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History, hot rods live at Autorama

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 22, 2016

WARREN — It’s February, and that means it’s crunch time for car buffs putting the finishing touches on this year’s dazzling entries headed for Autorama.

For some of them, this has been going on for years.

“I’ve been putting one in every year since 1984,” said Bill Kellogg, a Warren resident of 16 years, who will roll into Detroit’s Cobo Center for the 64th annual Meguiar’s Autorama Feb. 26-28 with his “barn find,” a 1940 Willys coupe.

“The Willys is my favorite car. They’re really hard to find,” Kellogg said. “It’s a fiberglass one. When I started working on this car, I found a real steel one out in Arizona.”

Content to work on the coupe with the fiberglass body and Willys chassis first, Kellogg installed steel floors, a 392 Hemi engine and a turbo 400 racing transmission. His buddy in Port Huron handled the retro lettering, and Kellogg added a little something special to make the marina blue Willys look like a throwback from the golden age of drag racing in the mid-1960s that had been pulled out of hibernation in a dusty old barn.

“I put 3M spray tack all over the car and blew dust all over it,” Kellogg said. “All my buddies, they can’t believe it!”

He’s hoping the crowds on the upstairs show floor at Autorama will feel the same way when they see it this year.

“Nobody’s ever seen this car yet,” Kellogg said. “It’s going to be a real cool show. It’s going to be like its debut.”

Bill Whetstone, of Fair Haven, the owner of Warren’s Greater Detroit Landscape Co., has been putting cars in Autorama for nearly six decades.

As a matter of fact, last year was the first time he’d missed attending the show since 1960.

He won’t make it back from Arizona this year either, but his grandson, Chris Herod, will show Whetstone’s deep burgundy, 1937 Ford coupe at the 2016 Autorama.

“I’ve owned the car for three years. I bought it off a friend, my best friend; his uncle bought the car in the late 1960s. He had it until he passed away three years ago,” Whetstone said.

The 1937 Ford coupe started out stock but was eventually transformed into a hot rod with a V8 flathead motor and a late-model driveline and suspension.

Whetstone loves it. He’s loved a lot of cars.

“My first car was a 1956 Chevrolet convertible that I took to the State Fairgrounds in 1958,” Whetstone said.

When Autorama moved over to Cobo in 1961, he took his legendary 1960 Ford Starliner.

He was hooked.

“That was a featured car. I got paid for showing it for three years,” Whetstone said. “Three years later I had a dozen Mustangs, all really nice cars. Since then I’ve probably owned, bought or sold 60 nice cars.”

He clearly still has a taste for Fords. He has 10 at the moment: a 1934 cabriolet; two 1949 pickups; a 1956 pickup; and an assorted collection from 1940, in addition to the 1937 coupe.

“For me, it keeps me young and everything. I don’t feel like an old man,” Whetstone said. “Out here (in Arizona), I drive an old car almost every day, which is great. People just love old cars.”

The 64th annual Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama will be held from noon to 10 p.m. Feb. 26, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 27, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at Detroit’s Cobo Center. General admission tickets cost $19, $6 for children ages 6-12 and free for kids 5 and younger. Discount tickets ($17 general admission, $5 for children 6-12) are available at O’Reilly Auto Parts.