It’s true Detroit has been kicked around a lot these past few years but, after witnessing the latest installment in the nearly six-decade-old institution known as the Detroit Autorama, gearheads and hot rodders should rejoice in the fact there are still many extremely talented car builders out there who are continuing to push the boundaries and show us something new.

The 59th Autorama, sponsored by Meguiar’s and presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts, was again responsible for filling the 700,000 square feet of Cobo Center in downtown Detroit to its edges with hot cars and thousands of spectators.

In addition, another 100,000 square feet of basement area was used to house the Autorama Extreme, which is devoted to traditional-styled rods, customs, and motorcycles and, for the first time this year, these folks didn’t have to share floor space with the Japanese tuner cars—a fact the hard-core rodders really enjoyed. A show within a show, the downstairs group still had awards presentations and bands playing, but the type of car entered would be something you might have seen prior to 1960, and many of them were covered in flat or satin paints rather than the gloss you’d find upstairs in the “regular” car show.

Another unique aspect of the Detroit show is not a lot of other hot rod events can boast about the fact the Big Three have booths at their shows. Factory Ford, GM, and Mopar teams displayed their most recent cars, and the facility was ringed with aftermarket vendors. Back in the corner of the room (covering roughly 30,000 square feet) was the 19th annual Toy-A-Rama, which not only highlights collectible scale-model cars of every description but also racing memorabilia, custom bicycles, and pedal cars.

Show organizers also set aside special areas for the Builder of the Year, Bobby Alloway (see more of his display on page 54), the Cavalcade of Customs honoring ’50s- and ’60s-eras cars (and organized by customizer Chuck Miller), Artist Alley (where folks could purchase original and limited-edition pieces of automotive-related artwork), a model car contest, Drag City USA (for a look back at vintage drag racing and the cars that made it so exciting), and the Motor City Auto Art Mavens’ Pinstriper’s Panel Jam and charity auction (where onlookers could have something pinstriped while they waited or bid on artwork created at the show).

But most of the upstairs space was devoted to more than 600 rods and rides of all sorts, with the bulk of them being what most people would call a real hot rod (not a lot of tuner cars or ’95 Mustangs). We’re talking Nomads and GTOs, Chevelles, and Barracudas, and lots of cars with numbers in the name such as 442, F-100, and Boss 429.

Performance and styling have always been at the forefront of what most rodders are looking for, and the owners of some of the best vehicles with those qualifications have their eyes fixed on the show’s grand prize: the Don Ridler Memorial Award. Presented to a car with “first time shown” status, the ride has to be innovative in its design, too, which is something some hopeful car owners fail to produce. Nice-looking cars aside, this is the Ridler award, and therefore it has to be exceptional.

Of the hopefuls who believe they have a chance to win, eight finalists (called the Pirelli Great 8) are named and just one of them will be the recipient of the Ridler. Pirelli sponsors the Great 8 and, just for being named to that exclusive list you receive $1,000 and a commemorative jacket. The Pirelli Great 8 list is usually announced after the first day and those named have to wait until Sunday afternoon to find out who wins.