Utica City Councilman Ken Sikora will bring his 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner to Autorama this weekend. He has participated in Autorama for 11 years.

Utica City Councilman Ken Sikora will bring his 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner to Autorama this weekend. He has participated in Autorama for 11 years.

Photo provided by Ken Sikora

Custom car fans rev up for Autorama

Show will return to Cobo Center March 1-3

By: Andy Kozlowski, Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published February 25, 2019


METRO DETROIT — Auto enthusiasts from across the region will be rolling into Detroit’s 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 metro Detroit.

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.”   

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

Ken Sikora, of Utica, who is on the City Council, will be bringing his 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner to the show.

“I have always loved Mopars, Roadrunners being my favorite, and with the blessing of my wife, (I) acquired this vehicle a little over 20 years ago. Being a member of the Bearing Burners Auto Club, I have been able to display this car at Autorama in our club display many times over the past 11 years,” Sikora said via email.

It has a 383-cubic-inch engine, four-barrel carburetor, a four-speed manual transmission with a Hurst Pistol Grip shifter, and an Air Grabber hood.

Sikora said that Autorama is the premier event for people who love cars to come out and see some spectacular vehicles, and that there is something there for everyone. He said his wife, Emily, also has a 1970 Plymouth Duster.

Cole Giles, of Madison Heights, will be bringing his 1951 Chevy Fleetline.

The 18-year-old acquired the car in a Craigslist trade where he offered up a toolbox. The car was just the body and shell — essentially a rolling frame — with no engine, transmission or interior. But Giles was eager to restore his first vehicle.

He added a sub-frame from a 1970 Chevy Nova and a 350-cubic-inch, small-block engine from a Chevy Camaro. He installed seats with Mexican blankets for an interior — “super simple,” he said. The exterior is maroon red — not the original color, but the color it was when he received it. The roof had already been chopped and lowered decades ago.

“This is the first car I’ve put together myself. My dad’s always been into it,” Giles said. “When I was like 16, I got a job at Brothers Custom Automotive in Troy, and I just learned a lot there. Then I got this, and I’ve been using what I’ve learned on this car.

“Recently, I’ve been having an issue with the transmission,” he added. “It runs and drives, but there are still some issues that I’m working out.”

Giles has been attending Autorama for as long as he can remember.

“I’ve gone every year since I was old enough to walk,” he said with a laugh. “It’s always been a goal of mine to get ready for Autorama and to be featured in it. This is the first year I’ve had a car in the show.

“I just like how it’s stuff you don’t see every day,” Giles said of Autorama. “It’s a very wide variety of cars and styles. It’s cool to take pictures and see the way different people do different things in different styles.”

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.  

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 ’60s. He will be at the show meeting fans and signing autographs for all three days.

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

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

“It’s one of the fastest-growing segments of the custom car enthusiast world, with cars from across the region,”  Autorama spokeswoman Linda 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 low-riders won’t be running inside 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,” Ashley 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 from noon to 10 p.m. Friday, March 1; from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, March 2; and from 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 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. For more information, visit autorama.com.