2020 Detroit Autorama – The Great 8 Contenders Duke It Out

It’s that time again, folks. The Autorama World of Wheels brought in over 800 custom vehicles to Detroit’s TCF Center, several of which rolled in for their first-ever public reveal in hopes of selection for the famed Great 8 final cut. Only the best-of-the-best from the Great 8 contenders have a chance to win the coveted Best of Show Ridler Award, previously won by renowned car designers and builders such as Chip Foose, Bob Alloway, Jerry Pennington, and Troy Trepanier. There is only one Ridler winner, but earning a standing in the Great 8 is quite an honor in itself.  So with no further ado, let’s take a look at the Great 8 finalists.

“Burnin’ Copper”  Tim And Angie Wheeler’s 1969 Camaro – Built By Steve Cook Creations

Tim and Angie Wheeler are the proud owners of this 1969 Chevrolet Camaro built by Steve Cook Creations of Oklahoma City. A plethora of low-key modifications are visible, and the longer you look, the more you’ll notice. The body’s corners are sharpened, the drip rail tightened to the sloping roof, and the body gaps greatly reduced. The wheel openings are widened for optimal turning radius to fit 19-inch Forgeline wheels in the front and 20s in the rear.

Carbon fiber details are placed throughout, the most prominent being the cowl hood, upper valance, side skirts, and inset pieces for the front splitter and rear spoiler. Second-generation Camaro mirrors were cut into four sections to shrink the ovals for a more pleasing look. The front turn signals are replaced with air intakes, and panels inside the grille funnel even more air to the radiator. Advanced Plating completed the brushed nickel bumper and bezel details, and the handbuilt SCC aluminum grille insert is plated to match.

The smoothed out firewall is shaped by hand for a clean look that immediately drew our eyes to the heart of the beast. The Don Hardy-built LS3 418 engine cranks out 650hp, a comfortable number that preserves the car’s drivability on the street. The engine is fed by a Holley Terminator EFI system. The smoothed intake and Clayton Machine Works valve covers carry out the tastefully subdued motif. “We wanted it to look like a racing-inspired engine,” Steve Cook said. A Nascar dirt track air cleaner completes the theme, and Magnaflow mufflers mated to a 3-inch stainless steel exhaust gives the Camaro a baritone rumble.

Gabe’s Custom Interiors designed the dash, console, door panels, and seats. The diamond double stitching resembles seats you’d see in a supercar. Custom Dakota Digital gauges keep the driver in the know. Contrary to popular belief, not all Great 8 show cars are trailer queens. This Camaro was built to drive, and Steve Cook told us it could be seen next at the Goodguys PPG Nationals in Columbus, Ohio.

George Conrad’s 1966 Ford F-100 Built By Rowe’s Rod And Custom

Rowe’s Rod and Custom is responsible for this creation based on a 1966 Ford F-100, owned by George Conrad of Huron, Ohio. Design cues from the original pickup were preserved and enhanced in the overall design. No detail was overlooked. The shop lowered the bed, which evened out the truck’s bodyline with the front cab. Flush push-button door handles and hidden hinges give the truck a streamlined look, even with the doors opened and easy-down tailgate dropped.

The hood features one-off vents to match the custom grille. This grille pattern is repeated throughout the build, down to the polished stainless dual exhaust with one-off billet tips, which are topped with the bronze-colored mesh. The headlight rings and parking lights are entirely custom to mold with the rounded yet square shape of the truck. Under the hood, nestled next to the smoothed firewall, is a Whipplesupercharged Coyote 5.0 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Borla Atak mufflers deliver profound sound and enhance performance.

In the rear, the truck’s bed walls and tailgate are smoothed. The inner and outer fenders are hand-fabricated, and the rear wheel tubs widened. The deep gray Relicate leather bed panels match the interior, which is entirely custom down to the hand-molded dash. The interior trim is painted to match the bronze and chrome exterior details. The Budnik steering wheel matches the wheel spokes, and the brake calipers are painted to blend with the build.

“Sandman”  Frank and Demi Hinmon’s  1955 Cadillac DeVille – Built By Iconic Metal Works

Kory Gray, owner and lead fabricator of Iconic Metal Works, led his team to complete Frank and Demi Hinmon’s seven-year build just in time for a Great 8 nomination at Autorama. The 1955 Cadillac DeVille began life as a coupe, but Kory had other plans. “Making the two-door into a four-door was a daunting task, but we wanted to open it up to show the car’s elegance,” he said. When the doors are closed, it still looks like a two-door due to the expertly executed two-tone paint scheme by Kal Koncepts.

Kory also shortened the trunk by 3.5-inches and grafted a chopped ‘55 Chevy roof to the body to carry out the car’s bubble effect. The chromed grille is hand-formed out of ½-inch aluminum, and above that, the motorized reverse-open hood is decked in the center for fresh air intake. The shop grafted the original emblem off of the fender on to the Brodix valve cover to replicate a stock Cadillac motor, but a ProCharged 600ci big-block is hidden underneath.

Mike Wray of Cayucos Auto Interiors upholstered the hand-formed steel dash and one-piece console. The front seats are out of a BMW but heavily modified. In the trunk, a “suitcase” acts as a cover to hide the Cadillac’s two fuel tanks. The body sits on anArt Morrison chassis with air ride suspension. One-off chromed out wheels tie the build together.

1963 Chevrolet Wagon, “Impressive” – Owned And Built By Brad, Brady, and Cory Ranwelier — The Don Ridler Memorial Award Winner!

We loved seeing this 1963 Chevrolet Wagon on the show floor. We were even more ecstatic when it was nominated as one of the Great 8. The PPG-painted black beauty is owned and built by Brad, Brady, and Cory Ranwelier of New Ulm, Minnesota.

Art Morrison Enterprises made the custom frame necessary for the application, and under it is a triangulated four-link suspension paired with a 370 center Currie Enterprises 9-inch rearend. UniSteer Performance provided the electric power steering, and the billet rack and pinion is supplied by Chassisworks.

Both the rear gate and the hood open with a remote control system by Dakota Digital. Beyond the reverse-open hood is an iron-block 409 built by Show Cars Automotive. It’s bored and stroked to 509ci and topped off with a Hillborn eight-stack EFI and stainless-steel GP headers. A 615-horsepower output is the result of their hard work. A TCI/Comp Performance 4L80E transmission sends power to the ultra-lightweight 3.5-inch aluminum driveshaft provided by Inland Empire.

Advanced Plating executed the chrome details, and M&M Hot Rod Interiors upholstered the red interior to match the engine and underbody accents. The one-off custom shoes come from Evod Industries. The front is fitted with 18×8-inch wheels, and the rear has big meats with 20×12-inch wheels, all wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero Rosso tires. Wilwood 14-inch disc brakes provide the stopping power on all four. Congrats to the guys for winning the 2020 Detroit Autorama Ridler Award!!

Jeff Hess’ “Oldsled” Built By Pro Design Hot Rods

Jeffrey Hess brought his 1956 Oldsmobile 88 all the way from Woodland, California. Mike Fillon, of Pro Design Hot Rods, gave us the grand tour. He commented, “We wanted to create a ’50s custom, which is very difficult to do, but I think we achieved it.” It took eight years to perfect the build down to every last bolt. After seeing it up close and personal we can, in confidence, say this build sets the bar for 1950s-style customs.

The Pro Design Hot Rods team fabricated the hood and front panel from steel. The 3D printed headlights are recessed, and the moldings highlighting the car are hand-made from nickel-plated brass. The original ‘56 bumper, after being shortened, pinched, and the markers eliminated, is now a one-piece unit. The car’s side scoops are functional. Sparc Industries completed the CNC machine work, including the side scoops, pulleys, hinges, air cleaners, gas and brake pedals, and step plates.

Pro Design used surfboard foam to shape the removable aluminum hardtop, which is covered with a light tan canvas material. Mike Fillon pointed out a small but interesting detail: they utilized the original horn button to make the gas cap, which appears on the rear fender. A Continental kit is frenched into the rear, and 3D-printed Packard-inspired taillights accentuate the fins.

Inside, the dash and steering wheel are custom to match the theme. A Classic Instruments dash panel borrows design cues from the classic Lincoln Zephyr. Willie Carrillo of Bill’s Hot Rod Interiors laid down the upholstery.

The heart of “Olds Sled” is a 354 Hemi with EFI throttle bodies made to resemble an old school Rochester 2G carburetor. The ear-tickling engine notes reverberate through 50s-style lake pipes, which are topped off with covers featuring the iconic Olds stars to match the Oldsmobile emblem.

The shop handbuilt all of the suspension under the modified original X-frame. Why put all that work into the stock chassis instead of building new, you ask? Mike Fillon can answer that question; “I wanted people to see the detail and unique shape of the factory X-frame.”

1955 Chevrolet “Brute Force” Owned and Built By Bob Mantranga

Southern California resident, Bob Mantranga, is the owner of the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air named “Brute Force.” He also led the build with Chief Designer Chris Brown. The top was chopped, the fenders sloped, and the hood modified to open in reverse, but it’s the eye-catching color that really got us running to this Chevy’s spotlights. The Bel Air’s brilliant blue hue is accomplished by none other than PPG paint.

The Chevy V-pattern is repeated throughout the build, most notably in the rear taillights, which feature three upside-down stacked LEDs. The headlights also feature the upright Chevy logo in the center. Gabe’s Custom Auto Interiors stitched the upholstery. Classic Instruments gauges are fitted into the one-off dash.

The body rolls on a Kugel Komponents one-off suspension and chassis, and a twin-turbocharged Merlin 540 big-block Chevy engine with Arias heads sends power to the wheels. Bob boasts he can control almost every aspect of the car via an app on his smartphone. Yep, there’s an app for that. Technology from Infinitywire and Compushift make it all possible. He can start the car, open the hood and trunk, and turn on the headlights from his smartphone.

Over 40 company names and individuals appeared on the extensive build team list. “Special thanks to all who helped make this dream a reality,” Mantranga wrote. “When a talented team of individuals works toward a common goal, we are able to create a work of art greater than any of us could do on our own.”

Greg and Gail Wilson’s 1929 Ford Model A “Driftwood” – Built By Hercules Motor Car Company

Greg and Gail Wilson’s 1929 Ford Model A  built by Hercules Motor Car Company had us itching to hit the beach. Recovery Room Interiors’ Tracey Weaver implemented real wicker details throughout, including an under-dash package tray. The beach-inspired bench seat resembles a ’50s lounge chair and features a thick weave pattern with peepholes that reveal the Maple wood behind it. A Classic Instruments cluster implements a beach scene with palm trees and blue waters in the background of each gauge. The 1950s MG steering wheel holds a custom horn button graced with the letters “DW” for Driftwood. The foot pedals take the shape of tiny surfboards.

Mike Sullivan of Louisville, Kentucky, finished the woodwork in a beautiful combination of maple and walnut. The pickup has a full-wood bed, down to the custom side rails and removable surfboard mount. Yes, the board was made custom for the build. The “Driftwood” script on the tailgate is CNC’d from a single piece of wood. Dan’s plating and polishing took care of all the brightwork, and Atomic Machine cut the custom emblem on the cab underneath the electric sliding rear window.

Beyond the custom ’32 Ford grille is a Flathead V8 decorated with finned air filter covers, generator, and heads, painted in a matching hue with the edges highlighted in chrome. A custom adapter plate mates a 200RG transmission to the engine. “Driftwood” rolls on one-off 17-inch wire wheels in the front and 18-inch in the rear.

Jerry Logan’s 1934 Ford Pickup “Staxx”

Jerry Logan’s slick, silver 1934 Ford Pickup features an original steel body with a 4.5-inch chop and a 2.5-inch channel, teamed with suicide doors and smoothed running boards with stainless strips. Under the custom hood is a rarely-seen supercharged 1960 Ford Y-block fed by Borla fuel injection and managed by a Megasquirt ECU. A Super T-10 four-speed transmission with Hurst linkage puts the power down. All engine and transmission components are smoothed and painted with PPG Titanium.

The inside is covered with Stingray leather for the seats, dash, and door panels. The floor covering is accented with stainless strips. Beyond the leather-wrapped banjo steering wheel is a set of Classic Instruments gauges with a winged bezel surround. Custom push door releases keep the exterior and interior looking clean.

The setup is built on a shortened, Z’d, and boxed American frame rails. All lines and wiring are hidden inside the frame. Alden coil-overs and four-bar control arms ensure a smooth ride.  Finned diff cover and rear drum brakes match the engine details. One-off billet rims from Curtis Custom Equipment tie in the build’s overall styling and color.

And there you have it!  Thanks to the promoters for a great show, and we’ll see you next year!

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