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 Tom Urban, from Sterling Heights, stands next to his 1940 Ford coupe, which will appear at Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama.

Tom Urban, from Sterling Heights, stands next to his 1940 Ford coupe, which will appear at Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


Sterling Heights resident to show 1940 Ford deluxe coupe at Autorama

By: Eric Czarnik, Kristyne E. Demske | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 21, 2020

 Tom Urban shows what is under the hood of his Ford coupe.

Tom Urban shows what is under the hood of his Ford coupe.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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DETROIT/STERLING HEIGHTS — Looking for movie stars, both human and vehicle?

With a chance to see the Ford GT40 and P330 Ferrari used in the Oscar-winning “Ford v Ferrari”; Cody Walker, from “Furious 7”; wrestling legend Ric Flair; and more than 800 of the best and most outrageous custom hot rods, cars, trucks and motorcycles from across the country and around the world, the 68th annual Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama has something for every enthusiast.

“We’ve been doing the show since 1953,” said Butch Patrico, the co-chair of Autorama for the past 30 years and president of the Michigan Hot Rod Association. “It’s one of the most prestigious hot rod and custom car shows in the country.”

This year, the show will highlight the most significant hot rods of the 20th century, a group of five vehicles that have never been seen together at one time on this side of the country: Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Outlaw and Beatnik Bandit, Tommy Ivo’s 1925 T Bucket, Bob McGee’s 1932 Ford Roadster, and Norm Grabowski’s Kookie T Bucket, which cruised into fame on the TV show “77 Sunset Strip.”

The 2020 Autorama will be held at the TCF Center, 1 Washington Blvd., noon-10 p.m. Feb. 28, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Feb. 29 and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. March 1.

Begun as a fundraiser for the Michigan Hot Rod Association’s efforts to build the Detroit Dragway, the show has grown over the decades to be one of the largest in the country, Patrico said. It was held at the Michigan State Fairgrounds and the Detroit Artillery Armory before moving to the now-TCF Center in 1961.

Autorama is also home to the “most coveted award in hot rodding,” the Ridler Award. For 57 years, the Ridler Award has been presented to the most outstanding new custom car shown for the first time anywhere, attracting the finest custom car builders on the continent to unveil their vehicles for the first time at the show.

“The Ridler Award ... has been one of the most sought-after awards,” said Patrico, of St. Clair Shores. “The competitors all want a trophy from Detroit just because of the prestige of the show.”

Patrico said the show is always fresh, since exhibitors can only show a car three times at Autorama before they have to change something on the vehicle.

“(We) keep the show fresh for the spectators ... by keeping the vehicles as fresh as possible,” he said. “That’s why we put an emphasis on relatively new cars and not a lot of repeats.”

However, some local classic car enthusiasts do bring their vehicles back to the show multiple times — such as Tom Urban, of Sterling Heights, who plans to reprise his red 1940 Ford deluxe coupe.

Urban, 69, said his love of cars started back when he was a kid. He built model cars and entered them in contests, and he also raced slot cars. Then, in the 1970s, he raced at the Mount Clemens Race Track for five years and won a championship, he said.

When Urban couldn’t afford to race anymore, he checked out street rodding. But he said he always wanted a 1940 Ford, and about 25 years ago, he finally got it.

“I flew down to Dallas, Texas, and I bought it, paid for it and drove it home from Dallas,” he said.

“It needed quite a bit of work. I managed to talk to the original builder of the car. He asked me after I bought my car, ‘Does it still have the ugly interior in it?’”

Urban said he since has made lots changes to the Ford, calling it “basically an old car body with all the new-car perks.” Added features include power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission and satellite radio, he said.

“The car has been repainted,” he said. “It’s had two new interiors. And I changed the drive train around, changed the front suspension, changed the rear suspension.”

Urban said this will be the fourth time he has shown the Ford coupe at Autorama, and he said it has won awards there multiple times.

“I’ve got so many awards and trophies with this car, I don’t care for them anymore,” he said. “I’ve given away more than I can count.”

Although some classic car owners mainly preserve their vehicles for the showroom, Urban said he has driven the Ford coupe over 100,000 miles. Recently those miles included a three-week trip with his wife, Patricia, with stops in Louisville, Kentucky; Reno, Nevada; the Grand Canyon; and Mount Rushmore.

“I have a blast with the car. I drive it everywhere, weather permitting,” he said. “This past summer, we went on a 6,000-mile road trip. … It was the most fun I’ve had with that car ever.”

Along with awards and celebrity sightings, the 68th annual Detroit Autorama will include the Cavalcade of Customs, a 10-car exhibit of specially invited custom vehicles, and Autorama Extreme, which covers the entire lower level of the TCF Center with more than 200 traditional hot rods, customs and “bobber bikes” inspired by the 1950s.

On Feb. 28, more than 3,000 students will take part in Autorama Student Career Day, hearing presentations from hot rod builders and industry leaders about career opportunities in the field.

Tickets for the 2020 Detroit Autorama cost $21 for adults, $8 for children ages 6-12, and are free for children 5 and younger at the gate. Discount tickets are available at O’Reilly Auto Parts for $19 and $7. For more information, visit www.autorama.com or call (248) 373-1700.

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