Hector Flores’ 1964 Chevrolet Impala will be part of the LowRider Invitational, a special exhibit of lowrider vehicles, at Autorama March 1-3.

Hector Flores’ 1964 Chevrolet Impala will be part of the LowRider Invitational, a special exhibit of lowrider vehicles, at Autorama March 1-3.

Photo by Helen Flores


Local car enthusiasts gear up for Autorama

By: Andy Kozlowski, Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published February 27, 2019

 Tony Johnson will show off his 1964 Chevrolet Corvette, which features a new split rear window, an iconic one-year-only style found in the 1963 Corvette coupe.

Tony Johnson will show off his 1964 Chevrolet Corvette, which features a new split rear window, an iconic one-year-only style found in the 1963 Corvette coupe.

Photo by Angel J. Photography

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ROCHESTER HILLS — Auto enthusiasts from across the region will be rolling into Cobo Center 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."

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.

 

Locals to show their wheels
Tony Johnson, of Rochester Hills, describes himself as a “car enthusiast.”

“In the past three years, I’ve built seven cars,” he said.

Johnson will bring his 1964 Chevrolet Corvette, which he added a major change to after showing it last year in an unfinished state — approximately 98 percent complete — disqualifying him from receiving any awards.

“This will be my second time at the Autorama, but it’s kind of like my first time because the first time we didn’t get the full experience,” he said.

Johnson bought his Corvette in April 2017 as a birthday gift to himself.

“I had always dreamed of having this particular Corvette,” he said.

After a body shop botched what was supposed to be a simple paint refresh, Johnson decided to embark on a major overhaul to get his dream car in tip-top shape, falling just short of completing it before last year’s Autorama.

In order to show the car again, Johnson had to complete a “major change” to his 1964 Corvette, which now features a split rear window, an iconic one-year-only style found in the 1963 Corvette coupe.

“I love the hobby of these cars. I don’t physically do any of the work. I call what I do directing traffic. I just tell people what I need to be done,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who will also debut his 1970 Plymouth Cuda at Autorama, described both of his cars as “over-the-top” builds.

“The Corvette, I have almost $200 grand in. The Cuda, I have about $150 (thousand),” he said.

A private investigator by day, Johnson was inspired to create a new car design company two years ago called Jaded.

“I design every bit of the car, from the powertrain I want to the color I want to the wheels to the suspension, the interior … I design them,” he said. “Last year, when I brought that car to the Autorama, I obtained so many customers contacting me throughout the country … because they liked the risk that I had taken with my car and they want me to assist them with designing their cars.”

Rochester Hills resident Hector Flores developed a love for cars at a young age.

“I grew up in Flint, and when I was about 10 years old, my dad brought my brother and I down to the Autorama, and that’s when I fell in love with custom cars,” he said. “That just fueled my love for cars.”

Flores saved up and was able to purchase his first car, a 1985 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, at the age of 16, although he couldn’t afford to do much to it at the time.

His passion for cars led him to a career with General Motors, which allowed him to purchase and complete work on a number of other cars over the years.

Flores will return to the show that sparked his interest in custom cars, this time showing off his 1964 Chevrolet Impala low-rider — which will be part of the LowRider Invitational, a special exhibit of low-rider vehicles in the area.

“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.

Flores, who purchased his dream car this past October, said his car has a custom interior in “regal turquoise,” which he described as a bright aqua color.

“It gets a lot of attention,” he said.

He plans to bring his three children — his 12-year-old daughter, his 9-year-old son and his 6-year-old son — to enjoy Autorama this year.

“My oldest son is 9, so this is going to be fun, because I was about that age the first time I went. I am really looking forward to taking him down there and seeing how he reacts to the level of cars there,” he said. “My kids absolutely love the low-riders … so they love it too, and taking it out with them is probably the biggest joy I have.”

Other locals in the show include Rochester residents Mike Dipetta, who will show his 1953 Chevrolet Convertible custom; Rick Fisher, who will show his 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle; and Tom Harris, who will show his 1957 Chevrolet Corvette.

 

So much to see
While Detroit is 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.

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

Show hours for Autorama are Friday, March 1, from noon to 10 p.m.; Saturday, March 2, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, March 3, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 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.

“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.”

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