Gearheads get ready to roll into Autorama

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published February 13, 2013

 Troy resident Ray Hanson gets his ’61 Chevy Impala Bubbletop ready for Autorama.

Troy resident Ray Hanson gets his ’61 Chevy Impala Bubbletop ready for Autorama.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Troy resident Ray Hanson is a regular at the Woodward Dream Cruise and the Troy Traffic Jam, and he brings his wheels to the Gathering Place in Troy to show them off during the summer. He will also bring his prized ’61 ivory Chevy Impala Bubbletop to Autorama. 

“I’ve been into cars since I could drive,” Hanson, a skilled woodworker, said. The Bubbletop, so named for the large back window, is “pretty much original,” he said. “I can take this car to the shows, and it’s the only one like it.”

Hanson says the car is 90 percent original. “It’s never been painted. It’s been touched up, but never painted. It’s an incredible car.”

Hanson said he’s lowered the chassis and put new wheels and tires on the car, but that’s about it.  The V-8 engine and dual exhaust system were factory installed in ’61.

Hanson, 72, and his son Jeff, 40, work on the various vehicles they’ve owned in Hanson’s heated garage, although Hanson admits that Jeff Hanson does most of the hands-on work these days.

“I sit in my chair and act as go-fer and go get parts,” Hanson said.

He also owns an antique tractor and a 1960 Willys Jeep.

“I fix them up, then something else comes along and I sell them to make room,” he explained. He’s had about 15 cars, mostly General Motors brands, in the past 48 years he’s been married. His advice to newbies is simple. “Get into it. Go slow, learn what you can learn and go from there,” he said.

The first Detroit Autorama took place 61 years ago at the University of Detroit Field House as a fundraiser for the Michigan Hot Rod Association’s efforts to build the Detroit Dragway. Over the years, it moved to the Michigan State Fairgrounds and the Detroit Artillery Armory before coming to Cobo Center as its first paid public show in 1961.

Troy resident Jim Smith’s late mother, Jenny, drove Smith to his first Autorama at the Detroit Artillery Armory when he was 13. Smith, 66, a retired toolmaker who grew up in Madison Heights, said he’s been interested in cars and motorcycles his whole life.

“My mother wouldn’t speak to my father after he co-signed a loan for a motorcycle for me,” he said.

Smith has worked on a number of cars through the years at his home in Troy and does everything except painting and upholstery work. He’s worked on racecars driven in races in Mount Clemens and Toledo, Ohio. He’s been to more Autoramas than he can count as part of the Motor City Mavens Auto Art, a group of pinstripe artists from all over the country and Canada who pinstripe door panels and other items to benefit Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester. For the past 35 years, he’s met between 40 and 140 other “car guys” for breakfast on Saturday mornings at the Ram’s Horn restaurant on Rochester Road, near Hamlin.

But this is the very first year he is bringing wheels to the Autorama show.

He just purchased a red and black ’39 Ford Sedan Delivery, a station wagon with no windows, in October from Bonnie Larivee, wife of Robert Larivee Jr., known as J.R., one of the founders of Autorama.

“I figured it would be a good car,” he said. “It’s in good shape. I plan to drive it.”

“I’m taking the car down there as a tribute to J.R.,” he said.

The 61st Anniversary Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama will be held at Cobo Center in Detroit March 8-10. The show celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Ridler Award, given to a custom car judged to be outstanding, shown for the first time anywhere. The award was named after Don Ridler, the first promoter of the show. To commemorate the anniversary, Autorama organizers have invited all of the 50 past winners of the award back to the show on “Ridler’s Row.”

This year’s show will begin with an outdoor “Cacklefest” when two famous dragsters — Al Bergler’s “More Aggravation,” the first Ridler award-winning vehicle, and Bergler’s funny car, titled “Motown Shaker” — fire up at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Jefferson at noon March 8. 

Autorama will also feature “Tribute to Batmobile” with three bat vehicles from the original TV series and movies. Other highlights include the Cavalcade of Kustoms, a 10-car exhibit of specially invited ’50s customs; Ford’s First Feather, a 10-car handpicked collection of two seat SS Thunderbirds from 1955 to 1957; and the Autorama Preservation Award Winner, a 1932 two window Fordillac from the Genesee Gear Grinders, presented by Steele Rubber Products.

Admission to Autorama at the gate is $18 for adults, $5 for children 6 to 12, and free for children under 5. Discount tickets are available at O’Reilly Auto Parts for $16 for adults and $4 for children 6 to 12. For more information and celebrity appearance details, call (248) 373-1700 or go to Autorama is produced by Championship Auto Shows Inc. and is sponsored by the Michigan Hot Rod Association.