Car enthusiasts ready to fire up engines at Autorama

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 4, 2015

 The engine of a red 1965 Plymouth Belvedere is like that of a race car, and fewer than 20 of the cars were made.

The engine of a red 1965 Plymouth Belvedere is like that of a race car, and fewer than 20 of the cars were made.

Photo courtesy of Mike Walker


DETROIT/CLINTON TOWNSHIP — For people who love cars, Detroit Autorama is like Christmas in March.

The 63rd annual event, which takes place this year from March 6-8 at Cobo Center, is an homage to America’s greatest hot rods and features a plethora of custom cars to boot.

It’s the ultimate experience for both enthusiasts and novices, offering the opportunity to be part of the country’s oldest and largest car exhibition.

The show is like a who’s who of stacked metal, with participants and attendees checking out a seemingly neverending display of some of the greatest vehicles ever seen and heard.

On top of the general car craziness, Autorama always tries to one-up itself from the previous year.

Event spokesperson Linda Ashley said the goal is always to improve the show and make it worthwhile to attend for everyone on a yearly basis. The first Autorama took place at the University of Detroit as a fundraiser, and in subsequent years it was held at the Michigan State Fairgrounds and the Detroit Artillery Armory before moving to Cobo in 1961.

Being around for 63 years identifies it as a winning model, she said, but improvements are an integral process that keeps it a well-oiled machine.

“(Event attendance) always goes up and down according to economy,” Ashley said. “We are steadily growing and doing very well and expect a big crowd. Autorama is the home of the Ridler Award, the most prestigious award in hot rodding, and it’s really grown the reputation of Autorama nationally. We work all year to bring cars to Detroit in the winter that haven’t been seen anywhere before in photos.

“People come from across the country and have a chance to win the top award. It’s nice to know Michiganders have a top-notch show known nationally.”

This year’s event includes a live flame-out demonstration of a dragster named “Pure Hell,” which will kick off the festivities with streetwide reverberations from a beastly engine.

Other features include Autorama Extreme, which is in its ninth year and features more than 200 traditional hot rods, customs and bobber bikes. Also, the first-ever Sock Hop and Dance Competition will take place the night of March 6. It will be a throwback to a bygone era when people did such dances as the twist and the jitterbug.

Rich Stumpf is an auto instructor at the Pankow Center in Clinton Township. The center is made up mostly of students from L’Anse Creuse Public Schools, but also includes students from other schools.

Last year, students at the center made a custom bike and a drag sled. The plan this year was to modify a 2006 Pontiac Solstice to look like the Riddler from Batman lore, but Stumpf said the project changed when everyone realized there just wasn’t enough time to finish it.

“We’re bringing a different vehicle that’s equally as cool,” Stumpf said. “The idea was to try to bring (two vehicles). The kids all voted and wanted to take the car, but with cold weather days, we just won’t make it.”

Now, the project revolves around a 2004 Ford F-350 crew cab that is a joint effort between the center’s auto mechanics students and auto body class students.

It’s a restoration-type endeavor. The truck was painted white, and then, over the white, was a blue pearl white with a blue pearl overlap. Then, a fine-slated second coat was added. It has tribal flames down the side, tribal flames on the hood, and an airbrushed skull and flames on the tailgate.

Stumpf’s friend is a custom painter and he came in and worked with the students one day, putting on the flames and skull.

“The truck was completely taken apart last school year,” he said. “The auto mechanics actually took the motor off the chassis and off the frame, did some work to the motor and painted it, and had the body over at the body shop. They worked on fixing some of the body dents, fenders and sand blasted the whole bottom of the box of the truck.

“When you see the truck on the road, (it) lights up and sparkles.”

While those at the Pankow Center are yearly participants, Clinton Township residents Rich Aquino and Ted Jones are experiencing Autorama for the first time.

Aquino will arrive with a red 1965 Plymouth Belvedere — a clone of an old race car. It originally came with a 426 Hemi and now has a 472 Hemi with a cross ram — dual four-barrel carburetors that are diagonally across from each other.

He purchased the vehicle from someone in Columbus, Ohio. It’s completely new and has hardly been driven on streets, with just a little more than 350 miles on it. It has a beige interior, no backseat, ultra-light fenders and four-wheel disc brakes — which are the only major addition.

Aquino owned it for about 2 1/2 years back in the day, when he used to race. Only around 14-16 of the cars were made.

“It’s a complete duplicate of the way Chrysler Corporation brought them out for racing,” said Aquino’s friend and auto shop coworker, Mike Walker. “(Rich) had one of the originals and it’s like he never left it. He bought (it) from someone else.

“When it came on the market he figured it’s time to bring back the old days.”

Jones’ black 1964 Pontiac GTO will also be on display.

It is a complete off-body restoration of a car Jones has had for 16-18 years, and it features a 389 single-barrel quad and factory installations, such as windows and air conditioning. It has front disc brakes, a new gas tank and new chrome wheels.

It’s racing cars like these, and others, that make Autorama what it is. Above all, it’s still about the cars. It always has been and always will be.

Hours for Detroit Autorama are Friday, March 6, from noon-10 p.m., Saturday, March 7, from 9 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sunday, March 8, from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. For more information, call (248) 373-1700 or visit