The custom car epicenter of the world was at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains in Pomona, California during the 2024 Grand National Roadster Show (GNRS), presented by O’Reilly’s Auto Parts. The earth stood still as a thundering armada of cars rolled in and held court on the bucolic grounds of the Pomona Fairplex.
Hundreds of hot rods, muscle cars, and customs congregated together, attracting throngs of fans throughout the weekend. The weather threatened to dampen the mood but mercifully held off until later Sunday night. GNRS historically kicks off the classic car show season at the beginning of each year as well.
GNRS is known as “The Grand Daddy Of Them All,” but we like to think of the show as the “Academy Awards of Hot Rodding.” Whatever the nickname, I’ll go out on a limb here and say it’s the most important custom car show in the country. It is a see-and-be-seen event with big buck builders and driveway Da Vincis rolling out their finest four-wheeled creations.
In The Beginning
Although there is something for everyone at the GNRS, the show is known for its celebration of pre-war open two-seaters. The big kahuna award is America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) and competition is fierce, to say the least. This year was no different as nine incredible rods battled it out to take home the title’s $12,500 prize provided by Automotive Racing Products (ARP). The second prize is the Al Slonaker Memorial Award. Think of this as the big daddy trophy for other eras of cars, like Camaros, and Mustangs, along with ’50s and ’60s iron.
These are big buck builds and the people battling it out here are playing for keeps. This is a very serious competition with owners spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to win a $100 trophy. Having said all that, let’s take a look at the big winners from the 2024 GNRS.
Flaming Hot Phaeton: 2024 AMBR Award – 1932 Ford, Beth Meyer/Owner, Brizio Street Rods/Builder
America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award is considered the ultimate achievement in the hot rodding game and it was won this year by a very nice 1932 Ford two-door Phaeton. This flamed broiled Blue Oval battled it out with eight other cars and took home the $12,500 prize sponsored by ARP Fasteners. Myers will also be emblazoned on the award’s gigantic trophy alongside a canon of legendary builders including George Barris, Boyd Coddington, and Andy Leach.
This old Phaeton began life as a new, 1932 Brookville two-door tub. The artisans at Brizio then massaged every panel to give the car its timeless hot-rod stance, including restyling its hindquarters to mimic a 1932 Ford sedan. All this resides on a Brizio-built, 1932 Ford frame sporting a Super Bell axle and Moal torsion bar suspension. With its foot-deep ebony paint, red hot flames by Art Himsl, and pinstriping flourishes by Eric Reyes, the car tips its hat to old-school rods with a modern twist. The 500+ horsepower Roush 427-cid V8 is teamed up with a TREMEC five-speed transmission and a Winters V8 quick-change rear end.
AMBR Contenders: The Rest of the Best
Batwing Beauty: Al Slonaker Memorial Award – 1959 Impala, David Rush/Owner, Steve Cook Creations/Builder
A 1959 Chevrolet Impala christened “Bespoke” clinched the 2024 Al Slonaker trophy. Dedicated to the memory of Al and Mary Slonaker, founders of the GNRS in 1950, the award has been presented to the best non-roadster vehicle since 1974. Rush also claimed the $12,500 purse money courtesy of ARP Fasteners and a custom billet trophy.
Cooked up by Steve Cook Creations, the Impala features a big cube LS3 motor built by Don Hardy mounted on top of a Roadster Shop chassis. Despite its outrageous factory styling, many tweaks were made to the sheet metal. The batwing beauty has been modified with raised front wheel openings, lengthened body lines, a custom aluminum hood, custom-built front and rear valances, custom side-and-quarter-panel trim, and flush headlight and taillight bezels.
The interior by Gabe’s Custom Interiors features Chevelle seats, a custom steering wheel, and Dakota Digital gauges. Finished in Adventurine Green Pearl paint by BASF and chrome by Ogden Plating, this classic beat out ten other contenders to take home the 2024 Slonaker Award.
Slonaker Contenders: The Rest of The Best
Beyond the Top Awards
The ceremony showcased over 500 individual awards, cementing GNRS’s street cred as the coolest car show on the West Coast. Showgoers were treated to a cavalcade of incredible vehicles, from street rods to celebrity builds like Kevin Hart classics. A special highlight was the transformation of a 1969 Camaro into a Pro Touring machine during the show. GNRS wasn’t just about beautiful cars this year; it also raised $56,000 for Teen Challenge of Southern California through pinstriper auctions.
The culture surrounding the Grand National Roadster Show is as cool as the cars. Elvis and Betty Boop clones are everywhere, and Pendleton shirts, Converse Chuck Taylors, and tattoos are the unofficial uniform for both male and female showgoers. The best place to people watch is always the Suede Palace, where rusty rods co-mingle with vintage vendors. If you need some tiki barware or a shrunken head to hang from your rearview mirror, you’ll find it at the Suede Palace
The Pomona Fairplex used to be called the LA County Fairgrounds and was established in 1922. Since then, many structures have been added over the years including a stadium and other outbuildings. It is a remarkably well-preserved California treasure and worth the price of admission to GNRS just to stroll the grounds.
As the cars rolled out and the 2024 GNRS came to a close, we wanted to say thanks to the Rod Shows team for another great event. The Grand National Roadster Show isn’t just a car meet, it’s the wailing wall for car lovers and a communion of spirits that unites all who make the pilgrimage to the Pomona Fairgrounds. See you again next time.
Photography by Dave Cruikshank