The indoor car show season gets under steam at the beginning of each year and then rolls into Detroit's Cobo Hall for the annual Autorama. In its 56th year, the show, sponsored by Murray's Discount Auto Stores and presented by Meguiar's, brings together many of the top builders in the country, many of whom are eyeing one of hot rodding's most glorious prizes, the Don Ridler Memorial Award.

The facility in which the show is held covers 600,000 square feet, enough space to park 800-plus cars and allow thousands of spectators to flow freely through the aisles during the three-day event. As found at many of the indoor-type of shows, there are a lot of extracurricular activities available for the crowd to take in-like autograph sessions with TV, sports, and wrestling stars-but, if they're hot rodders, they came for the cars, and they couldn't leave this show unimpressed.

Besides the 240 old-school type of traditional rods displayed in a special downstairs section of the building, where you could listen to live rockabilly bands or absorb some of the low-brow subculture in one of the many lifestyle booths that cater especially to that audience, you could cruise upstairs, where the chrome and gloss crowd hung out. Taking in their pick of dozens of different show classes and finding many fine examples of each to study and be captivated by, you begin to realize you can't get the "Motor City" moniker by coming up short in the automotive arena, and the Detroit Autorama always offers many types of customized vehicles-there were almost 500 vehicles in the upstairs section alone this year.

If you liked gassers, there were more than a few to see, including one of the earliest Stone, Woods & Cook B/GS Willys coupes, which Mike Wales recently restored. Wales also received the show's Preservation Award for the car that will no doubt continue to generate memories for years to come.

If you liked customs, several areas were available to browse every type of build style-from chopped Mercs to sectioned Chevys. Famed customizer Gene Winfield was named this year's Builder of the Year, and he had one section of the hall devoted to a dozen or so of his creations. Spanning four decades, Gene's work has covered dry lakes racing, television and movie cars, and some memorable customs, too. Later in the weekend, show promoters announced that Darryl Starbird will be the Builder of the Year for the '09 show.

Between the toy swap meet and the automotive fine art display, there were hundreds of hot rods. Often at the Autorama, you can foretell the year's trends, as the event is the first chance for builders and owners to show off what they've been working on for the past few years-which is one of the reasons designers from the Big Three mingle unnoticed in the crowd to see what's new.

In the past, car owners all hoped they would be picked as a contender for the show's top honor: the Don Ridler Memorial Award. Given to the owner of the vehicle whose design excellence, creativity, and workmanship exceeds all others, the Ridler has become one of the most contested awards in the country.

The Ridler class was separated from all of the other car show classes this year, so if you were a contender, you weren't eligible for any other Best in Class type of awards. Contenders are narrowed down to a field of eight, and become known as the Great 8. For the first time in the show's history, the Great 8 was sponsored-with each of the eight finalists receiving $1,000, a custom jacket, and an award-by Pirelli Tire, a company aggressively getting into the hot rod marketplace with its high-quality road tires.

There can be only one winner of the Ridler, and that car owner receives $10,000 in cash from GM Performance Parts, along with a new GM Parts Performance engine, a custom trophy, plus a one-off jacket.

This year's contest pitted eight diverse vehicles against each other, including two pickups and three wagons. When the judges finally made up their minds, they chose the Ferrambo-Mike Warn's '60 Rambler wagon featuring a Ferrari motor mounted mid-ship and hundreds of compelling parts and pieces that exemplified what the Rider trophy really stands for. And, with all the complaining you typically hear about each year concerning who won what at the Autorama, the general consensus this year was the judges got it right.

Though this portion of the Autorama coverage mostly touches on what you would have seen upstairs, check out the other Autorama stories that follow in this issue of STREET RODDER, as we take a long look at the traditional cars downstairs, an inside look at the Ridler winner, an overview of Gene Winfield's display, a revealing glimpse at the Pinstripers' Reunion and art auction, as well as what customs showed up at this year's show. That's 18 pages of Detroit Autorama for you, so enjoy


The Don Ridler Memorial Award

The '08 winner
Since its inception in 1963 to honor the Detroit Autorama's first professional promoter, the Don Ridler Memorial Award has been given to the owner of a vehicle that has exhibited inspired creativity, ingenious engineering, and superb workmanship. That, coupled with the requirement that the car be in first-shown status-therefore guaranteeing showgoers will have never seen this group of cars in contention anywhere else-provides attendees a show-stopping collection of vehicles to view.

Any type of vehicle can be considered for the Ridler, as it's not limited to a roadster or any particular year of manufacture, thus making it quite possibly the most prized award in hot rodding today. This year, the rules changed to read these contenders should be in a class by themselves, and ineligible for any other "Best of" type of awards. After all entries are determined, the field is narrowed to the Great 8 after the first night of the show, with only one winner emerging by show's end. The winner gets a cash prize of $10,000, sponsored by GM Performance Parts, a Ridler winner's jacket, and his name engraved on the trophy, while the builder receives a 1/3-scale Ridler trophy, too. This year's field of eight cars included three wagons and two pickup trucks-truly a diverse collection in comparison to past years' entries. In the end, the Ferrambo-a '60 Rambler wagon on steroids-was the winner of this year's Ridler.

Owned by Mike Warn of Wilsonville, Oregon, and built by Divers' Street Rods in Startup, Washington, the project merges a 360 Ferrari Modena drivetrain, specialized one-off components, and a vintage brick-shaped American wagon. You can see the creativity and workmanship that went into the build anywhere you look on the vehicle but, above all, the imagination and forethought it took to take a crazy concept through all the stages to produce a stunning final product.

The one-off wheels are 18x8.50 and 20x10s, wrapped in Pirelli rubber. The chassis started with some Art Morrison pieces and was finished by Divers to include Ferrari's unequal-length wishbone suspension. The hood and grille are aluminum, and the body was painted PPG Ferrari Rosso Corsa Red-which is about as red as you can get.

The mid-engine 3.6L coupled to a six-speed transaxle was stuffed behind the driver seat, attached to the chassis with a web of crossbracing and tubing. Looking under the hood, you might think there is a trio of fitted luggage, typical of a luxo touring Ferrari, but not so fast. The handles are actually covers that lift out to gain access to some of the car's controls, like fluids, fuses, and so on. Fine Scottish leather was stitched up elsewhere in the interior, and even the steering wheel was hand-fabricated at Divers.