SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Dedication, craftsmanship and artistry are at their peak at North America’s oldest, largest and most prestigious custom car and hot rod show March 7-9 at Cobo Center, which draws enthusiasts from all over the country and more than 150,000 spectators.
Shelby Township resident Dick Robbins’ passion for cars began when his father handed down his older brother’s first car that had a cracked engine block and told him to fix it, since he was taking auto mechanics in high school at the time. He said he successfully repaired it and his brother actually wanted it back.
Now, at age 70, Robbins’ lifelong history with motorcycles and hot rods led him to participate in Autorama half a dozen times. This year, he has a space on the 62nd Detroit Autorama floor for his black 1971 Chevrolet Cheyenne C-10 super pickup truck.
“I normally go to Cobo to help friends out. Most of the time, I don’t really enjoy putting vehicles in Cobo. It’s a major headache, and you’re completely worn out after the show,” Robbins said. “But I thought this is a very nice truck and needs to be seen.”
He said his truck has an 8-foot box bed on the back; most custom trucks have short beds, he said, but he likes the way his looks.
“It’s a pickup truck that you can’t pick anything up in because the bed is too nice,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to put anything in it.”
Although Robbins did not build his truck, which he purchased last fall from an Albuquerque, N.M., man who bought it from a hot rod shop in Texas, he said he did a lot of revising, painting and cleaning.
“It looks better than it ever did when it was brand new,” he said. “It’s black with a saddle leather interior, tinted windows, custom wheels and tires, custom engine that has a LS6 fuel-injected Corvette engine and a Corvette hydraulic clutch.”
Robbins’ family owned a motorcycle dealership, and he raced motorcycles professionally for 10 years. Although retired now, Robbins said he also owned 13 hot rods at one point in his life. He also said he ran into his now wife of 50 years, Betty, in an illegal drag race on Woodward Avenue.
“(My wife) still, to this day, claims she beat me, but that’s not true. I beat her,” he said. “I got rid of the drag racing cars and stuff, and pretty much retired from racing, but I always kept a dirt bike that I go up north and do a lot of trail riding on still.”
Linda Ashley, who has done public relations for Detroit’s Autorama for more than 20 years, said it is exciting to see the event grow so much.
“It’s like Hot Wheels all grown up,” Ashley said. “The cars are fabulous colors — chrome and glistering. What’s interesting is the heart and soul of the people who actually create the cars themselves.”
The calling card of the show is the Ridler Award, which, for 51 years, has been presented to the most outstanding custom car shown for the first time anywhere. Other top awards are also presented in numerous classes, as well.
“There is no question that Autorama certainly attracts males; however, we try to make sure that there is something for everyone,” Ashley said.
Attractions include the “king of NASCAR” Richard Petty and his son, Kyle Petty; Autorama’s hot rod builder of the year, Troy Trepanier; live chop shop demonstrations; rockabilly bands; a pinup girl contest; high school and college design contests; pin striping for charity; and appearances by WWE’s Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, the Disney Channel’s Laura Marano, Spongebob Squarepants and more.
Autorama will take place from noon-10 p.m. March 7, from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. March 8 and from noon-5 p.m. March 9.
Tickets cost $19 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, and are free for children ages 5 and younger. Discount tickets are available at O’Reilly Auto Parts, and group tickets are available online.
For more information, call (248) 373-1700 or visit www.autorama.com/attend-show/mar-7-9-detroit-mi.