For 72 years now the Sacramento Autorama has highlighted some of the best automobiles the West Coast has to offer. Nestled in the capitol of California, and what many consider the Custom Car Capitol of the World, the Sacramento Autorama gathered the West’s bests with others from throughout the country and shined the spotlight on traditional Custom cars this past weekend.
The lineup of awards dedicated to these custom creations are in memory of some of the best customizers in the world. Guys like Bagdasarian, Barris, Balion, and Bertolucci. Rod Shows calls them the “Big B” Awards, for obvious reasons. All four of the Big B Awards are selected by family members of those who have passed. Here are the 2023 recipients:
Bagdasarian Memorial Worlds Most Beautiful Custom Award – Ray Poletti – 1940 Lincoln Zephyr
Sam Barris Memorial Award – Jesse Orozco – 1956 Chevy 210 Sedan
Joe “Candy Apple” Bailon Memorial Award – Mitch Kelly – 1957 Chevy Bel Air
Dick Bertolucci Memorial Award of Excelence – Cesar Ruiz – 1936 Ford Roadster
But the annual top honor award that customs vie for in Sacramento is the Custom D’Elegance title. This year the trophy went back to the east coast after being awarded to Cody Walls and his gold ’49 Buick that debuted at the Grand National Roadster Show earlier this year in the Slonaker competition. Cody’s Buick edged out a strong field of six beautiful, traditional customs.
New for 2023 was the ARP West Coast Challenge competition which awarded $12,500 and a trophy to the Grand Champion, $6,500 to the runner up, and $3,500 to the third-place finisher. To qualify for the West Coast Challenge, vehicle owners needed to attend three of the four following events: Grand National Roadster Show, Portland Roadster Show, Spokane Speed and Custom Show, and the Sacramento Autorama. In Sacramento the judges did their final deliberating and awarded Jeff Hess’ “OldsSled” ’56 Oldsmobile as the inaugural West Coast Challenge winner – yet another major award for OldsSled after debuting at the 2020 Detroit Autorama, and later that year being crowned Goodguys Custom of the Year.
Back in November, we were excited to learn that Dave Shuten, of Galpin Speed Shop, will be restoring the X-Sonic Corvette to its 1960s appearance. The X-Sonic was a groundbreaking custom car in the late-1950s that not only inspired Ed Roth to begin crafting his famous bubble tops, but also helped introduce the custom-car world to hydraulics.
Hydraulic suspension (and its spiritual descendent, airbags) on custom and lowrider cars is commonly known today. But where and when did hydraulics make the leap from being aircraft parts to automotive suspension pieces? The answer, of course, is in post-World War II California, where two enthusiasts—seemingly separately and unbeknownst to one another—used parts found in military surplus stores to create the first suspension systems that could be impracticably low for car shows but raised for driving
One of those men was Jim Logue, a North American Aviation employee who lived in Long Beach in 1957 and took inspiration from Citroen’s factory hydropneumatic suspension to modify his 1954 Ford. The other was Ron Aguirre, a resident of Rialto, who around the same time saw a hydraulic ram being used for dent removal and thought he might use something similar to avoid future violations for the lowness of his 1956 Corvette. Today, Logue and his Fabulous X54 have faded from popular memory, but Aguirre’s bubble-topped X-Sonic persists as the poster child for “the first” hydraulics-equipped custom car.
As a successful contender on the indoor-car-show circuit of the 1960s, the X-Sonic went through a few iterations and wound up heavily modified, including the aforementioned bubble top, substitution of a Turboglide transmission for the original three-speed, and even the elimination of a conventional steering wheel in favor of an electric motor controlled by toggle switches! The bubbletop and unconventional steering marked the transition of the car from street custom to all-out show car.
Not that there is much doubt about it among car enthusiasts, but custom work is art. British designer and customizer Andy Saunders is proof of that.
As part of autoevolution’s Custom Builds Month coverage, we’ve already discussed a couple of Saunders’ most famous projects: the MINI HaHa and Claustro Phobia, another MINI that held the Guinness World Record for the lowest car. If these two builds did not get you thinking “wow, this is art!,” Tetanus will.
The name might not be very artsy, but this build is a monument of sophistication and elegance, artistry and wild creativity. Tetanus Cord, or Tetanus for short, started out as a 1937 Cord 812 Westchester sedan and came with a very interesting history. It belonged to royalty and then came very close to becoming a race car, before being suddenly and mysteriously abandoned on a field for decades.
An original right-hand drive export model meant for the UK market, the Cord was sold as new by R.S.M Automobiles of Berkeley Square, London to the Earl of Derby, according to Saunders’ official webpage. The Earl drove it for a few years before deciding to part ways with it: Saunders believes it had developed a gearbox problem and the owner probably thought buying a new one was less of a hassle than having it fixed. Rich people mentality
The story below was written by my good friend Rik Hoving who runs the Custom Car Chronicle. Rik and I share a great appreciation for both custom cars and sport customs. Those of you interested in these kinds of cars should visit his website via the link below:
For me this story goes back to 2010 when I was well into my research into Sport Custom Cars in America. As I dug into this subject, I was surprised and impressed to see a wider variety of designs being built in the late 1940s and early 1950s than I had ever seen before. What I was witnessing during my readings was a consolidation of designs – agreements in styling methods and other types of convergence on “what” would be a “custom car” and “what” would be a “sports car.” Rudy Makella’s WOW Cadillac jumped out from the pages of magazines when I first saw it.
As you’ll learn in Rik’s story below, Rudy’s and his family owned a power hammer company – what we know call a metal shaping company. They were located in Indianapolis, Indiana and built custom ordered/modified ambulances, hearses, limousines and more. Rudy was a young man at the time working for his father’s company when he decided he wanted to create a custom car of his own design. Starting with an early 1940s Cadillac convertible, Rudy created an entirely new body for it – one in which the entire front clip rolled forward to reveal the engine when needed. A unique design and a unique car. Worthy of attention the first time I saw it in the magazines. Then I found the real deal.
In 2010, Stephen Lisak had posted photos of the car he had found nearly two decades before and saved from a junkyard. With a bit of research, I confirmed what the car was and shared it Stephen and his wife Mary – the nicest folks you’d ever hope to meet. Over the years we became fast friends and late in 2018 I bought the car.
Back in 2014, Rik Hoving worked with Stephen Lisak to create a story about Stephen’s car – the WOW Cadillac. Recently I asked Rik if we could share his story of this car with our readers here at Undiscovered Classics and today’s story is the result of Rik saying “yes.” Thanks Rik! So away we go.
“Reclaimed Rust” is the title of an exhibition of custom cars, guitars and memorabilia from the James Hetfield Collection that opens February 1 at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Hetfield is co-founder, lead vocalist and songwriter for the heavy-metal band Metallica.
He also is a lifelong car enthusiast.
“Hetfield’s vehicles assert both a reverence for history and a disregard for convention, standing collectively as a testament to the musician’s distinctive personality and artistic energy,” the museum said in its announcement.
The History of Custom Car Literature, When Did It Start, What Did They Publish, and Why It Was Researched
In The Beginning…
Dan Post was the first to document in great detail how to build a custom car in postwar America. Being “first” is an impressive thing to say – especially when the field of customizing a car was a fledgling enterprise in the mid 1940s and cars to customize were few and far in between. Remember…during the wartime years new cars weren’t produced and those that were new before the war were treasured commodities.
Cars in the prewar era were mostly designed with open fenders. Only in the early 1940s and then in the postwar years were the designs “modern” enough to consider customizing cars in many of the ways we think of today. And it was during this time when Dan Post was there to capture, document and share what he was seeing with America at large. Dan Post was there at the beginning – writing and learning about what he saw – and sharing it across the country.
Speedy metal: Metallica’s James Hetfield donates 10 of his custom hot rods to the Petersen
In the band’s entire 38-year discography, Metallica has mentioned in its lyrics the Great Old One Cthulhu more times than it has name-dropped any automobile brand; its 1997 single “Fuel” seems to be the band’s only acknowledgement of the existence of internal combustion engines.* Yet lead guitarist vocalist James Hetfield may be one of music’s most committed gearheads, as illustrated by the 10-car collection he recently donated to the Petersen Automotive Museum.
With several projects from Kindig-it Design in his garage, Goodguys regular Ron Meis decided it was time for an open-wheeled car with a little more agility than his GTO and ’59 Buick. After hashing out a build plan they decided to use the redesigned ’27 T roadster from Dynamic Corvettes and Shadow Rods in Saginaw, Michigan. The XL27 has two more inches of room and sits low over a matching ’32-style frame.
We are going to file this one under things you can do, but shouldn’t. At first glance, this car might look like a Dodge Charger 4-door muscle car. The problem is two-fold. First, it’s not a four-door. The second problem is that the car is a convertible. A look at the side of the weird Dodge Charger might be enough to tip off Ford Mustang fans that the car is a pony.
The profile of the side and convertible top show it to be an S197 Mustang, which was the generation before the current S550 gen Mustang. As strange and ugly as this Mustang Charger convertible is, someone spent time and significant money on this conversion.
This period custom is the perfect way to enter the custom car world
In the early 1960s, nearly everyone with a driver’s license was trying to make their aging sedans look like something from one of the magazines of the day with the pennies they saved working after school. If you weren’t buying speed parts to make your car faster, you were sourcing custom work from local body shops to make your cruiser stand out. There was no shortage of local body shops churning out bespoke builds for neighborhood kids and adults alike. But there’s one major problem with custom cars: changing trends. As the 1960s slipped away, maintaining your now extensively modified, decade-old car could become a hassle. Especially if you’d rather be rowing through the gears of a Pontiac GTO.