Wayne Solanskey’s 1967 Plymouth Satellite is mostly original, with all of the original panels. It was repainted one time in its 52 years  and retains most of its original interior.

Wayne Solanskey’s 1967 Plymouth Satellite is mostly original, with all of the original panels. It was repainted one time in its 52 years and retains most of its original interior.

Photo provided by Wayne Solanskey


Locals gear up for Autorama

Hot rod show returns to Cobo March 1-3

By: Andy Kozlowski, Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 22, 2019

 Robert Hendrix said this will be his third year at Autorama with his  1960 Chevy El Camino. The car took first place in 2018 in the original restored pickup class.

Robert Hendrix said this will be his third year at Autorama with his 1960 Chevy El Camino. The car took first place in 2018 in the original restored pickup class.

Photo provided by Robert Hendrix

 Mike Mazelis said his “Sublime Green” 1970 Dodge Coronet Super Bee took first place at Autorama in 2014 in the 1970-72 conservative hardtop class; and fourth place in 2016 in the 1970-71 conservative hardtop class.

Mike Mazelis said his “Sublime Green” 1970 Dodge Coronet Super Bee took first place at Autorama in 2014 in the 1970-72 conservative hardtop class; and fourth place in 2016 in the 1970-71 conservative hardtop class.

Photo provided by Mike Mazelis

METRO DETROIT — Auto enthusiasts from across the region will be rolling into Detroit’s Cobo Center during 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 metro Detroit.

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” and the original Trans Am from “Smokey and the Bandit.”   

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.  


‘It was just like it was meant to be’
Robert Hendrix first laid eyes on what would eventually be his 1960 Chevy El Camino in 2008 at the Gibraltar Trade Center.

“The gentleman I bought this from used to come down to Mount Clemens. He was from Sarnia,” the 60-year-old Warren machinist said.

He said he gave the man his name and number, and he expressed an interest in buying the El Camino if it ever went up for sale. Six years later, Hendrix was looking at the stock 283 two-barrel original online in a Craigslist ad.

“He posted it at 7 o’clock and I’d seen it at 7:10,” he remembered from 2014. “It was just like it was meant to be.”

Hendrix said he drove a 1960 Chevy Impala when he was in high school that was turquoise with a white top. The El Camino was restored by the previous owner in 2000-01 and was originally from California. Someone had painted it white, and it had a blue velour interior.

During the restoration, its original color was revealed on an inside quarter panel. The paint was replicated to match the original look of the vehicle, built by Chevy on the Impala station wagon platform from 1959 to 1960.

Hendrix said only 14,435 El Caminos were sold in 1960. He promised the guy he bought it from that he’d enjoy it and drive it.

“I drive it everywhere. I drive it to Frankenmuth. I go to all the cruises during the summer,” Hendrix said. “This one was in perfect condition. He put a lot of miles on it. I was looking for a driver.”

Hendrix said this will be his third year at Autorama. He took home a first-place award in 2018 in the original restored pickup class.


‘It pretty much changed my life’
Mike Mazelis took delivery of what would become his cloned 1970 Dodge Coronet Super Bee in 2009.

“It came in 13 boxes,” said Mazelis, 46, of Warren, an organic chemist at a biotech company. “It was pretty much a shell. It took me two years to get it back on the road. Ten years later, I’m still putting parts on it.”

He said the car “started life” as a 1970 Dodge Coronet 440. Mazelis rebuilt it his way, brilliant “Sublime Green” with 500-plus horsepower, headers, a rear sway bar, a five-speed manual transmission and a center console. His mission these days is to make the car a joy to drive.

But he didn’t have a lot of experience doing that when he bought the Coronet.

“Basically, I always wanted a car ever since I was a kid. I was actually looking for a ’69 Road Runner, because my dad had one back in the day. I ended up finding that car, the Coronet, on Craigslist,” Mazelis said. “I thought I’d go for it.

“I didn’t even change my own oil before getting it,” Mazelis said. “I ended up diving in and getting that car. It pretty much changed my life.”

The Coronet gets a lot of attention, and Mazelis said he’s happy to drive it as far as Wisconsin to events.

He started the Twisted Axle Car Club with a couple of friends in 2013. The group has grown to include 7,600 likes on Facebook and about 30 core members. The club is also on Twitter.

“It’s really gained a lot of speed over the last couple of years, for people who want to get out there and drive their cars, and have that passion,” Mazelis said. “It really has changed my life, and pretty much everything I do is around that car.”

Mazelis took the Coronet to Autorama twice before. The car took first place in 2014, in the 1970-72 conservative hardtop class; and fourth place in 2016, in the 1970-71 conservative hardtop class.   

 
‘We drive our cars’
Wayne Solanskey already had an original 1969 Plymouth Road Runner when he found its twin with a different body style a few years ago. Looking for a classic he could make his own, the 59-year-old auto mechanic from Warren bought a 1967 Plymouth Satellite from its previous owner in New Boston.

“He did a lot of the stuff to the car. I’ve improved upon what he did,” Solanskey said.

The Satellite’s “Bright Red” body with a black vinyl top is mostly original, with all of the original panels. He said it was repainted one time in its 52 years and retains most of its original interior.

“The motor, the engine, has been replaced with a high-performance 440 engine, approximately 550 horsepower,” Solanskey said.

The Satellite has a built 727 automatic transmission and four 4.10 gears. The car can run a quarter-mile in 11.50 seconds.

The color scheme mirrors the ’69 Road Runner that has been in Solanskey’s family for years.

“I just wanted a car that I could change and make it the way I want it,” Solanskey said. “My original Road Runner, I can’t really change it. It’s never been restored. It still has the original paint. I couldn’t do all the engine mods to it or performance mods to it because it will hurt the value of the car.”

Solanskey said he met Mike Mazelis through the Twisted Axle Car Club and that they’ve become good friends.

“He calls me gramps and I call him junior. He’s a good guy,” Solanskey said. “We do a lot of little stuff on the side, on the cars. The members of the club are good. We do some charity work.

“It’s a good bunch of guys altogether. It really is,” Solanskey said. “We drive our cars. It’s not about going and sitting in a parking lot somewhere. We do cruises in the fall, cruises in the summer.”

 The 2019 Autorama will be the first for Solanskey’s 1967 Satellite, and the first time he’s attended the show with a car of his own.

 

So much to see
While Detroit may be 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.

He will be at the show meeting fans and signing autographs for all three days.

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

This year’s Autorama will also feature a new event called the Lowrider Invitational — a special exhibit of 14 low-rider vehicles.

“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.

“I just think what’s most exciting about Autorama is the creativity of everyone there, ranging from some of the most well-known builders in the country to Michiganders who are putting together, with their own heart and soul, these cars from their own garages. Each is a work of art, and nothing like you’d see in a normal car. I like to call it ‘Hot Wheels: Grown Up.’

“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.”

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