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The Magic Happens Here

By on March 1, 2017

Grand Daddy of All Car Shows

Thousands of indoor and outdoor car shows are held each year across the United States, but only one bills itself as the ‘The Grand Daddy of Them All!’ and the largest, longest-running indoor car show. For any car guy or gal, the Grand National Roadster Show held at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, California kicks off the show season with an absolutely fantastic display of eye candy. It’s a hotbed for the wildest hot rods, coolest customs and baddest gassers. Based on the magic that happens here, many enthusiasts place this show at or near the top of their bucket lists.

The 2017 show on January 27-29 continued the 68-year tradition of premier showings for the creations of the best and brightest builders in the roadster category. Thirteen entrants, including one from Metallica frontman James Hetfield, pursued the 2017 America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) trophy. It comes with a $10,000 prize and a permanent plaque on the 10-foot tall mega-trophy. An estimated 50,000 enthusiasts attended the three-day event, which featured dazzling candy, flake, pearl, lacquer, flames, scallops, graphics, pin stripping and many other custom-painting techniques. So you can sample the visual experience, this story is presented mostly in pictures, with just enough text to provide some background information.

Categories & Classes

Nine major award categories and 206 sub-classes provide trophy opportunities for every qualified entry that arrives on four or two wheels, plus boats as follows:

  • Customs (33)
  • Trucks/Vans (35)
  • Street Machines/Competition
  • Rods (40)
  • Restored Vehicles(15)
  • Boats (3)
  • Motorcycles (22)
  • Special Interest – Miscellaneous (8)
  • Kids (8)

While the AMBR competitors take top billing, 18 other coveted awards are up for grabs during a rigorous judging process conducted by a team of professionals, using a point system based on detail, quality, condition, safety and originality:

  • America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle
  • Al Slonaker Memorial Award (show founder)
  • Triple Gun Award of Excellence
  • Blackie Gejeian Award
  • George Barris Kustom D’Elegance
  • Brizio Family Award
  • Bruce Meyer Hot Rod Preservation Perpetual Trophy
  • H & H Best Dressed Flathead
  • Best Rod
  • Steve’s Auto Restorations Award
  • Best Custom
  • West Coast Customs Outstanding Nostalgia Rod or Custom Award
  • Von Dutch Pinstriping Award
  • Perseverance Award
  • Stitch of Excellence Award
  • Best Truck
  • Best Restored
  • Best Street Machine or Competition Vehicle

More than 500 vehicles were on hand to compete for awards inside 12 Fairplex buildings. Another 800 vehicles participated in the 12th Annual Grand Daddy Drive-In staged on exterior paved areas between the buildings. Building No. 9 housed the featured marquee—the Tri-Five Chevys (‘55, ‘56 & ‘57)—to celebrate their 60th Anniversary. Outdoor activities included live bands and special awards and picks sponsored by some of the magazines covering the show. It is capped by the Sunday awards ceremony prior to the 6:00 p.m. close.

Condensed Show History

While the Grand National Roadster Show has a rich history, too long to cover here, following is a shortened version that provides some perspective on the evolution and scope of this show. Founder and promoter Al Slonaker had an inauspicious beginning with the 1950 show in San Francisco. He tried again the following year in Oakland under the National Roadster Show banner (aka the Oakland Roadster Show), staging the forerunner of what has become a hot rodding institution.

“We didn’t know hot rods from roller skates,” said Mary Slonaker, Al’s wife, “but people liked them so much that Al decided to hold a hot rod only car show that second year. Al was the idea man,” added Mary “as well as a realist. He knew using the term ‘hot rod’ was still a no-no, so he substituted ‘roadster.” Al learned quickly. While the early years were dominated by highly detailed street-driven cars, he added tail-draggin’, lead-sled customs and developed new classes for street roadsters, coupes, sedans, customs, lakes cars, speedway cars, antiques and sports cars.”

The 60s became a time of outlandish designs and far-out creations. Many thought the show was becoming ‘Hollyweird.’ The odd-rod excesses eventually returned to a more traditional view of real hot rods in the early 70s. The two biggest changes were precipitated by Slonaker’s failing health and resulting 1973 retirement, which led to a sale. Under the leadership of Harold “Baggy” Bagdarsarian, the show and the AMBR prize returned to normalcy in 1978 with a traditional Deuce Highboy winner.

Since the show moved south in 2004, local businessman and car enthusiast John Buck has owned the Grand National Roadster Show. He made the controversial decision to return the show to its SoCal roots. More than his ability to promote shows, his curiosity about the sport and his love of its history and heritage have propelled its growth and renewed success. He doubled the number of buildings for show cars and increased attendance, making the show more user friendly to exhibitors and fans.

“I want to honor everyone who ever owned or built a hot rod,” Buck said. “I want people to come up and tell us what they did, and I want to spend time and learn. I’ll make time for everyone, and I want them to feel like this is a family affair to bring their children to and remember the past.”

It’s not too early to begin planning for the magic that will characterize the 2018 Grand National Roadster Show to be held January 26-28. Many roadster owners and noted industry builders are already planning and even working on next year’s entries. If you’ve never thought about attending the Grand Daddy of indoor car shows and can arrange your schedule to be there for at least one day, you’ll enjoy the experience of a lifetime.

Packard Wins America’s Best Roadster

A 1936 Packard dubbed the ‘Mulholland Speedster’ won the 2017 America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) competition at the 68th Annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Grand National Roadster Show presented by Meguiar’s Custom Car Products.

Breaking with a long history of winning Fords, a non-traditional roadster won the AMBR. The ‘36 Packard roadster is the handiwork of Troy Ladd and the crew at Hollywood Hot Roads for owner Bruce Wanta. Clearly, this isn’t your typical 1936 Packard. The technical marvel that lies beneath gorgeous Mulholland Merlot paint and meticulously stitched interior is absolutely spectacular.

Smart-phone apps control the disappearing top (trunk lifts, top folds down), the winter grille and the suspension. A 292-cu. in. Lincoln V-12 topped by a Latham-Hogan supercharger provides the power to a Borg Warner T5 (five-speed) tranny and a Winters IRS quick-change rear end. You’ll find a link to additional photos in the digital version of the March-April RoadKing magazine at RoadKing.com.


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