Sean Black’s roadster is essentially a ’32 Ford infused with the DNA of a ’63 Corvette. A 365hp 327 fills the engine bay, while the interior sports the gauges, steering wheel and shifter from the
’Vette. Even the body wears Daytona Blue, a Corvette colour, and the whole package works beautifully. The interior, stitched by M&M Hot Rod Interiors in Holly Pond, Alabama, uses the same design cues, and won Top Interior at the show
THE Grand National Roadster Show, the granddaddy of them all, has been on my bucket list ever since I discovered US-based hot rod magazines as a teenager. And finally, during my 50th trip around the sun, I found myself at the Pomona Fairplex in Southern California checking out some of the sweetest cars I had ever laid eyes on. This was my kind of show, full of hot rods and customs, with a smattering of restored muscle cars and a few street machines scattered around for good measure. But by and large, the vast majority of the cars were traditionally styled – in other words, very tastefully done.
The big drawcard for this event has always been the competition to crown America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, an award that has been handed out since 1950 when the Model A roadster of Bill Niekamp was judged the best in the land. It was a real buzz to see this very same car – beautifully restored and probably looking better today than it did back in 1950 – as you walked into the hall where all the 2018 contenders were on display. All up, there were 15 roadsters vying for the AMBR trophy
– a nine-foot-high behemoth of wood and gold-plated tin that grows ever larger as names keep getting added – but one car stood out, a classmate, if you will, of the Niekamp roadster. It was always going to be a big ask for a car originally built in 1951 to compete with the best builders of the 21st century, but the Eddie Dye roadster, now owned by Jim Bobowski and beautifully restored by Circle City Hot Rods, sure gave it a redhot go. It was definitely a crowd favourite and it would have been an amazing achievement for it to have won, but it wasn’t to be.
Picking a winner from so many high-quality cars is an unenviable job, especially when you take into consideration the very subjective nature of choosing the most beautiful car. After all, we all know that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beer holder’. Thankfully, there weren’t any ugly cars amongst the contenders this year and the ’31 roadster of Dave Martin was deemed the best of a very good bunch. With a 500hp SBC screwed together by Ed Pink Racing Engines, this hot rod had plenty of go to back up the show. In the past the car has raced in the Nevada Silver State Classic, averaging over 100mph for the hour-long race.
James Bobowski’s 1929 Ford
The sentimental and crowd favourite was the former Hop Up cover car from 1952. Jimmy White and the Circle City Hot Rods crew did an amazing job of bringing this car back to life. The stunning Cherry Orchid paint was judged the best amongst the AMBR contenders, so it wasn’t there just to make up the numbers
A~ The Bill
The first AMBR winner, and still one of the best. The Bill Niekamp roadster was on loan from the Petersen Museum and was the first car you saw as you walked in to the pavilion housing this year’s AMBR contenders
B~ Dan Hostetter’s
One of the more interesting creations this year was Dan Hostetter’s Model T roadster. Homebuilt and based off a Joe Henning drawing that Dan spotted in a 1955 issue of Rod & Custom, it was a long time coming, and a credit to the man’s tenacity to see the project through to completion
C~ Rick Dore’s
Rick Dore rocked up with yet another coachbuilt creation. To be honest, I think these types of cars are a little bit out of place – they’re not a hot rod and they’re not a custom – but they certainly are very beautifully crafted
D~ Greg Hahs’s
This slightly kookylooking centre-door 1917 Model T was an interesting bit of gear. It was painted in 1940 and had been sitting on display in a bail bonds building since then, and had only covered 5000 miles. It still wears the 1940 paintjob on the body, but owner Greg Hahs has hopped it up with a twin-carb flathead and Jag rear end
E~ Clifford Mattis’s ‘DILLINGER’
Another outstanding custom on display was Clifford Mattis’s ’41 Buick Sedanette dubbed Dillinger. Built by Lucky 7 Customs, the lines on this car are absolute perfection, from the roof chop to the slanted pillars and flush-fitting skirts
A~ Bob Florine has created the perfect wagon for the family that’s in a rush. This gorgeous ’57 Ranch Wagon sports a Boss 429 engine and stack injection
B~ There was a whole pavilion solely dedicated to restored muscle cars, and since you’ve all seen plenty of Mustangs and Camaros before, I took a photo of every AMC muscle car on display – the highlights for me being a ’69 SC/Rambler and this pink ’68 AMX, which was given to that year’s Playboy Playmate Of The Year, Angela Dorian
C~ The paint schemes on the lowriders take masking and layering to the next level. The colour choices were absolutely wild as well
David Martin’s 1931 Ford
Pink Racing Engines
Pete Aardema’s 1933 Ford
A~ This stunning ’55 Chevy Bel Air of Anthony Fuentes was essentially a restored car, but detailed to the max and fitted with a full-house hydraulic system. Even the display stands were fully engraved, as were the insides of the rims. It won the Lowrider Convertible Custom class
B~ Possibly the coolest thing I saw at the GNRS were these restored steering wheels. They weren’t cheap, ranging in price from $1400 to around $3500, but man they were nice!
C~ It’s awesome when someone takes the old family car and turns it into a showstopper. Bo Swan’s grandfather was the original owner of this ’60 Pontiac Catalina Safari wagon and drove it across the country in 1964. Bo’s mum then drove the car to high school, but it’s since been upgraded with an LS, 4L60E and AccuAir air suspension
D~ Henry and Naomi Arras brought along their ’35 Chrysler Airflow coupe, one of only 71 ever made. While the body remains fairly untouched – that swoopy roof line is how it left the factory – underneath is a supercharged 6.1L Hemi, 545RFE trans and 9in
E~ Paul Soliz is a super-cool dude who recently got this ’63 Nova gasser on the road. He’s a member of the Outlaw Gassers and usually races a wheelstanding ’50 Plymouth with a tunnelrammed 427 BBC
F~ Max Grundy had his ’61 Chrysler Newport on display, a car so wild from the factory you hardly need to customise it. A really cool feature is the Mobile Director seating that allows the front seat to swivel while the armrest folds out to create a table
Other standouts for me were the ’36 Ford of Dana Elrod, a sinister black beast sporting an injected 392 Hemi and slammed hard thanks to Ridetech airbags. While it wasn’t exactly setting any new styling trends, Scott Helliesen’s ’32 Ford was a gorgeous tribute to the Bob McGee roadster, while the ice blue ’32 of Gordon Custer Leland Jr was another beautifully detailed traditionally styled car.
That was the other thing that struck me, the fact that the overwhelming majority of cars competing were based around 50s and 60s styling cues. For my tastes that works just fine; after all, good styling is timeless and that’s why it’s still a popular choice so many years later. You do have to wonder, though, whether it’s progressing the hobby when people are simply revisiting styles and techniques that have been done countless times before. One thing is certain: The quality of the workmanship has progressed, and we definitely don’t want a return to the days when cars were built solely to score points at car shows.
One thing I wasn’t quite prepared for was the sheer number of vehicles on display. It wasn’t until I arrived on Sunday morning that I realised I’d completely missed two pavilions – easy to do when there are seven of the suckers full of cars! There I was thinking I could have a cruisy day revisiting stuff I’d checked out the day before and making sure I didn’t miss anything; instead, I’m checking out an entire hall full of restored muscle cars, and right next to that, another one full of customs and wildly painted lowriders. I spent so long checking out the multicoloured and multilayered paintjobs and trying to get my head around how much time and effort goes into masking, that I ran out of time to check out any of the cars that were on display outside the halls!
If you ever get the chance to go to the Grand National Roadster Show, try and get there for all three days. The show starts Friday lunchtime, runs until 8 pm Friday and Saturday, and wraps up at 6pm on Sunday. I skipped the Friday and wished I had a little more time to check everything out. There’s so much to see, with every car a standout and not a single shitbox in sight. The only problem you’re going to have is sorting through the hundreds of photos you had to take, because trust me, everything you walk past is worth taking a photo of.
Southern California really is the birthplace, epicentre and hotbed of the hot rod and custom scene, and the Grand National Roadster Show is the event that brings them all together.