I just spent four days at one of the best indoor car shows. This year's Grand National Roadster Show will be a hard one for John Buck and his crew to top, but we know he is already making plans for next year. The quality of cars was top-notch, as usual, but the bonus this year was Building Nine filled with 58 of the "75 Most Significant '32 Ford Hot Rods" assembled to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Deuce.
As I wandered the building, checking out all the cars displayed, it just reinforced my stand that I will never be a car-show guy. I enjoy driving one of my hot rods to a show, but entering one with the intention of being judged is not for me; winning trophies was never my deal, and I'll be the first to admit I couldn't build a hot rod that would win a trophy. I lack the skills, time, money, and drive to build to that level.
I've also noticed that the winning vehicles generally don't appeal to me. Let me get the standard disclaimer out of the way. I appreciate the workmanship and the attention to detail it takes to build them-they are works of art. But, when it comes down to picking the one I would like to see in my driveway, it never seems to have a chance. It seems to be the same with most of the people I talk to, although it could just be the group of people I hang out with. We don't fault the cars that win; we just wouldn't want to take them home.
I've never judged anything on the level of the cars that compete for these awards nor would I want that responsibility. But I do know in most cases the judges are looking for things that are wrong with the fit and finish so they can take points away. They have to because these cars are built to such high standards that finding fault is the only way to knock them down. Unfortunately, styling doesn't always play into the points system.
This brings me to my question of the moment. Can a guy build a car in his garage that could win one of the big awards, such as the America's Most Beautiful Roadster or the Ridler? It seems highly unlikely, taking into consideration the cars that have won the last several years. But, if you think about it as strictly a fit-and-finish contest, it starts to seem possible. Forgo the coachbuilt body and just concentrate on the details. It should be possible if you have the skills, an eye for the details, and lots and lots of time on your hands. Bill Freni's '32 highboy, pictured above, was entered in the GNRS and is a good example of non-exotic parts assembled well. If you want the best chance of winning, you need to build a full-fendered roadster with a top (the fenders and top get you more points)-there's that points-above-style thing again.
The money spent to build any of the recent winners could easily buy a house ... even in Southern California. Take away the cost of the one-off bodies and most of the cash is spent detailing every weld on the frame, grinding every imperfection from the engine block, blocking and rubbing the paint until there's not a wave to be seen, and so on.
It appears that it could be done if you look at it like that, although it's very unlikely that it will. I say that because I believe the guy building his own car in his own garage is doing it not only for the love of the build, but because he'd like to take his creation out onto the streets and enjoy it when he's done. If you take the time to build something to the level required to win a major award, you're most likely not going to use it. With that said, I must point out that there was at least one roadster owner who drove to the event and drove back; Jerry Kugel brought out his rear-engined '32 and made a respectable showing.
In order to be eligible for the AMBR, the roadster has to start and move under its own power. I'd love to see that expanded a little more, and see the competitors take their cars out on a pre-determined cruise. After all, these are car shows, and cars are meant to be driven. If they all cruised in like Kugel's did, maybe more of us would appreciate the winner.