Every year since 1964, car owners have brought their cars into the Detroit Autorama Car Show hoping to be included in the group of individuals to compete for the show’s top honor, the Don Ridler Memorial Award.
Ridler was a highly-regarded producer of the show in its earliest days. After passing away at just 54 years old, the award was created in his honor for the exceptionalism he represented. A few years back, rather than have a varied number of vehicles competing for the Ridler each year, the show created a qualifying class of just eight cars from the hundreds entered, and called it The Great 8. More recently, it picked up a sponsorship with Pirelli.
The Pirelli Great 8 has become one of the highest honors a car owner can receive. Simply being selected as one of the eight finalists for the award is worthy of anyone’s resume. Over the years, many types of vehicles have won the Ridler, from race cars to hand-built one-offs, but there are a few basic rules to be a contender: The car cannot have been shown anywhere before, and it has to exemplify a high standard of creativity, build quality, and presentation.
One entry this year, from Australia, is the first time a Great 8 winner has been selected from outside of North America. Ridler winners from the past have also included car owners from Canada (in 2014 and 1998), as well as non-American-based vehicles (a Mercedes-Benz won in 1995). Here are this year’s Great 8 finalists, representing the seven vehicles that did not win the Ridler Award:
Malvaso’s 1940 Willys Coupe
Greg Maltase from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, made a statement with his ’40 Willys coupe, which certainly had a Gasser feel to it, even though it looked liked it was ready for the street. The motor is an 850-horse beast with Hilborn injection, and the ride was completed and painted at TriWorks Hot Rods in Nashville.
Wathor’s 1937 Ford Coupe
Dan Wathor’s ’37 Ford coupe was built at Kenny’s Rod Shop in Boise, Idaho. That’s a 427 Ford stroker motor topped with Arias Hemi heads under the flip-forward hood. Curved glass is used for the windshield as well as the doors, and Kenny’s used PPG Enviro Base to paint the car.
Gooden’s 1952 Mercedes-Benz 170s
It is rare to see a foreign car in the Great 8 mix, but Mark Gooden brought his stylish ’52 Mercedes-Benz 170S to Detroit. Samson Design in Marshall, Missouri customized the sedan, which included a 2-inch wedge chop on the roof, and the grille laid back one-inch. An all-aluminum 6.2-liter V8 is under the hood, and Derick Samson sprayed it in Mystic Brown paint.
Horish’s 1961 Chevy Bubbletop Wagon
Joe Horish, out of Wilmington, Delaware, rolled into Cobo Hall with a ’61 Chevy he calls “Double Bubble” due to the grafting of a second bubbletop roof to create the one-off wagon. Jesse Greening at Greening Auto Company did much of the custom bodywork that includes Nomad-style roof ribs, a lift hatch out back utilizing ’61 Chevy glass, a 3-inch chop, and so many custom parts and 3D-printed pieces we cannot even begin listing them all.
Bitmead’s 1976 XB Ford Falcon
Chris and Colleen Bitmead from Australia simply wowed the crowd with their ’76 XB Ford Falcon, which would be similar to a shortened Torino from the same time period in the United States. The right-hand-drive threw a few onlookers, but a cantilever hood and trunk mechanism was impressive, too. The gaps on this car were micrometer perfect. Extensive custom bodywork included removal of the drip rails, widening the body 3.5 inches forward of the cowl, and the hood extended to meet the windshield. A supercharged 5.4-liter Ford, referred to in Australia as the Boss 290, provides the punch.
Marken’s 1938 Graham
Daring to be different with a ’38 Graham, Mike and Patricia Marken entered their ride into the competition and received a Great 8 award. From Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the couple had O’Meara’s Customs transform the four-door into a coupe by removing 26 inches of roofline. They also stretched the doors 4 inches while making them operate suicide-style, and channeled the car 4 inches along the way.
Boyles’ 1941 Ford Pickup
During the show, Richard and Lynn Boyles’ highly-modified ’41 Ford pickup was shown with every door, panel, and hood side open, which took away from the lines of the vehicle when it was closed up. Big 18×7-inch and 20×10-inch wheels from Intro are under the fenders, and Scott’s Hot Rods supplied the one-off independent suspension pieces, chromed to the max by Advanced Plating.