If you were to make a list car shows that anyone might want to attend before they die—a custom car show bucket list—the Detroit Autorama would have to be at the top of the list. What separates this show, which celebrated its 60th year in 2012, from any other has got to be the amount of effort put forth by the owners and promoters over the past six decades to create a show like no other.
The first Autorama was held at the University of Detroit Field House, which was a regularl
The template for today’s indoor car show extravaganza, with the best cars displayed along with contemporary entertainment (in form of TV star autograph sessions, rock ’n’ roll bands, and so on), can be traced to the first Autorama in Detroit back in 1953.
Originally a way for the newly formed Michigan Hot Rod Association (MHRA) to fund a local quarter-mile dragstrip, the show has grown after the MHRA teamed up with a small handful of promoters through the years who would elevate what was a basic hot rod car show to a world-class happening. And, by doing so, instill a large amount of respectability to a group of individuals (hot rodders) who were not commonly well regarded in their community.
By the mid-’60s the Autorama was experiencing huge growth, and the aisles of Cobo Hall wer
But with all the razzle-dazzle aside, the stars of the Autorama have always been the cars, and they serve to feed our imagination as well as to inspire. It’s safe to say designers from the Big Three have stopped by the show throughout the years just to see what new ideas have cropped up, from custom paint and shaved trim to wheel and interior designs. And though the automotive industry has seen its ups and downs over the years, it’s safe to say rodders will never run out of new ways to express themselves with their rides, so the future of the Autorama can be guaranteed for decades to come. For the most comprehensive history of this show as well as many others from the ’50s until now, Bob Larivee’s Show Car Dreams and Master Edition books are a must-read. Meticulously written to cover the formation of the MHRA, ISCA, Promotions Inc., and other organizations central to the continued popularity of hot rodding phenomenon, the books are filled with hundreds of vintage and new photos covering 60 years of the indoor car show world.
The cornerstone of the Detroit car show scene would have to be the Frank Mack roadster, wh
In 1961, the Autorama moved into the brand-new Cobo Hall facility in downtown Detroit, rig
Ed “Big Daddy” Roth with the “Outlaw,” a custom car he built from fiberglass and eventuall