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'Ford v Ferrari' cars take a victory lap at Autorama

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Detroit — Autorama is playing the classics this weekend.

In addition to the hot rods vying for the coveted Ridler Award, the 68th annual Autorama will roll out the red carpet at TCF Center from Friday through Sunday for the historic 1966 Ford GT40 Mark II and Ferrari 330 P3 race cars featured in the film “Ford v Ferrari."

Showgoers can revel in more '60s racing nostalgia with the 1969 Trans Am Camaro on display that will be piloted by racing legend Lyn St. James in May as part of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle. And five of the 20th century’s most storied hot rods will be featured including the Bubble Top Beatnik Bandit, the model for one of the 16 original Hot Wheels toys.

The actual Ford GT40 and P330 Ferrari from the movie "Ford v Ferrari" on display at Autorama.

The green-and-white No. 95 GT40 was predominantly used in filming the 24 Hours of Daytona scenes as the lead car that is passed in the closing laps by Ken Miles (Christian Bale). The same car was repainted as the red No. 3 and yellow No. 8 cars that appeared in the Le Mans scenes. It was loaned to Autorama by the Volo Auto Museum outside Chicago.

The Ford was built for the movie by Race Car Replicas of Fraser, Michigan, using a Chevy engine and Porsche transaxle. California’s Superperformance replica shop crafted two, period-perfect GT40s that raced across the finish line in Le Mans scenes.

The muscular GT40 will appear next to a curvaceous replica of the Ferrari 330 P3 (also built by Race Car Replicas), one of the most beautiful race cars ever built.

The pair will evoke the famous line from "Ford v Ferrari" as the cars rolled onto the grid at Le Mans: “If this were a beauty pageant, we just lost," said racer Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale.

Movie producers didn’t have access to the remaining 330 P3s remaining in the world — Autorama producer Peter Toundas says there are only two — so they turned to the Fraser shop to make replicas. Toundas estimates an original P3 today is worth over $30 million.

“'Ford v Ferrari' costs $97 million to make. If they bought one of those cars for the movie it would have cost a third of their budget!” said the Autorama chief.

While Ford was dominating international endurance racing in the '60s, the Camaro was scoring wins in America’s Trans Am series.

That series will come alive again in May at Belle Isle featuring some of the original — not replica — cars from the era. The 1969 Camaro on display here was a unique entry that was built by a student team at the University of Pittsburgh with assistance from Detroit racing icon Roger Penske.

Racing pioneer St. James, one of Sports Illustrated’s top 100 female athletes of the 20th century, will pilot the University of Pittsburgh Camaro in the Belle Isle race and will be available for autographs at Autorama on Friday and Saturday.

“I’ve always loved the racing fans in the Motor City and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at Autorama this weekend,” said St. James, the first woman to win Rookie of the Year honors at the Indy 500.

Autorama has helped popularize hot rods for seven decades and the show will honor its roots: Tommy Ivo’s 1925 T Bucket, Bob McGee’s 1932 Ford Roadster and Norm Grabowski’s Kookie T Bucket (made famous in the “77 Sunset Strip” TV show) will join Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Outlaw and Hot Wheel’s Bubble Top Beatnik Bandit.

Ultimately, though, the museum pieces will take a backseat to Ridler competitors which will be front and center in TCF Center.

They headline 800 of the world’s best chopped, channeled, dumped and decked custom rods at TCF Center. Autorama Extreme – a collection of lowriders, cars and bikes inspired by the 1950s – will be featured down below.

The 30 Ridler competitors will be pared by judges to the “Great 8” finalists before Meguiar's presents the winner with the $10,000 cash prize and trophy. For 57 years the Ridler has honored the best new custom car.

“This is the Motor City," Toundas said, "and Detroit is where hot rod, custom car shows started,”

Bret Abraham of Toledo, Ohio pulls his 1965 Backdraft Cobra from the trailer at TCF Center for the 68th annual Detroit Autorama, running from February 28 to March 1.

Autorama

What: Autorama, a show of hot rods and classic and custom cars

When: Friday: noon-10 p.m.; Saturday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Where:  TCF Center (formerly Cobo Center), 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit

Tickets: $21 general admission, $8 ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and under

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.