Only a couple days before the doors opened to the 2016 Detroit Autorama (Feb. 26-28), the Motor City was socked with a classic winter storm that dumped nearly a foot of snow in some areas and closed the schools just about everywhere. That’s winter in Motown, so it’s little wonder that car enthusiasts flock to the warmth of downtown’s Cobo Center for the granddaddy of indoor hot rod car shows.
They’ve been doing it for nearly 65 years, making it a local tradition and an anticipated respite from the snow, ice and road salt. The Autorama’s prestigious Ridler award, which rivals the Grand National Roadster Show’s America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award among custom car builders, also makes Detrroit an international destination, with hot rod builders from across the country and beyond vying for the coveted trophy.
The Ridler is awarded only to vehicles that debut at the Detroit Autorama, which guarantees a fresh show every year, with the latest creations from the likes of Foose, Trepanier, Ring Brothers and more making their introductions under the lights. It’s a collection of the best of the best, where no bolt is left unturned – or un-plated – in the quest to nab the Ridler.
And while the Ridler contenders represent the upper echelon of project car spending, typically costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, the rest of vehicles on display convey decidedly more down-to-earth approaches to personalization and performance. It is the quintessential blue-collar city, after all, and that’s reflected in most of the muscle cars, street rods and the strong contingent of Corvettes.
Detroit loves its Vettes, both vintage and late-model, and a stroll down the aisles shows owners here appreciate straightforward performance perhaps more than anything else. From big-block-powered early cars, to the latest in high-tech tuning, we were amazed by the variety and creativity in the ways horsepower was built into them. The kaleidoscope of colors and diversity generations gave the event the feeling of Corvette sub-show within the boundaries of the larger show.
Here then, is a gallery of the best Vettes from the Autorama, reminding snowbound enthusiasts everywhere that spring is around the corner – and it will soon again be time to pull off the car cover and fire up that Corvette for another season in the sun.
Cue the Beach Boys.
Since 2003, Detroit-area classic rock radio station WCSX has headed the Stone Soup vehicle project, which features a car built almost every year with donated parts – even the car itself – to benefit a local charity via a raffle during the Woodward Dream Cruise. Last year it was this 1971 coupe, which benefitted Holy Cross Children’s Services. It has a McLaren-built Dart 400-inch small-block backed by a Turbo 400. It was built by students from Washtenaw Community College.
Jim and Carroll Jarrett’s 1967 roadster was one of few un-customized cars at the Autorama and stood out with its white stinger-accented Marina Blue exterior and L71-code 427/435 big-block under the hood. Side exhausts complete the picture-perfect combination.
Jason Flis brought his 1962 Corvette dubbed “Illusions” to Detroit from Virginia. And yes, it’s a ’62, with a custom 1957 front end. All told, the body has about 30 custom features, including Jeep Liberty headlamps and Chevy HHR taillights. The engine is a Chevrolet Performance LSX454 and it’s backed by a 4L85 transmission. Flis says there are more than 10,000 hours in the build.
Builder and racer Randy Johnson started with a theft-recovered C5 as the foundation for his ultimate street/track car, which was recently featured in VETTE. The front and rear fenders were flared to accommodate massive Nitto tires, which channel the grunt from a 630-hp Lingenfelter-built LS7 to the pavement. Pfaff Designs, in Royal Oak, Mich. designed the striking graphics package.
Steve Grybel’s slammed, chrome yellow C3 also graced the cover of VETTE a couple of years ago and it still looks gorgeous. The small-block-powered coupe has been completely restored and customized from stem to stern, with more details than we have room to print here. Check out the March 2014 issue for the complete story.
Gary Bach has had an epic experience with this 1967 Corvette since purchasing it in 1978. He and buddy Mike Blank have driven it across the country twice along Route 66, cruising along the backroads of America with a 663-hp blown 427 big-block. The old-school Eckler’s body mods have been in place since the late 1970s, too.
Perfectly epitomizing the trend of blending vintage style with a modern powertrain, Brian Eggers’ 1963 split-window coupe is powered by a Hot Cam-equipped LS3 backed by a TREMEC five-speed. It was built by Dynamic Corvettes, in Saginaw, Mich. and features an SRIII Motorsports chassis with C7 suspension components.
All the way from Bakersfield, Calif., James and Sandy Eudy’s 1960 Corvette is a creative tour de force, featuring a custom power-tilting nose that covers a late-model LS7. The rear quarters were each widened 3 inches, too. It’s all built on a custom “bird cage” chassis fitted with a complete C4 suspension.
One of the more down to earth street cars at the show was Steve Jesse’s 1977 Corvette. The well-detailed coupe was driven by a stout 414-inch Dart small-block equipped with ACCEL digital fuel injection. A Turbo 400 funnels torque to a 3.55-geared rear axle.
Ron and Kathy Torp’s ’65 convertible was powered by a Chevrolet Performance Ramjet 350 crate engine, which evoked the look of the original Rochester mechanical system while offering contemporary EFI drivability. The PPG metallic gray paint also lends a contemporary look that’s offset nicely with a red leather interior.
Lingenfelter Performance Engineering showed up with a few cars, including this 2015 Z06, featuring its Stage 1 kit. It uses alternately sized pulleys to spin the blower faster and push horsepower from 650 to 720 hp.
Restored by the renowned Corvette experts at Masterworks Automotive Services, this 1961 originally fuelie car has spent its entire life in the Wibbleman family – father Robert bought it originally and passed it on to his son Chris. In turn, he had Masterworks restore for the future enjoyment of his daughters, meaning this Corvette isn’t going to change families anytime soon.
If you ask us, John Lowery was inspired at least subconsciously by the Corvette Summer movie car when it came to customizing his ’69 coupe. The 350/M21-powered car is exquisitely detailed and the work was performed by Vettestorations, in Southfield, Mich.
Another participant who drove far to make the Autorama was Vermont’s Charlene Johnson. Her ’59 Corvette featured a T56-backed LS3 525-hp crate engine and rolled on 18-inch wheels – with huge Wilwood brakes providing the stopping power. The car was built by The Auto Shoppe, in South Burlington, Vt.