2016 Ridler Award Winner: Billy Thomas’ 1939 Olds Convertible

Folks who follow what happens at the Detroit Autorama through the years should remember a certain copper-colored ’33 Ford roadster from the 2013 show that many people thought was of Great 8 caliber. They may have been right, but since the car had already been a contender for the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award a few months earlier at another show, it didn’t qualify for the Ridler award, which has a first-time-shown-anywhere standard.

The builder/owner behind that car (Harold Chapman from the Texas-based Customs & Hot Rods of Andice rod shop) had also won Goodguys’ Muscle Car of the Year with a ’68 Corvette, so the build team obviously has a certain winning way about them. And, they proved it when the team came back to Detroit this year and took home all the marbles, winning the prestigious Don Ridler Memorial Award with the “Olds Cool” ’39 Oldsmobile convertible they built for Billy Thomas of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Chapman runs Customs & Hot Rods of Andice (CHRA), which is made up of a group of talented builders and fabricators that come from some of the best hot rods shops around the country. The car had been previously started at another shop, but the build might have been beyond what they could accomplish, so they helped Thomas find CHRA, who picked up the ball and ran with it.

Starting with an illustration from Jimmy Smith, the CHRA crew spent years fine-tuning the custom build so that every part you’d see had a reason to be there, and its appearance and presentation was perfect. In fact, this Olds might be one of the most well thought out cars in recent times to win the Ridler.

During the show, Thomas mentioned this was a one-owner car, and that it was also extremely rare. By one account, Oldsmobile built only 472 of the “L” (with the straight-eight engines) Series 60 convertibles in 1939, and the Oldsmobile Club of America has stated there are only two left in existence. No matter, as the crew at CHRA fabricated many of its own parts for the car, which included new-age technologies such as the 3D printing of parts.

The grille, Oldsmobile in its basic design, was laid back several inches, achieving a sense of motion the stock vertical grille couldn’t accomplish. Greening Auto Company, who has worked on several Great 8 contenders, created many parts on this ride as well, including the one-off wheels, which hide any evidence of the caliper or rotor on the backside.

Used throughout the car, the Oldsmobile logo used in 1939 is called the Winged Spur, which represents the harnessing of horsepower, incorporating three acorns that reminds us Oldsmobile was a founding member in the new automotive industry.  In addition, a double-sided micrometer under the wings is meant to relate to the precision and accuracy associated with Oldsmobile products.

The engine, an Olds 455 now boasting 498 cubes, came from Mondello Performance Products and creates some 600 horsepower (definitely not your daddy’s Olds!) and it was the last engine Joe Mondello, Sr., built and dyno’d before he passed away. Charlie Hutton, from Charlie Hutton Color Studio in Boise, Idaho painted three of the last four Ridler winners, and he sprayed this one, too.

The Olds 455 was bored to 498 cubic inches, was built by Mondello Performance Products and pumps out more than 600 horsepower.

After its well-deserved win, the car was boxed up and shipped to Chicago for the 54th World of Wheels car show where it won the Legend Cup — an award that was created to reward style and design along with quality and craftsmanship. In the past, both Great 8 and former Ridler winners have gone on to win the award, so this Olds continued the current trend, picking up both pieces of hardware.

The prize.

About the author

Eric Geisert

A journalist and photographer, Eric Geisert, worked for three years at VW Trends magazine before joining Street Rodder magazine in 1991. In 2002, he was named one of The 50 Who Made A Difference at the 50th Detroit Autorama and, in 2004, was named editor of Kit Car magazine, a 30-year-old title. By 2006, a move back to Street Rodder came with a senior editor position and, in 2007, Eric was inducted into the Circle of Champions, the Detroit Autorama's Hall of Fame. In 2013, he became a freelance writer and works on his expansive car collection that includes a ’34 five-window Ford coupe, '32 Ford roadster, reproduction '59 Lotus 11, 356 Porsche speedster, and '59 Karmann Ghia.
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