March Madness obviously means something else in Detroit. And if you think the only place you can find panic, anticipation, fear, elation, and general craziness is on college basketball courts every third month of the year, then you've never been to the Autorama.

It may have been gray and dreary outside with the Polar Vortex making a slow withdrawal from the Great Lakes region but, once you get inside the massive 700,000-square-foot Cobo Hall, the location where the Autorama has been held since 1961, you find that color reigns supreme.

Now in its 62nd year, the Autorma is just a three-day show, but it's really much more than that. Hosted by the Michigan Hot Rod Association (MHRA) and produced by Championship Auto Shows Inc. (CASI), the folks who run the 20 or so Autorama and World of Wheels shows around the country and Canada each year, the Detroit event has something very special to go along with the usual razzle-dazzle an indoor car show might typically have: the Ridler award.

Named for an early producer of the show, the Don Ridler Memorial Award debuted in 1964 and has arguably become the most sought-after award in the custom and hot rod show world. Partially because of the fact nearly any type of vehicle can win the award, and partially due to the high level of fit and finish set down by the show's judges, winning the Ridler award can quite literally change both a builder and/or car owner's life.

The show starts on Friday morning for some 3,000 local area students from 50 schools who get a pass into the show before it opens to the public. Presented by Summit Racing Equipment and the International Show Car Association (ISCA), this mini event educates the kids as to the possible opportunities in the hot rod aftermarket world, plus they get to check out some cool cars and talk to the owners, too.

This year's show started with a bang when at noon on Friday show organizers had Bob Motz's jet-powered semi-truck power up and shoot some flames out for the attendees gathered on the street in front of Cobo Hall. It was great fun and certainly impressive, but the massive smoke and ka-booms from the flame-throwing truck literally set off alarms at the nearby boarder crossing into Canada, and the office of Homeland Security got involved to make sure no terrorists had targeted Cobo or downtown Detroit. Once the show opened, more than 150,000 people poured through the gates to see the show, which is split between the glossy, high-end cars upstairs and more traditional hot rods entered in the Autorama Extreme in the downstairs basement (more on the Extreme show in the following pages).

Celebrities, from Sponge Bob Squarepants to Kyle and Richard Petty, were available throughout the weekend for photos and autographs, with King Richard having more than 100 people line up for his autograph a full two hours before he even stepped on stage!

In one corner of the show the Motor City Mavens set up their pinstriper charity auction and panel jam, which benefits the Leader Dogs for the Blind. Dozens of stripers worked on items brought to them by spectators, while others completed their own work which would then go up for auction at several times throughout the weekend.

In another part of the show the Cavalcade of Customs showcased nine beautiful vehicles that were built in the style of what you would have found in the '50s, while 10 other cars were in the Fin-Tastic Fin display, including Ed Meurer's stunning sapphire blue '58 Eldorado Brougham with its stainless steel top.

In the back corner of the hall the Toy-A-Rama, celebrating 20 years being at the Detroit event, looked busy all three days with folks checking out hard-to-find vintage toys, posters, and scale model cars. Up near the front entrance to the show, the Builder of the Year, Troy Trepanier, owner of Rad Rides by Troy, had 10 of his customers' cars on display that helped showcase his 16 years as one of the most well-known car builders in the country.

Over in the Grand Riverview Ballroom (by far the nicest setting we've seen for a function like this), participants enjoyed the Ridler's Ball—a cocktail reception and dinner celebrating the event's Circle of Champions (similar to a Hall of Fame) inductees, which this year included Linda Vaughn (spokesperson extraordinaire for drag racing, General Motors, Hurst, and more), Bob Millard (who joined the ISCA in the early '70s and is now its general manager), and Ron Cizek (last year's Ridler winner with his maroon '40 Ford coupe built by CAL Automotive Creations).

Also named at the Ridler's Ball were the Pirelli Tire Great 8 recipients, who are the eight finalists in contention for the event's Don Ridler Memorial Award, and the ball's keynote speaker was Jim Campbell, the U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports for General Motors.

The naming of the Pirelli Tire Great 8 on Friday set the stage for the big announcement on Sunday evening on who would win the Ridler award and the $10,000 check that goes along with it. Sponsored by General Motors, the Ridler goes to a vehicle that has first-time-shown status while being both innovative and built with creativity in mind. When all was said and done, J.F. Launier, from Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada, took home the top prize for his bright yellow '64 Buick Riviera.

With all that has happened in and around Detroit these past few years (it is no revelation that the city has endured some tough times), it's great to see its residents come out in droves to an event that has made its home in the Motor City. So it should be no surprise when one says "automobile," you naturally think "Detroit.” But it also follows when you think "great car show," you automatically say “Detroit Autorama."


2014 Detroit Autorama's Builder of the Year: Troy Trepanier


Lokar Performance Products' Driven Award

Unique to the Detroit Autorama, STREET RODDER and Lokar Performance Products teamed up to honor those rodders who put the extra effort into driving their rides (more often than not for thousands of miles) with a special one-off trophy called the Driven Award. This year's recipient is Charlie Rose. Rose is something of a fixture at the Detroit Autorama, as in 1968 he joined the Competition Specialists Auto Club (one of the clubs that make up the Michigan Hot Rod Association), and served on the MHRA's Board of Directors for 16 years. CSAC members have also manned the Rod Repair Trailer at the NSRA Nationals every year for the past 42 years. Rose's connection to his coupe began in 1958, when he found the car in a barn. Painted bright red, the chopped and channeled coupe was first finished in 1960, and was powered by a Dodge 318 engine. By 1964 Rose replaced the engine with a 406 Ford big-block and multiple carbs. By the time 1967 rolled around, the color changed from red to black. Another engine swap—this time to a 390 Ford—came with a special grind camshaft, though the three-two carburetion from the 406 was retained, and it is still on the car today. Recently freshened up with a new black paintjob (from "That's Minor" Customs), it's estimated the coupe has over 300,000 miles on the odometer since Rose pulled it out of the barn—more than enough miles to qualify for the Lokar Performance Products' Driven Award!


Pirelli Tire Great 8 Finalists


2014 Don Ridler Memorial Award Winner: J.F. Launier


Circle of Champions

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