The Grand National Roadster Show always kicks off the New Year with a bang. What is arguably the biggest hot rod and custom car show in the United States signifies the beginning of a fresh year of events for die-hards to look forward to.
The 67th year of this storied event didn’t fail to impress, with more than 500 cars displayed across seven exhibition halls in the Pomona Fairplex in California. A veritable who’s who of the industry gave their finest creations a polish, and set up shop for the thousands of punters that walked through the gates for the three-day event.
The part of the show generating the most conversation and speculation, of course, was who was going to take out the coveted America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award – a towering nine-and-a-half-foot trophy that has been awarded to some of the most iconic and important hot rods ever built, including the Bill Niekamp Roadster, Richard Peters’ A La Kart and Boyd Coddington’s Boydster.
This year’s competition comprised of 13 entrants that exhibited an enormous scope of design and talent from across the country, with heavy-hitting builders such as Rick Dore, Chip Foose and Jimmy Shine all participating. A change in the rules this year allowed cars that had previously entered the competition the chance to gain top honours, as the traditional ‘debut’ stipulation was removed.
The passing of George Barris last year had a profound effect on the hot-rodding community, and the show paid tribute to him in many ways. Organisers displayed a large photo of George next to the AMBR trophy. The original Batmobile was also exhibited in the main hall.
The other buildings at the Fairplex were crammed with a huge variety of cars and bikes; everything from hot rods, customs, drag cars, land-speed racers, choppers and low riders filled the floors. Building 4 (the main hall) had the 13 AMBR entrants, last year's winner Larry Olson's 1933 Roadster, along with a large trade and industry vendors section. There were also a few extra cars scattered around the main stage where auctions, music and the pin-up contest took place.
Buildings 5-8 were filled with a vast array of cars on display, mostly street rods, hot rods and custom cars. There’s no doubt there was something that would tick all the boxes for any punter, whether it was a brightly-coloured mild custom, an angry blown hot rod, or a high-tech pro tourer. Some car clubs organised to exhibit together, including the Lifestyle CC lowrider club, the Woody club, and a club dedicated to survivor and period-specific Gassers.
Building 9 was hosted by the SCTA and named ‘The Quest for Speed’. It showcased an informative timeline of racing history; starting with some early post-war land-speed racers, all the way up to modern drag cars and salt-flat streamliners. The exhibit was a great way to learn about the development of automotive racing in these genres, and to marvel at some of the extreme engineering thought up along the way.
Buildling 10 was the Suede Palace, a slightly more niche building for hot rods and custom cars, but perhaps ones not fully completed or shiny enough to rub shoulders with cars in other halls. A large amount of artists, clothing companies and other rockabilly-inspired vendors took up shop inside the Palace, while bands performed on stage. The area was more a celebration of the all-encompassing vintage-car culture that is prevalent, especially in Southern California, with various clubs and groups awarding ‘Club Picks’ at the end of the weekend.
With three days of excitement and endless foot traffic coming to an end, it all boiled down to the awards ceremony on Sunday night. Car builders and owners – from the smallest mechanics to the biggest industry names – all congregated to praise and acknowledge those who had shown the best cars in all the classes. George Barris’ grandson Jared paid a moving tribute to the legendary designer, and 90-year-old Blackie Gejeian, a past AMBR winner and a man who has attended every day of every Grand National Roadster Show since its inception in 1950, made a memorable speech.
Darryl Hollenbeck’s 1932 Roadster was named America’s Most Beautiful Roadster for 2016. When it was announced, there was a moment of adulation as traditional hot rodders across the room cheered and applauded. For many years, the contest had become somewhat discouraging to the more ‘traditional’ sector of the hot-rodding community. With the crown going to a roadster built with great respect and appreciation for hot rod history, and one that’s racked up thousands of miles being driven on the street, the announcement was cause for great celebration by the wider community of builders.
The Grand National Roadster Show takes place in January each year. The massive grounds of the Pomona Fairplex, California, are well-suited to the hundreds of cars shown and the thousands of spectators who attend over the three days. If you want to be one of those people the next time the show rolls into town, stay tuned to www.rodshows.com/gnrs for all the information.
Gary Wales’ monstrous 1915 La Bestioni, dubbed Rusty Two. The chain-driven and wooden-bodied boat-tail speedster took out top position for Radical Show Rod.
Johnny Carillo’s high-boy ’32 roadster is a prime example of traditional hot rods; it runs a nicely detailed flathead Ford. Johnny’s special ‘blueing’ technique gives the metal body a unique, worn-metal look.
George Gutierrez of the Long Beach Cavaliers took out Best of Show and the Estranged CC picks in the Suede Palace. The 1933 coupe has nice touches like matching Weiand heads and intake.
Ol Yeller is Joe Hickenbottom’s survivor ’37 Ford Nitro Drag Car. It was originally owned by Glen Bodnema. It raced from 1960-1964 in California, and has an injected 324 Old and ’37 Lasalle trans set way back on the frame.
Tom McIntyre is now the custodian of the rare Mickey Thompson Corvette that was displayed over the weekend. This meant Smokey Yunick’s infamous Mystery Motor was on display for all to see. If you’ve never heard about the engine, Google it on your lunch break!
Dennis Jones’ 1955 Chevy Gasser is still original and unrestored since 1963. It was also displayed with a plethora of media and automotive history that surrounds the car. Impressive!
This is a 1956 Lloyd with an 11-sec Olds V8 stuffed into it. A scary ride in a car that you can fit in your pocket!
Ex-pro skater Eric Conner’s ‘Modelo’ Gold ’60 Oldsmobile 98 had a real 60s vibe.
The original ‘Scrape’ Zephyr designed by Terry Cook is now owned by Storage Wars TV star Barry Weiss. This was the first car to make famous the ‘laying frame’ concept and is now the basis of many fibreglass reproduction bodies.
Eric Erickson’s insane ’60 Thunderbird, Gypsy Jewel, was easily the most eye-searing car at the show. It was built as a sparkling tribute to Watson-style paint jobs.
Bart Trinchero has managed to stuff a blown Daimler V8 into his 1948 MG TC. Somehow being in the Conservative Sports class doesn’t seem fitting...
Larry and Larry Foley’s Notabusa is a radically modified 1969 Subaru 360 used for land-speed racing. It’s powered by a 1984 Kwaka Ninja motor. It currently holds two speed records at El Mirage, including 135.3mph in the I/FCC class.
Wayne Carini’s Speedway Roadster is based off ’32 Ford componentry, with an aluminium body formed by Steve Moal. It took out first in the Radical Hot Rod class
Brian George’s ’31 Ford roadster took out Best Rod, and deservedly so. It’s finished to a great standard and has some trick parts, including Ardun OHV heads and a Pines-Winterfront grille.
One of the latest creations out of Roy Brizio’s shop is Mark Stitzer’s ’32 coupe. It rocks a 4:71-blown Ardun flathead, Tremec five-speed and Winters quick-change rear end.
Jay Dean from Nostalgia Ranch in San Diego managed to help Rob Sepe put together his car from a rolling project to finished hot rod in just over eight weeks. It has a beautifully detailed ’63 327 with 202 valves, 10.5:1 compression, roller cams and Offenhauser intake. So many nice features went into make this great late-50s/early-60-styled show rod.
Greg and Kiki Hahs own this 1958 BMW Isetta built as a tribute to the LA Lakers basketball team. So many weird and wonderful details are found, including a basketball shift knob and a basketball net as the sunroof!
Laurie Peterson owns this pro touring ’63 Studebaker Avanti R6, packing an Art Morrison chassis with a methanol-injected, Procharged LS3 putting out 724hp at the wheels.
The Brizio Family Award went to Chick and Sue-Ann Koszis’ 392 Hemi-powered ’32 Ford roadster. It competed in the AMBR in 2013.
The boys at The Forge from Loveland, CO, were showing a customer's roadster with Riley OHV heads for a flathead Ford V8. Riley was known for making OHV conversion for four-bangers, but turned out only four sets of these. Only three sets are known to still exist.
The Rolling Bones gave everyone a sneak peek at their latest project: a Lakes Coupe for Dennis Varni, in their signature Bones style.
Gene Winfield is as much a staple at Californian car shows as these Ford hot rods, and this year he was showing off his ’52 Chevy custom dubbed Desert Sunset.
This interesting drag car is a 2007 PT Cruiser owned by Sil Brander and dubbed the ET Cruiser. A 572 Mopar mega-block pulls more than 1000hp thanks to Indy 572-13 heads, 13:1 compression and a host of heavy-duty internal goodies.
Jerry Logan’s 1960 Caddillac, The Copper Caddy, was built by Kindig-it Design and took the honourable George Barris Memorial Kustom d’Elegance award this year. It was debuted at SEMA last year and was an award winner from day one.
Larry Olson’s 1933 Ford roadster was last year’s AMBR title winner.
The Lew Thompson Coupe was Rod & Custom’s very first cover car, and it was shown at GNRS as a freshly restored hot rod. It was first built in 1947 and went from daily driver to Nitro-fuelled drag car before being sold in 1953. Believed to have disappeared forever, the body was found in a chicken coop in Arkansas. And, after being identified by Lew Thompson and Gene Winfield, the current owner Eric Arnette set about restoration of the car in 2015. The Atlas Speed & Custom team in Austin, Texas, were in charge of the restoration project, and Gene Winfield sprayed the fresh coat of paint on it before its debut at the show.
Mickey's Mouse is a survivor hot rod belonging to well-respected car-builder Mickey Himsl. It was first built in the late-50s, and was freshly restored for GNRS. Paintwork was done by Art Himsl, while the East Bay Speed & Custom team from Concord, California, were in charge of handling the restoration. The truck had a lot of historical memorabilia displayed with it and it managed to clean up at the awards ceremony, winning 1st Rod Pickup pre-’35, Outstanding Colour, Outstanding Detail, Outstanding Engine and the West Coast Customs Outstanding Nostalgia awards!