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Shores residents geared up for Autorama

Three-day extravaganza will feature hundreds of unique custom vehicles

By: Julie Snyder | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 16, 2011

 St. Clair Shores resident David Kaatz will be answering questions about his 1980 AMC Spirit AMX during Autorama, where the rare muscle car will be on display Feb. 25-27.

St. Clair Shores resident David Kaatz will be answering questions about his 1980 AMC Spirit AMX during Autorama, where the rare muscle car will be on display Feb. 25-27.

Photo by Edward Osinski

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Paul Dwaihy’s 1966 Plymouth Barracuda is the kind of classic muscle car you’d see in a big-budget Hollywood movie featuring a major chase scene comparable to the legendary one in the film “Bullitt.”

But the 58-year-old Dwaihy is not Steve McQueen. And this is Detroit, not San Francisco. So the St. Clair Shores resident will have to make due with showing off the power behind his sleek, black treasure to the masses during the 59th annual Meguiar’s Autorama, which will be held Feb. 25-27 at Cobo Center.

“I’ve gone to Autorama, but it’s always been a bit of a dream to have a car in it,” said Dwaihy. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

That’s especially because he’s been working on it for the past six years. Dwaihy found the Barracuda on an online ad. It was owned by a Colorado state trooper whose wife was unhappy that it was taking up so much driveway space. He connected with the trooper via e-mail and finally had a friend drive out to pick it up for him.

“I’ve been screwing around with it ever since,” said Dwaihy, who put a 340 engine and a 727 transmission in it and painted the exterior with a “ghost blue” stripe. Much of the work was completed at Herb’s Auto in Mount Clemens.

“It looked pretty solid except for a little bit of rust on the outside,” he said. “I took it apart, and when I pulled the inside carpeting, it was white. It was the original white, and it was in perfect condition. So that little bit of rust was topical, and I just did a nut and bolt restoration.”

The nuts and the bolts were just the start of the work done to transform an 18,000-pound former Army truck into a street-legal utility pickup truck.

The owner, St. Clair Shores resident Daniel Claus, obtained the 1978 truck two years ago, and has been aided in its rebirth by his brother Dave Claus and friends John Englehardt and John Eder, all from St. Clair Shores.

“Right now, we go to Montrose to work on it during the weekends,” said Daniel Claus, who is the owner of the off-road truck. “It keeps us out of trouble on the weekends.”

Claus said the five-ton military truck started out as a project truck, and he got carried away with the investment. It was a 10-wheel behemoth and is now a four-wheel drive behemoth. The 52-inch tires and rims weight in at 400-plus pounds each.

The truck will be featured front and center during Autorama, where the curious can get an up-close glimpse at the hydraulic 9-foot dump box, diamond-plated steel flooring with custom “tubbed” wheel wells and fenders, and a 12-volt hydraulic lift pump system. It has a 250 horsepower, Cummins inline six-cylinder diesel engine. Claus said the dashboard and glove box have been power coated; the interior was reupholstered; all the fenders are Rhino coated; stainless steel fasteners were installed throughout; and finally, it was painted bright green.

The soft top can be fully removed; it has front and rear cameras with colored monitors and night vision, as well as two switch-controlled side electric steps with alarm indicators.

“It was a challenge,” said Claus, an automotive professor at Macomb Community College. “But I wanted it for that reason: the bigger, the better.”

Billed as America’s Greatest Hot Rod Show, this super-buffed, turbo-charged Detroit tradition will feature the hottest hot rods, custom cars and fifties classics in the country and attracts visitors from across the United States.

The winter ritual brings the most devout gearheads, and just plain curious folks, up close and personal, with over 1,000 exhibits of chopped, channeled, dumped and decked hot rods, custom cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles of the past and present.

This year’s show features award winning customs, including the radical custom car, Scythe, presented by Galpin Auto Sports; Dennis Li’l Daddy Roth’s Streetnik Bandit, the Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year; The Downtown Brown ’30 Ford; and The 6 Pack, wild custom from the cover of Mini Truckin’ magazine.

New this year, The Hollywood Legends car display will feature an array of some of the most famous television and movie cars in history, including the K.I.T.T. car from “Knight Rider,” the Torino from “Starsky and Hutch,” General Lee from “The Dukes of Hazzard,” Andy Griffiths’ Mayberry Sherriff’s Car from “The Andy Griffith Show,” the “Ghostbusters” movie car, the Monkeemobile and the “Green Hornet” car.

There will be dozens of other displays amid the cars.

David Kaatz’s 1980 Spirit AMX will be featured because of the drag car’s unique look and its general rarity.

“It’s not a collector car, but it definitely stands out,” said Kaatz of St. Clair Shores. “Everybody asks what it is. There aren’t that many out there.”

The Spirit AMX was the final effort by independent carmaker American Motors at a high-performance car. Because of the company’s inability to shake the perception that its products, which included the Pacer, were substandard, the Spirit AMC was discontinued after two years.

Kaatz disagrees with the reputation of American Motors. In addition to the Spirit AMC, he also owns a 1968 AMX, two 1972s and a 1973 AMX. None, he said, are ready for the Autorama showroom, but one of the two ‘72s will be next year.

He purchased the Spirit from a friend who resides in Cadillac four month ago.

“Since then, I’ve been doing nothing but cleaning and cleaning and polishing it,” he said. “People are going to like to see this car.”

And he’s eager to answer any questions Autorama-goers may have about it.

“I’ve been going to the Autorama every year since I was a kid,” said Kaatz. “And I’ve seen other AMXs there before. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”

Autorama hours are noon to 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26; and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27. Admission is $18 for adults at the gate and $5 for children 6-12. Children five and under get in for free. Discount tickets are available at any O’Reilly’s Auto Parts.

For more information, call (248) 373-1700 or go to www.autorama.com.

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