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Record-breaking drag racer’s Camaro to be featured at Autorama

Car show to boast more than 800 wild rides, celebrity appearances

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published February 18, 2016

DETROIT — Bruce Kimmen doesn’t fool around when it comes to building a car for the dragway.

Known around the country for his supercharged Chevys, Kimmen, owner of Heads Up Racing in Mount Clemens, set a record in Memphis in 1999 by driving the quarter-mile in 6.83 seconds at 211 mph with his 1969 Camaro, earning him a Flowmaster listing and jacket for having one of the quickest “street legal” cars in the country.

The Harrison Township resident is also known to impress at Detroit Autorama.

During this year’s turbo-charged car show, taking place Feb. 26-28 at Cobo Center, Kimmen will show his 1969 Chevy RS Z-28 Camaro.

“I’ve had five or six of them (Camaros),” said Kimmen, who has more than 40 years of personal racing and mechanical experience. “I love the ’69 for some reason. It just appeals to me; it has nice lines.”

The black beauty with primered flames has a 547-cubic-inch, 1,400-horsepower engine that is so powerful that Kimmen equipped it with a wheelie bar and parachute. He races this Camaro wherever the big drag events are and shows it at just about every metro Detroit car show and car cruise. Kimmen’s Camaro will be on display along with a 700-horsepower ’77 Corvette, a 550-horsepower ’67 Camaro and an off-road, high-performance Jeep, each of which visitors can learn more about when they stop by.

“She runs good and she definitely gets your attention,” he said, adding that he’s been building on the ’69 Camaro for 10 years without losing his passion for it. “If you’re going to stick your money into it, it has to be something you love.”

Similar fervor for automobile muscle will be on display at this year’s 64th annual Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama.

Presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts, Autorama has been billed as America’s greatest hot rod show, featuring 800 of the most impressive custom sports and muscle cars in the region.

Organizers say this Detroit tradition is one of the largest and oldest hot rod/custom car shows in North America, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from across the U.S. and around the globe.

The calling card of the Autorama show is the presentation of the Ridler Award, the most coveted award in hot rodding. For 53 years, the Ridler Award has been presented to the most outstanding new custom car shown for the first time anywhere. Because of this distinction, the show attracts the finest custom car builders in North America to unveil their amazing vehicles for the first time at the famous show.

“It’s extremely gratifying that Detroit Autorama is the home of America’s most important hot rod award,” said Peter A. Toundas, president of Championship Auto Shows Inc. and Autorama show manager. “This is the Motor City, and Detroit is where hot rod/custom car shows started, so we make every effort to let everyone know about this important heritage.”

Jack Buckerfield, of Harrison Township, will be showing off his classic sports car, a red ’66 Corvette Stingray.

Buckerfield has been involved in Autorama for many years, showing a ’61 Corvette, but this year will be his first time showing the ’66, which he bought six years ago then completely restored the exterior.

“I took the frame off and restored it, stripped the body, repainted it and put it back together,” said the Corvette enthusiast, who has also owned a red 1965 Coupe and a 2011 Z06. What’s under the hood is original; The Chevy L79 327-cubic-inch engine carries 350 horsepower.

“What’s unique about this car is it was a really early production that was sold at the Detroit Auto Show in 1965,” said Buckerfield. “I later bought it from the original owner.”

Buckerfield, a former General Motors engineer, said he always enjoys showing at Autorama.

“It’s a very prestigious show, and it’s very difficult to get a car in it,” he said. “They pick the best cars. And there’s a high variety of cars there.”

Additional features of Autorama include a special display of Concept Cars of the Past and the Cavalcade of Customs, a 10-car exhibit of specially invited customs. On the lower level will be Autorama Extreme, which will feature more than 200 traditional rods, customs and “bobber bikes” inspired by the 1950s. Called “a show within a show,” Autorama Extreme will also include live entertainment and a Miss Autorama Retro Pin Up Girl contest at 5 p.m. Feb. 27, presented by Vinsetta Garage.

There will be a concert on the upper level that Saturday.

History Channel star Danny “The Count” Koker, from the show “Counting Cars,” and his band The Count’s 77 will perform at 7 p.m. Feb. 27.

Adding extra excitement is the live burnout and wheel stand demonstration from Discovery Channel’s “Street Outlaws” at 11:45 a.m. Feb. 26 at the corner of Washington at Jefferson, in front of Cobo Hall. 

John “Top Hat” Jendza III will proudly display his cream-pearl-yellow 1951 Cadillac beauty with a coffee, tan and pale gold interior on the main floor.

“Oh, it’s a gorgeous car,” said the Mount Clemens resident. “This is probably the best one I’ve ever had, and I’ve had 25 to 30 Cadillacs over the years. Not all at one time. But this is the one I call my Hollywood car, my Clark Gable car.”

Top Hat said he fell in love with the car 16 years ago, but he didn’t have the resources or the time needed to buy it and work on it like he wanted to. Two years ago he ran into the owner, who at that time was trying to sell it. It was then that he finally claimed it as his own.

“It’s real eye candy,” said Jendza, who has also owned and shown 15 Corvettes over the years. “He did a fine job of maintaining it. I did some paint work to it, touchups, and some mechanical things and put on new wide white walls.

“Old cars always need something. That’s what it takes to keep them the way you want to keep them, but it’s part of the hobby, the entertainment value.”

He said the engine is basically as it came from the factory, with a 331-cubic-inch overhead valve and 160 horsepower, and a Cadillac single-range hydramatic transmission.

“But I think this is my last major toy,” Jendza said. “It’s time to (go) back to driving newer cars.”

Also returning this year is the Autorama Student Career Day and the Motor City Mavens 2016 Auto Art Panel Jam and Charity Auction, which will benefit Leader Dogs for the Blind.  

Autorama is open noon-10 p.m. Feb. 26, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Feb. 27, and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 28.

Appearances on the Celebrity Stages include Farmtruck and AZN from Discovery Channel’s “Street Outlaws” noon-5 p.m. Feb. 26; Olivia Holt, Lindsay Watson from Disney’s “I Didn’t Do It,” 1-3 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. Feb. 27; Horny Mike, from History Channel’s “Counting Cars,” 1-4 p.m. Feb. 28; and WWE’s Daniel Bryan 1-4 p.m. Feb. 28.

Admission costs $19 at the gate and $6 for children ages 6-12. Children 5 and younger get in for free. Discount tickets are available at O’Reilly Auto Parts, and group tickets are also available.