This year’s Grand National Roadster Show was held on January 28-30, 2011 at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, California. There were some major changes made from the year before. One of the changes was that roadsters entering the America’s Most Beautiful Roadsters Award category, or AMBR, must have never been shown at any show prior to the Grand National Roadster Show. While this is a common practice at the Autorama in Detroit and other shows around the country, it was new for this show, the Granddaddy of all the shows. Other changes included a new set of judges and judging guidelines. First, the judges will change from year to year. Secondly the judges will not be allowed to have any involvement with the AMBR cars that they are judging. Third, the owner or authorized driver will drive the car a short distance in front of the judges who will observe the roadster in action. Then the driver will stop in front of a viewing screen. The judges will approach the vehicle and circle the roadster from all angles, viewing how well the car and the driver fit. The judges will check out every detail on the car from all angles. Then the owner or driver will be given an opportunity to point out the features on the car that he/she feels sets the vehicle apart from other roadsters. The owner will then turn over a “build book” for the judges to review. The judges will discuss the AMBR cars in a special area and then they will determine which roadster is best in these categories; visual design detail, engineering, interior, engine, paint, undercarriage and the best display vehicle.
Hearing of the changes made for some banter among the spectators and reporters on the scene. Change is always greeted with questions. However, the cars were all beautifully crafted and built and there seemed to be no decline in quality. One thing that was noticeable was that all the roadsters had a traditional look to them. Past years saw some designs that pushed the look into the space age with shapes and appliances that our fathers would never have imagined or added to their roadsters. In fact, the roadsters in past shows had a style and look that traditional roadster lovers would have smirked at. We wouldn’t have laughed at the innovations, but we certainly would have scratched our heads in wonderment. Just as many more people would disagree with us, of course, and praise the new styling and customizing as exactly what hot rodding is all about; change and evolution. There you have it; the old guard meets the new guard. The AMBR Award is given to the most beautiful roadster and is open to all United States built roadsters, roadster pickups and touring vehicles built in 1937 or earlier, with most of the cars centered on the famous ’32 Deuce. You can build a modern car, but the design has to be from 1937 or earlier. There have been 62 cars honored as America’s Most Beautiful Roadster. Some owner/builders have been honored more than once, such as; Ermie Immerso, Rich Guasco, Bob Tindle, Richard Peters, Bob Reisner, Lonnie Gilbertson, John Corno and Fred Warren. Ermie was the only one to win it three times.
Some of the people who stand out include William Niekamp, a dry lakes racer and the first winner of the award. Leroy Smith, whom we all called Tex even though he was from Montana, who won it in 1963. Rich Guasco and George Barris, who are legendary builders and customizers. Joe McPherson won the award in 1994. Joe created a special museum where we held car and racing reunions and banquets. After his death the museum was closed down and we lost a first class site to gather at. Andy Brizio, Boyd Coddington, Don Varner, Don Tognatti, Romeo Palamides, Ed and Ray Cortopassi, and Blackie Gejeian are names that evoke the past. Standing next to the monstrously large trophy, which only grows in size as the years go by, one is grasped by the tradition of the AMBR award. No matter what our views, tastes and ideals are, or how we argue our opinions, the history and heritage of the show and past recipients of the award give us all a little shiver as we view the cars vying for the 2011 AMBR award. As in the past few years, the AMBR cars are shown in the center of Building 4, right behind the Fine Arts Building and the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. This weekend all three buildings are replete with hot rodding’s best cars. It will take a full three days to see everything while we meet with friends from throughout the nation and give our opinion as to which is indeed the finest roadster for this year’s show.
Byron Robeck, located in Santa Clara, California, built a ’33 Ford Roadster, named the “Nugget” for owner Phillip Ray, of Montara, California. Russ and Lora Freund are the owner/builders of a 1923 Ford Roadster which they constructed in their shop, Hot Rods by Freund, in Post Falls, Idaho. Dick Bennett is the owner/builder of a ’32 Ford Roadster, the Fantom ’32. He used a Brookville body with a front and rear end modified by Jerry Kugel. Tim Lohre, from Sacramento, California built a ’36 Auburn Roadster for owner Gary Williams, who lives in Granite Bay, California. Ed Swisher of Suison, California built a ’32 Ford Roadster for Joe Mitchell, who resides in Long Beach, California. “I have a lot of Wally’s (trophies) in my house from my son who raced in the Junior Dragster program (NHRA),” said Mitchell. “There is nothing quite like racing at Pomona,” Mitchell told me. Jack Hagemann, Jr, from Morgan Hill, California, is the owner/builder of a ’32 Ford Roadster Pickup. The paint job was done by Mike Dwight of Gilroy, California. Richard Seals of Hermosa Beach, California entered a 1918 Dodge Roadster.
Dan and Linda Moisio from Lake Havasu City, Arizona entered a ’32 Ford Roadster called “Da Twins.” The Moisio’s had a nice desert display with a female manikin with an ample display and may have been the motive for the car’s nickname. Jeff Chandler of Portland, Oregon is the owner of a ’33 Ford Roadster, built by Steve Frisbie, of Steve’s Auto Restoration, also located in Portland. Daniel Deshon of Rancho Mirage, California displayed a ’32 Ford Roadster built by the Rod Shop in Phoenix, Arizona. Deshon told me that he is belongs to the Palm Springs Cruising Association, a group with 150 members and photographs were taken of his car. John Buck saw the photos and contacted Deshon and asked him to enter the AMBR contest. Prior to this contact he had no thought of entering his roadster. Owner Nick Kallos brought his ’29 Ford Roadster, from Las Vegas, Nevada. The chassis was built by the So-Cal Speed Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada. The original So-Cal Speed Shop was sold by founder Alex Xydias to Pete Chapouris and now there are several shops in the Southwest. The final AMBR entry was a ’34 Ford Roadster owned by Daryl Wolfswinkel of Mesa, Arizona. The builder was Doug Jerger, the son of Squeeg Jerger, from Squeeg’s Kustoms. Doug mentioned that he made changes to this car from his father’s design and received a lot of fatherly rebuke. This is the car that won the 2011 AMBR contest, so father and son played a role in winning the award.