efforts set in motion the format of the show as it is today. Since its inception in 1964, the Ridler award has been the golden ring for budding hot rod builders (as well as those in the pro category) to grab, and its ownership ensures a great deal of attention (especially if a shop was involved in the build).

An award of this magnitude also means the average showgoer will have plenty to take in, as typically the first two rows of the 600,000-square-foot Cobo Center is reserved for contenders of the prize. This year, nearly 30 individuals believed they had what it took to take home the Ridler, but first they had to face some eliminations that would culminate with the formation of the Great 8-the final eight cars from which the Ridler winner would be chosen.

Judges figure out the Great 8 the first night, and a mini presentation is made to the owners and/or builders of the vehicles on Friday morning. Because the Ridler is such a revered prize, even being named to the Great 8 is considered a momentous feat. But two days passed and the rest of the show had to happen before the winner of the Don Ridler Memorial Award was named.

With almost a quarter-million square feet of space with which to work, the show's producer (Championship Auto Shows Inc.) and its sponsor/host (the Michigan Hot Rod Association) have their hands full on presenting a package that will keep the interest of those who come to see nearly 700 vehicles-arguably the best cars in the country. All sorts of cars attend, from tiny European Vespas (the scooter company built cars too) to vintage Olds, Pontiac, and Chevrolets. Trucks and kustoms, drag cars, and even a handful of exemplary chopper motorcycles are all laid out for viewing.

A few years ago, organizers opened up the downstairs hall (affectionately referred to now as "The Basement") to a combination tuner car and rat rod exhibition, and it has become a great success on its own (we mean the rat rod section-we don't know anything about the tuner cars and don't want to). The Basement gathering is run as a show-within-a-show, even with its own trophy presentation handed out by some of the more high-profile builders in the street rod world. Chip Foose, Troy Trepanier, and Jimmy Shine joined greats Gene Winfield, Larry Alexander, Chuck Miller, and others to pick and present awards to a lucky few who had created some interesting cars. Innovation is the name of the game in The Basement, as these builders aren't afraid of offending anyone's senses with what they build and sometimes, if they do offend, even better! The builders certainly don't follow any set of rules, and that's the way they like it. Because of that, The Basement will continue to be one of the highlights of the Autorama show.