It had been roughly 15 years or so since I’d gone to the Detroit Autorama—I recall the Ridler winner being a ’90s Mercedes Pro Mod, if that tells you anything. For many reasons, it was about time I ended that absentee streak, and this was the year for my return to Cobo Hall.

Things sure have changed over the years, and I’m not just talking about the Autorama, either. No more walking across Jefferson Avenue from the Pontchartrain—it was all about the People Mover and 50-cent tokens and hoards of heavily inked people running amok in the Renaissance Center. (I was probably the only tattooed hotel guest who wasn’t there for the tattoo convention!) But as for the show, it was pretty much as I’d remembered … well, at least the ground floor at Cobo Hall was.

For the last few years, Detroit has opened its basement doors (where I believe they first tested the waters with the inclusion of import/tuner cars) for the kind of hot rods and customs we can all relate to: real-world cars, not zillion-dollar show cars. Dubbed the Autorama Extreme, the downstairs exhibit had no Ridler buzz, no elaborate vehicle displays, it was just a good old-fashioned car show with a bunch of good old-fashioned hot rods and customs.

But don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of reasons to spend time upstairs as well. While the Ridler contention was nowhere near the caliber of recent years, quite a few entries on display were deserving of more than just an honorable mention, as you’re about to see.

Seeing as next year is Detroit’s big 60th, which ought to attract more heavy hitters fishing for the Ridler with some real high-dollar bait, I don’t foresee another streak of mine starting anytime too soon. I’m not a huge fan of the cold weather, but I do like Detroit and the people there are great. The only downside—fighting the temptation to get another tattoo!