Local car enthusiasts bring vigor to Autorama

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published February 23, 2015

 Carol DeBeaissaert stands beside her 1976 AMC Matador Coupe, left, and 1977 AMC Pacer Wagon, right, at her Shelby Township home Feb. 20. DeBeaissaert will show both vehicles at Autorama in Detroit March 6-8.

Carol DeBeaissaert stands beside her 1976 AMC Matador Coupe, left, and 1977 AMC Pacer Wagon, right, at her Shelby Township home Feb. 20. DeBeaissaert will show both vehicles at Autorama in Detroit March 6-8.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Advertisement

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Autorama, the custom car and hot rod show, will return in March for its 63rd year with a fresh lineup of more than 700 vehicles and celebrity entertainers at Cobo Center in Detroit.

Nine residents of Shelby Township and Utica will be on hand March 6-8 to show off their custom rides — among those, the original winner of the esteemed Ridler Award, which is given to the first-time-shown best in show, and an AMC Pacer enthusiast.

Al Bergler, of Shelby Township, won the first Ridler Award in 1964, which commemorated promoter Don Ridler, the man responsible for bringing in movie stars and bands and expanding the show. Bergler said he received $250 and a Ford motor.

“Now people are spending a million or half a million just to win that award,” Bergler said. “I’m just happy I can still do stuff — not sitting on the couch watching TV.”

Bergler will bring a 1940 Ford convertible to the show. He bought the vehicle, which he called a “basket case in a junkyard,” in 1990 and kept putting the project off to restore others’ cars.

“It’s done in a style like guys would have done it in the ’50s and ’60s,” he said. “It’s black with a white (Carson) top, red interior and a Cadillac motor.”

Carol DeBeaissaert, of Shelby Township, will bring her 1976 AMC Matador Coupe in white and her 1977 AMC Pacer Wagon in red.

DeBeaissaert said the AMC Pacers came out when she was in high school, and that’s when she fell in love with them.

When she was looking for her first new car, she said she yearned to purchase a Pacer, but AMC had changed the Pacer’s styling to a flatter hood and a more square front end to fit a larger engine, which made it look more conventional, so she opted for a Chrysler.

In 2009, she said she was driving down Van Dyke Avenue when she saw that someone was selling a Pacer Wagon near 22 Mile Road.

“I had completely forgotten about the Pacers. I’d see them once in a while in movies, but, oh my God, I remembered those cars,” she said. “I call it my ‘mid-life crisis car.’ Now I have four Pacers and a Matador. I think they are beautiful cars.”

Although she did not purchase the Pacer she spotted on Van Dyke Avenue, DeBeaissaert said it awakened her love for Pacers, and she purchased her first Pacer in 2011.

DeBeaissaert changed out the wheel rims and bottom trim, redid the interior and painted the 1977 Pacer Wagon she will show at Autorama. She performed mechanical work on the 1976 Matador Coupe.

“The wagon just looks like a mom-going-to-the-grocery-store wagon, but I like it and it’s fun to drive. It always gets a lot of attention,” she said. “The Matador Coupe gets attention, too, when it’s out. I’ve had three people offer to buy it from me on separate occasions.”

Autorama manager Peter Toundas said one of the new highlights in this year’s show is a display of five of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise cars that were driven by Hollywood stars Paul Walker and Vin Diesel.

“We have over 700 vehicles — hot rods, customs, trucks and motorcycles — on display,” Toundas said. “We take up the same footprint as the (North American International Auto Show).”

WWE superstar The Big Show and Richard Rawlings from “Gas Monkey Garage” and “Fast N’ Loud” on the Discovery Channel will pump up the event, he said.

The show runs from noon-10 p.m. March 6; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. March 7, and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. March 8 at Cobo Center, 1 Washington Boulevard in Detroit. General admission is $19; children 6-12 years old are $6, and children 5 and younger get in free. Discount tickets are available at O’Reilly Auto Parts.

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

Advertisement