Local man showing hot rods at Autorama

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 26, 2014

 Dwight Puls stands with his two hot rods — a 1971 Chevy El Camino and 1973 Dodge Challenger — at Central Oil in Roseville. Puls and his cars will be at Autorama March 7-9.

Dwight Puls stands with his two hot rods — a 1971 Chevy El Camino and 1973 Dodge Challenger — at Central Oil in Roseville. Puls and his cars will be at Autorama March 7-9.

Photo by Edward Osinski

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ROSEVILLE — A local business owner plans on showcasing two of his classic hot rods at Autorama this coming March.

Dwight Puls, a Fraser resident and owner of Central Oil in Roseville, will be showcasing his 1971 Chevy El Camino and his 1973 Dodge Challenger at the auto show at Cobo Hall March 7-9.

Puls said he had the opportunity to display his cars when a friend of his, who sells a brand of oil for classic cars, got a booth at the show. Puls said his friend then asked him if he would like to bring his vehicles.

“We’re friends, so he agreed to sponsor my cars,” he said. “Otherwise, I’d have to apply to get in.”

The application process is stringent; Puls said it requires sending photos and written pieces about the vehicles describing a variety of facets about them. The sponsorship allowed him to bypass much of that process, he said.

This is not Puls’ first time at Autorama. He said he brought the Challenger to Autorama two years ago under similar circumstances and found the experience very enjoyable.

“It is far and away my favorite show of the year,” Puls said. “Really, it’s an honor to get your car there. They’re really picky about the cars.”

The muscle cars of yesteryear are nothing new to Puls. He said when he graduated college in 1972, it was during the muscle car’s prime, and they stuck with him. His first car after college was a Plymouth Barracuda, he said, followed by a 1973 Corvette.

After the Corvette, Puls said he fell out of muscle cars for a while, but got back into them five years ago, when he purchased the Challenger and set about the task of restoring it.

“Me and a buddy of mine did most of the work,” he said. “We didn’t do the engine, and we had a real nice paint job put on it — Butler’s Collision did the paint job — but we did all the other stuff.”

The Challenger has a sublime green paint job, Puls said, with a ghost flame that stands out in the right light. He added that Cobo Hall’s lighting is just right to make the paint “blast out.”

The Camino came along a year and a half ago, and Puls said he purchased that one as-is, fully restored, as a “real custom car.”

Autorama, often billed as America’s greatest and longest-running hot rod show, is revved up and ready to roar into Detroit next month with more than 1,000 custom vehicles filling two floors of Cobo Center. The show’s calling card is the presentation of the Ridler Award, the most coveted prize in hot rodding, which is presented to the most outstanding new custom car. Because of this distinction, Autorama often attracts the finest custom vehicle builders in North America, who come to Detroit to unveil their latest project for the first time.

According to Linda Ashley, a spokesperson for the event, Autorama’s panel of judges are always looking for new people to show off their vehicles.

“We want variety, but we also want different cars in the show every year so that it’s a new experience every time,” she explained. “Don’t get me wrong — we always want the best of the best, but we also don’t want to show people the same cars over and over again.”

This year’s Autorama will serve as the host site for Hot Rod Industry Alliance Education Day, an enormous national conference for the industry, March 6. The next day, the show will officially kick off by firing up Bob Motz’s Flame Throwing Semi Truck in front of Cobo Hall and then holding the second annual Ridler’s Ball later that evening. Other highlights of the event include appearances by NASCAR racing legends Richard Petty and Kyle Petty, Hot Rod Builder of the Year Troy Trepanier, and Gene Winfield’s Chop Shop, which will literally chop a car in half for a live audience.

Also returning this year is the popular Autorama Student Career Day, featuring more than 3,000 automotive students from nearly 50 Michigan high schools and trade schools, and the Autorama High School Design Competition, a benefit for the United Way of Southeastern Michigan hosted by Chrysler and the College for Creative Studies. In addition, guests can enjoy the Motor City Mavens’ 2014 Auto Art Panel Jam and Charity Auction, which will raise funds for Leader Dogs for the Blind, and celebrity appearances by World Wrestling Entertainment stars Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, Laura Marano from the Disney Channel’s “Austin and Ally,” and Spongebob Squarepants.

“One of the things that’s very important for Autorama is the fact that there’s something for everyone — for the whole family, for people of all ages,” Ashley said. “So while Dad is checking out all the amazing cars, the little kids can visit with Spongebob and the big kids can meet their favorite WWE wrestler or Disney Channel actress.”

Puls said that while he does not bring his vehicles to too many major auto shows, he does like to bring them to local ones, such as the Woodward Dream Cruise and Flint’s Back to the Bricks. Showing them off at Autorama is his favorite option, though.

“It’s really awesome. There’s probably 1,000 cars or so there — really phenomenal cars,” he said. “It’s just really neat.”

Hours for the 62nd annual Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama at Cobo Center are from noon-10 p.m. March 7, from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. March 8, and from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. March 9. Admission is $19 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, and free for kids ages 5 and younger. For more information, call (248) 373-1700 or visit www.autorama.com.

Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski contributed to this article.

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