Detroit calls itself "Motor City," but Southern California is the car capital of the world. For decades, trends have begun here and then migrated across the country and around the world. None of these have been more colorful or long-lasting than hot rods and custom cars.
The Long Beach Motorama, now in its second year, is the first new indoor/outdoor car show in decades to salute these uniquely American forms of automotive enthusiasm. It's a blend of honoring those who were there at the beginning and the best of those who are continuing to build these rolling sculptures today. Motorama is three activity-packed days, Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, at the Long Beach Arena, with indoor and outdoor car displays; life-size reproductions of some of Southern California's most legendary hot rod hot spots; a wall of fame; a Saturday night cruise along the shoreline; music and food, all open to the public.
Ron Guidry was there at the beginning. A Long Beach native and, while still in high school, a member of the Renegades car club that organized the now legendary "1958 Rod & Kustom Motorama," his dad lent him $150 to buy a '36 Ford 5-window coupe. Using his own skills, and working with some of the best professional customizers of the day, he succeeded in building a car that was featured in the Feb. 1957 issue of Hot Rod Magazine. "I still stay in touch with the guys from the old Renegades club, and worked to get all of us survivors together for last year's new Motorama show. It brought back a lot of great memories. The show is a terrific combination of the best of the old with the best of the new."
An artisan working in the traditional style, Mike Bello runs a shop building classic hot rods and customs. "I'm a traditionalist, but like to add a contemporary twist," said Bello. "I only work on cars from '54 on down, and I honor the originals but prefer to upgrade suspensions and a few other components." Mike's shop is in Chula Vista and currently has seven customer cars under construction. He's bringing his wife, Adela's, purple 1954 Chevy Bel Air mild custom along with his hemi-powered, chopped Model A coupe to this year's Motorama. "I like the Motorama show because it encourages people to finish their cars, get them painted and on the road, where they should be."
Starting at the age of 15, Art Himsl has for over five decades built one the most illustrious careers in the car building field. His work has appeared on dozens of magazine covers, the New York Museum of Modern Art has a permanent display of his motorcycle graphics, the San Francisco Art Institute featured his work in a one-man show, and he has won numerous awards for his cars, automobile painting and life's achievements. Semi-retired now, he takes on an occasional project that interests him, but is enjoying working on his personal stable of 12 cars. "This sport and industry has been very good to me. I can't imagine what I'd be doing if I hadn't got interested in building and painting cars," said Art. "I'm pleased, of course, that Motorama is putting a spotlight on this world. The people are first class. I'm really looking forward to seeing the new cars debuting at this year's Motorama show."
Motorama highlights include:
* Life-size Dioramas of Historic Hot Rod Hot Spots - The Long Beach area was, and is, home to some of the most legendary people, businesses, events and cars in American automotive history.
Motorama is recreating some of the most storied, including:
o Lion's Drag Strip Starting Line - Partnering with the NHRA Motorsports Museum, an 80x24-foot exact replica of this drag race legend has been built.
o Barris "Kustom City" - King of Kustomizers, George Barris' store front is being reproduced exactly as it was, with some of his most famous cars parked in front.
o Ed Roth's "Crazy Painting" shop - Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's influence is still being felt, and his fabled headquarters are being meticulously recreated, complete with his masterpiece, the Beatnik Bandit. Artist Von Franco will be custom airbrushing tees and sweatshirts.
* Outdoor Car Show - Over 20 acres of grass, sea breezes and hundreds of hand-built cars, open to all pre-'69 American-made vehicles.
* "Cruisin' Shoreline Parade of Cars" - Colorful hot rods and kustoms cruising a 1.75 mile route on Saturday night. Parade will be open to all Motorama-registered cars and is free for public viewing. It's a great way for the whole family to be a part of Motorama.
* Horsepower Salute - Honoring three of the biggest names in speed and their historic cars are featured in the Arena lobby:
o Stu Hilborn Streamliner recreation - The inventor of fuel-injection, Stu Hilborn and a precise replica of the very first fuel-injected car will both be present for pictures.
o Ed Iskenderian roadster - Unrestored and just as it was in '30s, along with the "Camfather" himself, live and in person.
o Frank Lockhart streamliner-The Stutz Blackhawk Debut. The streamliner that set the world's land speed on Daytona Beach in 1928 has been cloned and will be set on the "beach" for all to marvel at its sleek design.
* Avenue of Dreams - A red carpet tribute and display of some the most outrageous, colorful and beautiful kustoms, hot rods, motorcycles and coach-built cars ever built, all displayed for maximum viewing.
* Historic Dragsters - Five nitro-burning legends will fire-up every night at sundown to fill the air with the sights, sounds and smells of history.
* Wall of Legends - Three-dimensional display honoring first generation kustomizers and hot rodders. The hand of each honoree has been cast and will display a symbol of their artistry. Twenty-five legendary craftsmen will be inducted this year.
* Pin Stripers Hootenanny - Every day of Motorama, 20 nationally selected pin stripers will stripe anything visitors bring, with the proceeds going to the Rich Pichette Alzheimer's Project. They'll also be creating one-of-a-kind panels that will be auctioned off for the Pichette charity.
* Technicolor Stars of the Arena Car Show - Dozens of gleaming works of art from some of the top builders, and from as far away as Australia, all hand-selected and displayed for viewing and photo taking. Many cars are being seen publically for the first time.
* Live bands - Every day on an outdoor stage.
* Personalities - George Barris, Stewart Hilborn, Ed "Camfather" Iskenderian.
The Long Beach Motorama is Friday-Sunday, Sept. 30 - Oct. 2, at the Long Beach Arena, Shoreline Drive at Linden Avenue, Long Beach. Hours are noon to 9pm Friday, 10am - 9pm Saturday, and 10am - 7pm Sunday. Adult admission is $18 a day, youths 12-16 are $7 and those under 11 are free. More information and tickets are available at www.LBMotorama.com.