It’s New Year’s in Detroit, 1953. In an effort to raise funds for a dragstrip, as well as find something to do other than shoveling snow, members of the Michigan Hot Rod Association brainstormed and ultimately decided to stage an indoor car show. The venue: University of Detroit Field House; the name of the event: The Detroit Autorama. Little did the MHRA know what a monster they were about to create.
It only took one year to outgrow the Field House, and by 1961, with stops at the Michigan State Fairgrounds and the Detroit Artillery Armory, it made its way to the place we call home for the Detroit Autorama: Cobo Hall. During its infancy, the show hired a gentleman by the name of Don Ridler, who for six years promoted the Autorama, booking top-notch entertainment that ultimately brought people through the doors for more than just fancy cars. (Today, the array of “attractions” ranges from the ever-popular Autorama Extreme basement extravaganza to the Transformers’ “Bumblebee” Camaro.)
Following Don Ridler’s death in 1963, the Detroit Autorama established the Don Ridler Memorial Award, which has become one of the top honors bestowed upon a hot rod/custom today. Right next to America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, in a word, the Ridler is simply prestige. However, in recent years, the level of competition seemed to dwindle a bit—that is, until now. Whether or not it was due to the Autorama turning 60 is anyone’s guess, but nonetheless, 2012 saw the bar raised back up, with Dwayne Peace’s Jesse Greening–built ’55 Thunderbird taking the crown. And maybe, just maybe, next year’s 50th anniversary of the Ridler will elevate that bar higher than it’s ever been—we’ll just have to wait and see.