Sarah Lafata, of St. Clair Shores, is bringing her 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle to this year’s Autorama, set for March 1-3 at Cobo Center.

Sarah Lafata, of St. Clair Shores, is bringing her 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle to this year’s Autorama, set for March 1-3 at Cobo Center.

Photo provided by Sarah Lafata

St. Clair Shores resident to show '72 Chevelle at Autorama

‘There is no wrong restoration, and there is no car that’s not liked’

By: Andy Kozlowski, Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 15, 2019


ST. CLAIR SHORES — The cranberry red 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle has been lovingly owned by just two people: the man who designed it as a performance vehicle at General Motors, and Sarah Lafata, of St. Clair Shores.

“One of our customers, that was his car,” Lafata said.

Lafata owns Lafata Auto Body in Roseville and was looking for a vehicle to restore with her husband, Eric. While looking through photographs of vehicles they had worked on in the shop one day, she said she came across a photo of the Chevelle and couldn’t take her eyes off it.

Although the owner had moved to Florida, his son still lived in Harrison Township, so the Lafatas looked him up. The son told her that his father had designed the car as a performance vehicle at GM. When the company was going to sell it three months later, he decided to buy it himself.

“He’s had it ever since,” she said.

Until the following week, when Lafata bought the car.

“He said, ‘If you want to buy it, go ahead. I know you’ll take care of it,’” she said.

Lafata drove the vehicle during the summer of 2018 and decided to restore it to its original glory to be the first vehicle that she’s showing off at this year’s Autorama at Cobo Center.

“I said, ‘We should do this to it, but keep it original. But I can’t do it myself,’” she said. “(My husband) was helping me along with it. I had a lot of help, but I was there too.”

“It’s got some good history with it,” Eric Lafata said. “She decided to restore it, and (I tried) to get her to do most of the work, being that she owns the business now. She’s learning a lot.

“We’ve been married 12 years. I usually restore a car about once a year for myself, but this is her first car.”

Sarah Lafata will join auto enthusiasts from across the region as they roll into Detroit’s Cobo Center March 1-3 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 the metro Detroit area.

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,” complete with a Burt Reynolds look-alike.   

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.

Lafata said she loves seeing the variety and range of designs at Autorama.

“There is no wrong restoration, and there is no car that’s not liked,” she said. “Everybody can show off their personality. Some people do really far-out customs.

“Even though there’s competition, it’s great to know your competition.”

St. Clair Shores business owner Jeffrey Matthews, the proprietor of Great Lakes Battery, 27602 Harper Ave., is bringing his 1973 Honda CB 750 motorcycle to the show.

He said he’s done a complete restoration on the bike, rebuilding the motor with an 836 kit and adding other high-performance parts.

Restoring vintage motorcycles is a hobby for him and his friends, said Matthews, of Warren. His store hosts a vintage motorcycle show each year called Great Lakes Vintage Cycle. This year’s show is scheduled for July 27.

This is the first year he’s bringing a vehicle to Autorama, though.

“All of the ingenuity of everybody, the artistry of everybody, what they build and what they bring. I’m just a fan of looking at things that are different,” he said.

While the North American International Auto Show highlights what’s yet to come from automakers, Autorama is more about vehicles of the past and alterations that have made them one of a kind.

There will be hundreds of cars to see and other kinds of spectacle as well.

The Smokey and the Bandit Roadshow exhibit is expected to feature cars and other memorabilia from the movie. There will also be a Burt Reynolds look-alike.

“It’s just pure fun,” Autorama spokeswoman Linda Ashley said. “We always like to salute iconic cars — movie cars, race cars and wonderful custom cars.”

To that end, there will also be an exhibit featuring Carl Casper, who is 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. Casper 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,” 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 in 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.

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