WCSX City of the Week

WCSX City of the Week

WCSX City of the Week

The batmobile at the Detroit Autorama in 2023.

The Detroit Autorama: it’s America’s Greatest Hot Rod Show! The show features a select group of 800+ custom and restored vehicles from around the world. More than 140,000 spectators are drawn to Huntington Place over the three day run of Autorama each year. The Detroit Autorama is the quintessential Motor City event, in my estimation. It is a celebration of cars, creativity, and community.  I’ve been attending The Detroit Autorama since the ’90s.  Every time, I have seen new things and had an awesome time.

Ridler Me This, Autorama

The Detroit Autorama is best known as home to the Don Ridler Memorial Award. The award is presented to the “best in show” to recognize the most “outstanding car shown for the first time.” The Riddler Award has been won by many well-known car designers and builders, such as Chip Foose, Jerry PenningtonTroy Trepanier, and Bobby Alloway.  Read on to find out more about the history of the Ridler Award.

Joel’s Notes

When I was a kid, I always got to go to Autorama as a birthday present. It started the year that Fonzie’s Motorcycle (from everyone in America’s favorite TV Show- Happy Days!) was a big attraction (1976?). When we finally got through the massive crowd to get a look at it, there was Fonzie’s Triumph Trophy TR5 motorcycle behind velvet ropes! It was slowly dripping oil into one of those big disposable tin foil pans that you bake a turkey in on Thanksgiving. Autorama has been something special to me every year since.

I have been so lucky to have worked at Rock and Roll Radio stations like WCSX that have appeared at Autorama over the last few decades! The best time was working at the WCSX Booth a few years ago. About 40 years after first seeing Fonzie’s motorcycle, Henry Winkler was appearing at Autorama (2023). He was walking past the WCSX Booth, on his way to sign autographs. I looked up, we made eye contact, and I said “Hello, Henry.”  He stopped, looked me right in the eye, and said “Hello!”  It only lasted a couple of seconds, but it was a warm, genuine friendly greeting!  I felt like I was 7 years old again! Henry Winkler has always been, and always will be, “Cool”!

Hanging with Henry Winkler at Detroit Autorama

Hanging with Henry Winkler at Detroit Autorama

Memories of The Detroit Autorama

  • Did Bob Seger Play Autorama?

    Yes, Bob Seger DID play Autorama! In the late ’60s and early 70’s Autorama started adding other exhibitions and attractions to Autorama. This included Soap Box Derbies, an MPC Model Car Contest, the Miss Autorama Contest, and live music. Bob Seger performed at several Autoramas. Detroit rock legends, Alice Cooper and Mitch Ryder, also performed live at Autorama. The Bob Seger System first played Autorama in 1968. The Amboy Dukes and The Rationals also played throughout the three-day event.

    Despite our best efforts, we were unable to find any photos or recordings of the performances, but here’s early Bob… “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was released in 1968.

  • Location, Location, Location

    The first Detroit Autorama was held at The University of Detroit Memorial Building (today’s Calihan Hall) on January 31 and February 1, 1953, with only 40 cars. It was hosted by members of the Michigan Hot Rod Association (MHRA), which was made up of smaller clubs at the time such as The Motor City Modifieds, Bearing Burners, Spark Plugs, The Road Kings, Shifters, and Milwinders.

    The Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum was home to Autorama from 1954 to 1960.

    In 1961 , the 9th Annual Detroit Autorama was the first to be held at the new Cobo Hall (today’s Huntington Place). That year featured a new-record: 230 cars displayed in Cobo’s basement. The show started to gain national attention and attract car creators like George Barris (The Original Batmobile, The Monkee Mobile, etc. ), Darryl Starbird, Carl Casper, and “Big Daddy” Ed Roth. The 2024 Autorama features 5 generations of Gotham City vehicles including the original Batmobile.

    American actors Burt Ward (left), as Robin, and Adam West, as Batman, ride in the Batmobile in a still from the television series, 'Batman,' c. 1967. (Photo by 20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Getty Images)

    American actors Burt Ward (left), as Robin, and Adam West, as Batman, ride in the Batmobile in a still from the television series, ‘Batman,’ c. 1967. (Photo by 20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • The Don Ridler Award's History

    In 1964, the MHRA created the Don Ridler Memorial Award to recognize the most “outstanding car shown for the first time.” Don Ridler was a big part of his community throughout his life.  He did a lot to promote and expand Autorama. Don was the first professional promoter hired by the Autorama organizers. Don was a creative thinker.  The Ridler Award was named in his honor to salute creativity: both Don’s creativity and the creativity of those building cars. Find out more about Don Ridler’s life and accomplishments here.

    The Don Ridler Memorial Award - Street Rodder Magazine

    The Don Ridler Memorial Award feature

  • The Great Eight

    Around 2000, The Ridler Award had another layer added: The Great Eight. Eight cars are chosen to be finalists for The Ridler Award. Around this time as well, the builds for the Ridler Award moved from individuals to professional builds.  TV personality, Chip Foose has won The Ridler Award four times… that’s more than any other team or individual.

    Chip Foose: Transportation Design Alumni Story

    Perhaps the world's top hot-rod designer, Chip Foose and his contributions to the automotive industry have become legendary in a relatively short amount of time.

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