Detroit Autorama As Seen Through The Eyes Of Dennis Pittsenbarger


Again my travels have taken me around the country from show to show and event to event. This time the plane touched down at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport for the 61st annual Detroit Autorama. Like the world’s largest display case, this event is one of the biggest and most coveted custom car shows of the year. Pretty much, the “Super Bowl” of street rods and hot rod builders worldwide.

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Held each year at Cobo Hall the first thing on everyone’s mind beyond the great heritage and spectical that surrounds the show is the 50th anniversary of the Ridler Award. We’ve already brought you tons of LIVE coverage from the show, but now it’s my turn to take you on a complete tour of the show from my point of view – from the Great 8 to my personal favorite picks and even a trip down to the basement.

So sit back, crack open a beverage (don’t spill any on your laptop) and walk with me through the halls and my experience at the one and only Detroit Autorama. Let’s start with a walk through on all of the Great 8 picks in a little more detail first.

Ken Seresun’s 1934 Ford Tudor Sedan
“Dad’s 34” – Great 8 Pick

Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 1.47.51 PM copyFirst stop, this gorgeous ’34 Tudor Sedan. From the chopped and rolled roof to what some might consider the perfect shade of red, Ken Seresun’s 1934 Ford Tudor Sedan was an easy add to the Great 8 this year. The story started in the 1930’s with Ken’s father, and finally began a path to completion in 2009 when Bobby Anderson was asked to start this family felt restoration.

In just over four years Anderson completed what could have been as strong a Ridler contender as any of the other eight contestants. The Seresun family was honored to be considered among the “Great 8” and they are forever grateful for a family heirloom being brought to such a magnificent completion.

John Mayer’s 1935 Ford Phaeton
“Fearless” – Great 8 Pick

Next up, the 1935 Ford Phaeton dubbed “Fearless” and owned by John Mayer. This one had a bit of a controversy this year swirling around the halls, with both looks and style that had some scratching their heads. There was an insane amount of work and craftsmanship with some of the best names involved.

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But with a laundry list of gifted build participants like Pete Sanchez at Custom Cars Unlimited, John Mayer from Ogden Top & Trim Shop, Willett Coachworks’ own Harry Willett and even Tim O’Connell builder of the 2004 Ridler winner, there might have been too many cooks in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong – the metal, interior, engine, and paint was clean and really well done, it’s just hard to spot the direction and concept of the build, but then again, that’s only one man’s humble opinion. 

Alan Woodall’s 1965 ‘Vette
“C2/SS” – Great 8 Pick

If there was a wild car in the Ridler deck this year, then it would probably have to be the 1965 Corvette called “C2/SS” which was designed by none other than Eric Brockmeyer and assembled by Jesse Greening of Greening Auto Company.

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This wild mid-year definitely had more than it’s fair share of custom and subtle touches. Powered by an LS7 and backed by a GM sourced 6L80E their was no doubt that this Corvette was full of both go and show. Owner Alan Woodall had a vision to bring in aspects of what the C3 could have been with a bit more European flair to the already groundbreaking original design. Inside, a mix of modern electronics might have been the Achilles heel in the quest for the coveted Ridler award.

Alan Beers 1957 Chevrolet Pickup
“Quicksilver” – Great 8 Pick

To say you “had me at hello” would be an understatement that started with the 540 cubic-inch big-block, sporting a fully chromed Crower stacked injection hiding under the hood of one of the best looking trucks I’ve ever seen.

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Some Ridler traditionalists might have thought Alan Beers brought a knife to a gunfight, but I would be the first to say they’re wrong. From the laser straight bodywork to the custom touches both large and small, this 1957 Chevrolet Pickup’s place among the Great 8 was very well deserved.

Christian Harker’s 1934 Ford Coupe
“Achetype” – Great 8 Pick

Christian Harker’s “Archetype” 1934 Ford Coupe built by Brian Mosbek had all the making of a Great 8 contender. A Bbown 427 Ford built by Wheeler Racing Engines complete with velocity stacks peeking out of the hood were complimented perfectly by the trick headers and through frame exhaust. The chassis was more elaborate than any other ’34 I’ve seen this side of a top-fuel funny car. The body and paint was flawless and the interior Jim Griffin assembled was also as stunning.

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The custom touches where everywhere and most notable for me personally was the one-off headlight clusters. That and the use of independent front suspension lead me to believe this car was driven and will be a driver in the future. But still there was something that was off and it was hard to put my finger on it. The craftsmanship and work that went into “Archetype” was flawless, but in the end, the little ’34 Ford didn’t pull it for the judges.

Buddy and Kim Shulz’s 1972 C-10
“Reaper” – Great 8 Pick

As the saying goes “Things are bigger in Texas” and there was nothing small about the 1000 horsepower G&G Performance built 468 cid 8-71 Supercharged and injected big-block Chevrolet mill that powered the Schulz 1972 Chevrolet C10 short-wide.

Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 1.48.14 PM copyBacked by a THM400 and connected to a narrowed Currie 9-inch the “Reaper” was quite a sight sitting on the full tube frame by Hot Rod Joe’s, which also did the body and paint. Steve Holcomb helped bring that cowboy swagger into the interior and if you had not noticed the true highlight was the cut and reassembled front end made into a single picture perfect piece.

But even as I wanted to love this truck it had one major flaw that is up for anyone to argue…I hated the wheels and if you know me then you know that wheels to me are like haircuts on beautiful women and this little short-wide out of Texas looked like it had just sat in the barbers chair of a blind man.

Mark and Ellen Willman’s 1956 Buick
“Nailed” – Great 8 Pick

Getting deeper into the top Great 8 contenders this 1956 Buick known as “Nailed” was certainly one of my personal “top three” of the entire show. Mark and Ellen Willman connected with Rad Rides by Troy and set off on the journey to help Troy Trepanier place another Ridler feather in his cap.

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Starting with the 90-line waterborne monochromatic dark grey paint that was highlighted with polished and brushed black nickel plating – a trend that I can guarantee will be on the list of new tricks in the years to come, was only the start.

The injected 413 Buick Nailhead engine sporting not one, but two turbochargers should have been disassembled on site to see everything from the custom girdles holding the rotating assembly in place to the custom injection system that helps churn out of 750 horsepower from quite an unlikely source. Toss in huge Wilwood brakes, real world suspension and a Tremec transmission and you now know why this ’56 Buick was one of my favorites. It was designed to be driven and it will definitely be driven after its prestigious show tour the owners assured us.

Ron Cizek’s 1940 Ford
“Checkered Past” – Great 8 Pick – 2013 Ridler Winner

To say that the competition for the 50th Anniversary of the Ridler Award (full story HERE) was tough – would be a understatement as you’ve seen from the impressive Great 8 picks above. Digging into the history and the build of Ron Cizek’s 1940 Ford known as “Checkered Past” he would also definitely agree.

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Starting off with a partnership with Andy Leach, a gifted chassis fabricator who decided to share his genuine talent as a builder with Ron – a company was born; Cal Automotive Creations. But making a sign and hanging it on the door doesn’t guarantee success. Just over three years ago two men, friends, several craftsmen, and a shop started a very important journey.

Under the hood there is a flathead Ford V-8 assembled by Erik Hansen at Cal Auto. But this isn’t just any ol’ flathead build, it’s topped by a GMC 4-71 supercharger, fuel injection and a custom intake manifold are overshadowed by trick pans for the engine oil and transmission fluid, which are quite visibly pleasing due to the two-toned and pinstriped paintwork.

DA-10A custom bell-housing machined from billet connects the blown flatty with a six-speed Tremec supplied by Bowler and this is where it gets interesting. I sat and talked to Ron in depth about this bell-housing and I kept going back to that same question, “What is your favorite part of the car?” Again and again he answered “funny enough it was the bell-housing.”

Up front Ridetech suspension cushions the blow, and modified Heidts components in the back makes sure that the ride and the stance are spot on. When it came time to the paint this crafted work of art, Charlie Hutton laid down some the most beautiful deep shades you have ever seen and it shows an accumulation of hard work and the right look to add to the rest of the custom touches throughout.


You could spend hours listening to me attempt to point out all the custom features on “Checkered Past” but it would easier to point out my favorite part – the flush custom windshield. Although the custom bell-housing Ron so dearly loves is quite the masterpiece, there are way too many badass mods to just pick one which is exactly what helped this 1940 Ford stand tall as this year’s Ridler winner.

Down In The Basement

Ok, enough about the Great 8 Ridler Winner – let’s head down to the basement! Now, if you’re a HAMB member or Jalopy Journal junkie then this is definitely the place to hang out.


Not always finished, and mostly drivers, the basement was the place for the more traditional hot rods that we all know and love, not just the shined up show rods that the Autorama is well known for.

Screen shot 2013-04-12 at 9.38.27 AMOne of the things that made the basement display so special this year was not only the cars and the people but more importantly the spectrum of what makes up that traditional hot-rodding world, and this year that happened to be Mr. Gene Winfield himself.

On his personal tour of customizing nine cars in nine cities in nine days all while giving restoration and modifications lessons on everything from chopping a top to relocating bumpers, I had a chance to sit down and jump up on the cowl of a ’39 Chevy with Gene himself and watching him hammer and weld up close and personal really made me feel like I had traveled back in time.

When you have a chance to sit and talk to guys like Gene one-on-one it makes you realize how rich and how beautiful the history of the automobile is combined with custom restorations and custom jobs that have filled the pages of countless magazines and driveways. 

Always quick to make sure that he spends time with his fans and the people that have known his name for decades, it proves that he truly cares for the automotive culture and where it’s headed. 

D. Pitts Personal Picks

After spending some time with Gene down in the basement, I had to get back to the “office” and sort out my favorite picks from this year’s show. It was quite a battle narrowing down my personal favorites from this year’s show, but here goes nothing. In no particular order:

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Teaming up with Pfaff Design and having autocross on the mind is always a good combination. Sydney Weaver from Weaver Customs had no intentions of building a trailer queen and this is evident once you start looking past the dynamic exterior of this 1950 Chevrolet known as Boost.

The 383 cubic inches of supercharged small-block really helps the “go” part of that equation, as does the Air Lift performance suspension system. Top it all off with a custom interior that houses not only a top-notch audio system, but the proper seats and belts to keep Sydney in place once the green flag waves.

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If given the chance to grab one, just one car from the Detroit Autorama floor and cruise the 2,300 plus miles back home, it would have to be this 1953 Cadillac dubbed “Root Beer Float” built by Ryans Rod & Kustoms. From the Moon supplied crossram topped ZZ383 to the AccuAir E-Level ride system, I know there would be no lack of power while enjoying the smooth ride.

Chrome, chrome, and more chrome is only part of the look that has been treated to this shaved, decked and nosed work of art. Inside Chuck Hanna hand formed the center console and reworked the original dash cluster to perfectly accent the drop dead exterior. From the white walls to the gleaming paint this was an easy choice for my personal picks.

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One of the biggest shocks to me at this year’s Detroit Autorama was the exclusion of Gil and Kanet Losi’ 1961 Impala “Under Pressure” from the Great 8. Packing a 540 CID twin-turbocharged big-block that pumps out 2,000 horsepower is only one of the reasons to love this jet black SS. Inside, the sculpted interior blends both factory look with custom fabrication perfectly.

Screen shot 2013-03-18 at 9.45.04 AMGabe Lopez helped finish off the interior details that, for this observer, was the best I’ve seen in quite some time. From the underbelly to the stance this was one car that this betting man’s money would have been in a bookies pocket the minute the bets are placed.

But for whatever reason the judges disagreed and sadly one of my favorite cars from this year’s show got overlooked in my humble opinion.

The 1947 Buick Super dubbed “Superliner” owned by Dale and Cindi Turner was also on my radar from the start. Sporting a Magunson Supercharged LS6, C4 suspension and a custom chassis assembled by Garret’s Rod Shop this luxury liner had all the trimmings and more.

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From the interior stitched by Paul Atkins to the one-off 22-inch wheels, this Buick just had something special about it from end to end and it just kept revealing more and more the longer you starred. Everything from the actuated rear decklid to the lit emblems, the “Superliner” proved why it was not only one of my favorites, but a crowd favorite for the duration of the show.

“Klear View,” a 1946 Chevrolet Pickup was also one of those rods that stood out almost immediately, as did owner Tim Gunsalus. A larger than life character that had no shortness of personalities and love for his ’46 Chev. Over 110 body modifications to the all-steel body are only overshadowed by the clear hood.

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Under that bonnet is a good old fashion small-block Chevrolet dressed in what I would consider the perfect blend of paint and chrome. Classic Excelsior wire wheels keep the theme going and it only added to why I had to put this hot little pickup on my personal favorite’s list from this year’s Autorama.

Well, that’s it folks – my adventures through this year’s Autorama took me all over the place, and bringing you the insider’s scoop first hand is what we’re all about here at Rod Authority so stay tuned, we’ve only just begun!

Check out THE GALLERY below for more:


About the author

Dennis Pittsenbarger

Admitted knucklehead and automobile aficionado to the bone, Dennis shares his car obsessions and current news with a hot-rod-loving audience worldwide.
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