You might think that something 60 years old might not have the same "sheen" as it once did, but the Grand National Roadster Show proves that everything old can be new again. And though the location of the show has hopped around various venues in its time (from Northern California to its home for the past five years at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, California), it has never lost its focus: to bring the best car builders and owners together under one roof. Well, make those 10 roofs, as that was how many buildings were needed to hold all the cars displayed at this year's show.

You can't survive six decades without changing with the times; however, at this show, tradition plays a large part in its success. Spotted this year on the floor of the main hall was Mary Slonaker who, with her husband Al, created the National Roadster Show (as it was called during its first dozen years) back in 1950, a year after first promoting a sports car show. Now 91 years old and still sharp as a tack, Mrs. Slonaker easily recalled early days of the show, and answered a few questions for us.

Though you and Al had promoted a sports car show in 1949, what did you observe that led you to believe promoting a roadster show would be a good thing?

"At the sports car show we did let a few roadsters in, though not too prominently displayed, and we were amazed at the questions they generated. This was really startling because the sports car show was mostly imported "goodies" with big reputations for looks and performance. Most of the people who came to the show were really into cars, so when they went over to the exhibit and talked with the roadster owners they related to their interest in something "different." I'm sure that is when Al got the idea for a show just displaying these unique hand built roadsters."

Did you or Al ever have any problems with the unsavory "hot rod element" that was negatively reported on by the newspapers in the early days?

"The so-called unsavory reputation was really a difference in thinking. The hot rodders got their bad reputation because they were racing on city streets; since they were more interested in speed and horsepower, they were very loud and sounded scary to the average person. It was Wally Parks who recognized the problem and started working with state and city police to find places for them to race legally. The result was the formation of the NHRA. On the other hand, most of the car clubs called themselves "roadster clubs" and, at that time, were more interested in redesigning the older roadsters and coupes to their ideas with body revisions, paint jobs, good engines, and fresh ideas. We knew that if we called it a hot rod show it would be an uphill climb to get anyone to want to see such a show other than the people who knew the difference but, at that time, they were few and far between."

Through the years the show grew from four, seven, nine, and then 10-day-long shows between 1960 and 1977. Were the shows that big, or was there any other reason to have a 10-day show at that time?

"In those days there was one day to celebrate Washington's birthday and one for Lincoln. They were 10 days apart and probably the first show opened on Friday the 12th and closed on Sunday the 22 so we could take advantage of the two holidays."

We imagine you made a great many friends over the years but what, if anything, surprises you the most about the shows these many years later?

"One thing really stands out is the strong ties that develop among people with a common interest. When you come to one of these shows and see all the people who have become friends because of their mutual interest in cars, in spite of the fact they may not have seen each other for a year, they just start talking as if they had seen each other the day before!

"One thing that came to mind when I was thinking of the first shows was we had a school for the blind in Oakland, and one of their instructors called us and wanted to know if they could bring a few boys over to "see" the show. We knew that that would involve touching the cars, which is a real "no-no," so we told them we would get back to them. We called a group of car owners who we knew quite well and they volunteered to come down before the show opened to the public and talk to the boys, let them touch the cars, etc. Needless to say, the boys from the school were so happy to "see" the show. And the car owners were astounded at the knowledge these boys had about the car parts just from touching them! Pretty awesome!"

Awesome indeed, and Mrs. Slonaker was correct to point out the friendships that have developed over the years, as anywhere you looked you saw new ones being formed and old ones being revitalized. It was history-in-the-making, from the main hall that housed this year's contenders for the America's Most Beautiful Roadster award to the Twice in a Lifetime Hall, where cars from the show's history (some having won the AMBR trophy twice) were on display. With the recent passing of Lil' John Buttera, Dick Dean, and Boyd Coddington, all three hot rodders also had special memorial displays set up with some of the vehicles they'd created.

On Saturday morning the show's Hall of Fame inducted five people (artist Thom Taylor, collector John Mumford, Rodder's Journal founder Steve Coonan, customizer Dick Bertolucci, and former AMBR winner Charlie Lambetecchio) into their midst in a special ceremony. And, to help guarantee only the freshest cars will be vying for the show's highest honor next year, it was announced the AMBR trophy will only be handed out to a vehicle that is being displayed for the first time in competition.

Since there are so many facets of this year's show, we decided to split it up and cover each section individually over the next 17 pages (and be sure to check out www.streetrodderweb.com for 100 extra photos from the show). That's why after 60 years the Grand National Roadster Show can truly be called the Granddaddy Of Them All!

Best Ford in a Ford
STREET RODDER and Ford Racing have joined together for a Best Ford in a Ford competition for the 2009 street rod event season. During the course of seven specific events (listed at www.streetrodderweb.com) staff from STREET RODDER and Ford Racing will be looking for prime examples of Ford-powered, late-model engines only (no Flatheads, FE, Y-blocks, etc.) hot rods. From those chosen a grand champion will receive a one-of-a-kind Best Ford in a Ford commemorative jacket plus a brand-spankin'-new Ford crate engine. The first three Best Ford in a Ford winners were chosen at the 2009 Grand National Roadster show.