Steve Metcalf, of Royal Oak, stands in his garage beside his 1956 Chevy pickup truck, which he  will show at  Autorama March 1-3.

Steve Metcalf, of Royal Oak, stands in his garage beside his 1956 Chevy pickup truck, which he will show at Autorama March 1-3.

Photo by Alison Zywicki

Royal Oak resident to show truck at Autorama

Show returns to Cobo Center March 1-3

By: Andy Kozlowski, Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published February 19, 2019

 Local resident Paul Katzman will show  his 1956 Chevy Bel Air sedan  at Autorama March 1-3.

Local resident Paul Katzman will show his 1956 Chevy Bel Air sedan at Autorama March 1-3.

Photo provided by Paul Katzman


METRO DETROIT — Auto enthusiasts from across the region will be rolling into Cobo Center during the first three days of March for this year’s Autorama, billed as “America’s Greatest Hot Rod Show.”

 Now in its 67th year, the show — properly known as Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama, presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts — will feature around 800 hot rods and custom cars, including many from the metro Detroit area. 

There will also be a pinch of celebrity star power, including NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and the Hanson Brothers from the movie “Slap Shot,” as well as iconic cars like the Batmobile from the film “Batman Returns,” and the original Trans Am from “Smokey and the Bandit,” complete with a Burt Reynolds look-alike.

But arguably the real stars of the show are the people who share their beloved rides — and the passion and insight that comes with them. 

Locals to show their wheels

Steve Metcalf, an Australian native who has called Royal Oak home the last 4 1/2 years, came to the states for his engineering job at General Motors. He will return to Autorama with the 1956 Chevy pickup truck he initially showed last year. This year, however, it is finished.

“It will be running, driving and pretty much complete,” Metcalf said. “I’ve always wanted one of those trucks.”

He said he was excited when he found one on Craigslist for a good price.

“I just always liked the old American muscle cars and stuff, especially that truck,” Metcalf said. “Back in Australia, they’re very sought-after. I always wanted to build one. I just love the style. They look fantastic.”

When he purchased the truck, he called it a “basket case.” It didn’t run and it sported a fair amount of rust. While Metcalf left the old paint job, he completely redid the inside. In about 18 months, he built his own frame, including a roll cage, and installed a new engine and suspension.

“It looks like junk, but it’s actually got a license plate — ‘NOT JUNK,’” he said with a laugh. “It’s just something fun to build and have fun with over summer.”

He said the truck is the first vehicle he has built in the U.S. and that he built a boat and a Chevy Camaro in Australia.

“I don’t know how I got into it,” he said. “My cousins were into it and my dad’s into boats. I’ve just always liked building stuff, and cars is a good way (to do it).”

Paul Katzman, 74, plans to show his silver-gray and white 1956 Chevy Bel Air sedan.

He said his cousin, Jerry Helfman, of Lincoln Park, inspired his passion for cars. Growing up as “kids on the block,” he said, his first car was a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner. After selling it in 1971, he said, Helfman took him to a car show in 2003.

“He looked at me and asked if I was getting the vibes back again,” he said. 

He was.

Eventually, Katzman said, the urge to delve back into the car world grew strong enough and he purchased a Chevy in Warren, which he had for two years before selling it. Three years later, he said, he found his current vehicle in Dearborn through an ad in the newspaper.

“I’ve had this Chevy now for over 10 years,” he said. “They call me the ‘grocery getter.’ It’s a small-block Chevy with the original 265 engine in it. I tell people, ‘I might not be a big boy with the big toy, but I have no pain at the pump.’”

He said the car has been featured in a 2016 calendar that raised funds for breast cancer research put out by a local dealership, as well as in a 2018 calendar put out by CARS Inc. in Rochester Hills.

“I worked it over the way I wanted because, when I got it, the interior was shot to hell with springs poking you in the butt,” Katzman said. “We changed the rear end, changed the interior, put in a new digital dash, took the trans from automatic to a four-speed.”

He said he modified almost everything on the vehicle except the engine, but kept an “old-school standard.” The rear tires are slightly larger than the front tires, and all the tires sport chrome rims. The interior is black with lace work.

“It is not a trailer queen car,” he said. “I hit the road. I want to enjoy the car. I don’t want to just look at it.”

He added that he and Helfman will both be showing vehicles at Autorama together.

“We park together, cruise together, do all kinds of crazy stuff together,” Katzman said.

So much to see

While Detroit may be best known for the North American International Auto Show, which highlights industry trends, Autorama is more about vehicles that are no longer on the market, and that have been altered to be one of a kind.  

The Smokey and the Bandit Roadshow exhibit is expected to feature cars and other memorabilia from the movie. There will also be a Burt Reynolds look-alike.

“It’s just pure fun,” Autorama spokeswoman Linda Ashley said. “We always like to salute iconic cars — movie cars, race cars and wonderful custom cars.”

To that end, there will also be an exhibit featuring Carl Casper, renowned in the hot rod world, including one of his most iconic creations, the Batmobile from “Batman Returns,” as well as his famous “Young American” dragster, and the Empress — a custom 1951 Chevy that was his teenage car and won Best in Show at the first Autorama in the early 1960s. He will be at the show meeting fans and signing autographs all three days.

There will also be celebrity appearances by WWE superstar Seth Rollins from 6 to 8 p.m. March 1; Tony Stewart, of NASCAR fame, from noon to 2 p.m. March 2; Dave Kindig, of Kindig It Designs and Velocity TV’s “Bitchin’ Rides,” from 4 to 8 p.m. March 2; the Hanson Brothers, from the movie “Slap Shot,” from 1 to 4 p.m. March 3; and Horny Mike and the Roadshow Rig, from History Channel’s “Counting Cars,” all weekend.

This year’s Autorama also will feature a new event called the Lowrider Invitational — a special exhibit of 14 lowrider vehicles.

“It’s one of the fastest-growing segments of the custom car enthusiast world, with cars from across the region,” Ashley said. “It’s really about the hydraulics of the car, how they go up and down. They shake; they often have murals on them; and they have huge batteries. The thrill of the builders is to be as creative as possible.”

While the lowriders won’t be running in Cobo Center itself, they will be configured in different positions so guests can see how they operate, and there will be videos showing them in action.

“I just think what’s most exciting about Autorama is the creativity of everyone there, ranging from some of the most well-known builders in the country, to Michiganders who are putting together, with their own heart and soul, these cars from their own garages. Each is a work of art, and nothing like you’d see in a normal car. I like to call it, ‘Hot Wheels: Grown Up.’ 

“It’s just so much fun to see the cars up close and personal, and to talk to the builders who are so proud of their work,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way to see there can be an artist in each of us, expressing ourselves — in this case, through cars.” 

Show hours for Autorama are noon to 10 p.m. Friday, March 1; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, March 2; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, March 3. Admission at the gate costs $21 for adults, $8 for children ages 6-12, and it is free for children ages 5 and younger. Discount tickets are available at O’Reilly Auto Parts, at a rate of $19 for adults and $7 for children ages 6-12. 

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Call Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at (586) 279-1104 and Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.