Local residents and groups to bring cars to Autorama

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 24, 2016

 A 1968 Chevy Chevelle is among the vehicles that Lafata Auto Shop in Roseville is bringing to Autorama.

A 1968 Chevy Chevelle is among the vehicles that Lafata Auto Shop in Roseville is bringing to Autorama.

Photo provided by Eric Lafata


A pair of residents from Eastpointe, a Roseville-based auto shop and the Roseville High School-based Drive One program all have one thing in common: They are all bringing vehicles to show at Detroit Autorama Feb. 26-28.

Howard Brisendein, of Eastpointe, is bringing his one-of-a-kind 1973 Buick Riviera GS, which was built as a special order for a General Motors Co. executive at the company’s old Flint plant. Instead of a standard Riviera interior, Brisendein said, this car has the interior of a Buick Electra 225.

“We ended up with it at an auto auction,” Brisendein said. “I’ve got an arm and a leg invested into it, but it’s absolutely flawless.”

He said he purchased the vehicle about eight months ago from a seller in Florida and ended up driving it 1,400 miles to Michigan after repeated delays with the transportation company. The car needed some work on the paint following the drive, but Brisendein said that by Autorama, the car should be fit for the Concours d’Elegance car show.

This is not the first time Brisendein has shown a car at Autorama, though the last time was 30 years ago when he brought a custom 1971 Buick Riviera.

James Sawyer, of Eastpointe, is bringing his 1988 Chevy Camaro to the show. Sawyer said he has owned the car for about 16 years after buying it from his brother-in-law.

“I don’t drive it that much,” he said. “Just in the summertime.”

Since getting the car, Sawyer said it has been repainted and the underside has been recoated. It also has new tires and rims, and it features a redone engine, Sawyer said.

This is not his first time in Autorama either. Sawyer said he brought a 1997 Chevrolet S-10 pickup and won first place in his category at the show. Sawyer said that he opted to bring the Camaro this year because he likes to bring something different in the years that he comes with a vehicle, though he gladly would repeat the first-place win.

“It would be nice to win first place,” Sawyer said. “If not, whatever I win I’ll be great with.”

Eric Lafata, of Lafata Auto Shop in Roseville, said the shop has three vehicles coming to Autorama: a 1940 Ford Coupe, a 1957 Chevy Roadster and a 1968 Chevy Chevelle. He said this is the sixth year that Lafata Auto Shop is bringing cars to the event, and he noted that while those involved with the shop like it if they win something, they are mainly doing it for “the fun of it.”

The Ford Coupe has been in Lafata’s family for eight years, he said, and originally belonged to his father.

“We took it all apart, painted everything black with a custom stripe down the side, changed the whole interior, the whole underneath, (and added) different wheels,” Lafata said.

The Roadster is something the shop has had for about a year, while the Chevelle was restored to a show finish last spring. Lafata added that neither vehicle has ever been featured in Autorama before.

The Drive One club, a countywide auto shop program based out of Roseville High School, is bringing three cars that students have restored themselves: a 1931 Ford Roadster pickup, a 1970 Chevy Nova and a 1981 Pontiac Trans Am. Paul Tregembo, who heads the program, said students also have a pedal car coming for the “Pedal Car Challenge.”

The Ford pickup was taken to car shows last year and is making its first appearance at Autorama this year, while the Chevy Nova is returning after appearing in last year’s show, Tregembo said. The Trans Am is a new project that was just completed; all vehicles were restored and rebuilt by the teenagers in the Drive One program.

“Every one of these was done in-house,” he said. “The Trans Am, they literally went down to nothing. Every single bolt, screw or piece of plastic has been touched or redone, or replaced with something new. It’s restored back to when it was brand new in 1981.”

The truck once had drivability issues that have since been fixed, Tregembo added, noting that it is now in good enough shape to drive all the way to California without issue.

The 64th annual Detroit Autorama will take place at Cobo Center Feb. 26-28. Tickets at the gate cost $19 for adults, $6 for kids ages 6-12, and younger children will be admitted for free. Discounted tickets are available at O’Reilly Auto Parts stores for $17 and $5, respectively.

The show will run noon-10 p.m. Feb. 26, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Feb. 27, and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 28. For more information, call (248) 373-1700.