Camaro, Nova highlight local vehicles at 2016 Autorama

By: Nick Mordowanec, Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published February 24, 2016

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Car enthusiasts are itching to put the pedal to the metal at the annual Detroit Autorama event.

The 64th annual edition will take place Friday, Feb. 26 to Sunday, Feb. 28 at Cobo Center in Detroit. More than 800 vehicles — including hot rods, customs, trucks and motorcycles from around the world — are expected to be on display.

Linda Ashley, spokeswoman for Autorama, said hundreds of custom car owners vie for the Ridler Award, which is given to the first-time-shown best in show vehicle. For the first time this year, she said, a car will be shipped from Australia to compete.

One of the show’s highlights, she said, will be the return of a live rock ‘n’ roll concert at 7 p.m. Saturday night. History Channel star Danny “The Count” Koker will perform with his band, Count’s 77.

“This is the first time (a rock concert has) happened in dozens and dozens of years,” Ashley said.

Clinton Township will once again be well-represented, including by a couple of classics from the 1960s: a Chevy Nova and a Chevy Camaro.

Nick Onifer is actually a judge of the Autorama competition and has been for about 17 years. So his 1967 two-door phantom blue Nova cannot participate in the general competition.

“When I was 16 I bought a brand-new 1970 Nova SS, and it was phantom blue,” Onifer said. “So I painted this the same color.”

He eventually sold the ’70 Nova and had other vehicles, but the ’67 Nova was on the top of his wish list. A friend of his knew he was trying to acquire the car; he looked to a third party. Not soon afterward, Onifer owned his dream vehicle.

He restored the vehicle for three years, adding a 406-cubic-inch block engine with a turbo 350 transmission. It is a hard top that doesn’t actually get driven much at all, with maybe the occasional five-mile run to get new tires.

Autorama is always different in its own way, Onifer said, and there’s something new taking place every year. He belongs to Classic Cruisers of Macomb County, a one-year-old car club.

“My favorite part (about Autorama) is everything,” Onifer said. “It’s looking at the cars and seeing the hard work people have put into them, and talking to the people about their cars. I just like to listen to their stories about how they came (to have) their cars and why they chose them.”

Mark Stielow owns a yellow 1969 Camaro. He gets help from Matt Gurjack, who helps Mark build his vehicles at Sled Alley Hot Rods — the shop he owns in Clinton Township, near 15 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway.

The shop works on a lot of muscle cars, completing metal, fabrication, electrical, assembly and mechanical work. The focus is on “early” cars only.

Gurjack has participated in the event the past 16 to 18 years, using it as a springboard to show off the work his shop does and to meet different folks who may possibly end up as clients or customers seeking a higher-caliber build.

The Camaro has a full supercharged motor and a new transmission. It runs on flex fuel and has more than 1000 horsepower, a Detroit Speed subframe, an added anti-lock braking system and one-off carbon fiber hoods.

Everything is pretty much updated.

“It still has that cool look of being an old car, handles and performs and drives like a new car,” Gurjack said.

Stielow is a car enthusiast in just about every way. He has worked on 15 other Camaros, and Gurjack recalls finishing up a car for him two summers ago. Stielow raced it and used it, and he later worked out a deal with a friend in California to get the current yellow Camaro — which has been nicknamed “Jackass.”

“One of the first cars that (Stielow) did, he nicknamed it ‘The Mule,’” Gurjack said. “It was one of the first pro-touring cars where he updated the suspension, motor, brakes. A lot of people say that was the start of the pro-touring movement.

“People call him the godfather of the movement.”

Pro-touring is essentially taking an old car and updating everything: modern brakes so it stops better, more horsepower, adding fuel injection, updating the suspension and fixing the handle so it performs like a new car.

New geometries make it more modern.

“There’s a lot of thought. There’s a lot of technical work,” Gurjack said. “It’s not just something that’s thrown together. There’s a lot of engineering.”

Stielow has done the Power Tour five or six times. He loads a car to take to the track, races it and then takes it home. It’s not a classic car that sits in the garage, Gurjack said.

Along with the Camaro, a 1949 Cadillac convertible with a deep burgundy-maroon exterior is part of Stielow and Gurjack’s Autorama repertoire. The Cadillac is an older body that has been fuel injected with a better chassis and brakes.

Other features of Autorama include a live burnout and wheelstand to kick off the show in front of Cobo Center at 11:45 a.m. Friday; a Concept Cars of the Past exhibit; a pinup girl contest; and celebrity appearances from the Disney, Discovery and History channels, and World Wrestling Entertainment.

The show will run noon-10 p.m. Feb. 26, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Feb. 27 and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 28 at Cobo Center, 1 Washington Blvd. in Detroit. General admission costs $19; children 6-12 years old will be admitted for $6, and children 5 and younger get in free. Discount tickets are available at O’Reilly Auto Parts.

For more information, visit www.autorama.com or call (248) 373-1700.

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