64th Detroit Autorama to feature best wheels around

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Murray Pfaff says Detroit Autorama is “the Oscars” of custom cars.

“It’s where everybody from around the world comes to be seen and be judged on a scale that’s at the highest caliber in the industry… and see how they stack up,” says Pfaff, a Royal Oak-based car designer.

Autorama, which runs Friday through Sunday at Cobo Center, is most notably home to the prestigious Ridler Award. The award honors the best custom vehicle shown for the first time at Autorama. The eight finalists for the award, known as the “Great Eight,” will be revealed Friday at the Ridler’s Ball.

Sixty-eight vehicles are vying for the Ridler this year. That’s the most contestants in the show’s history, according to Peter Toundas, president of Championship Auto Shows, which organizes Detroit Autorama and 15 other auto shows nationwide.

“On average these cars can range anywhere from $300,000 to over $2 million, and take anywhere from five to seven years to complete,” Toundas says. “That says a lot about the credibility of the award and the credibility of the show, that people will put that kind of time and effort into wanting to bring their cars to Detroit.”

However, there’s much more to Autorama than the Ridler competitors. More than 800 hot rods and custom cars from around the world will be on display. The lower level of Cobo will play host to “Autorama Extreme,” a display of hot rods and rat rods that harken back to the ’50s and earlier.

“Every kind of specialty car you can think of on the planet, it’s at Autorama,” Toundas says.

Many local auto enthusiasts have a lengthy history with the event, which celebrates its 64th anniversary this year. Bob Fryz of Fryz Kustoms in Dearborn attended his first Autorama in 1964 at age 16.

“I was just amazed at the chrome and the engines and the paint jobs on those cars,” Fryz says. “For years I kept going there and I said, ‘Someday I just want to have a car in Autorama.’ Finally, after about 15 years, I took one of my cars down there and got accepted… and I’ve just been doing it ever since.”

In addition to the bevy of vehicles on display, the show also will feature a number of special guests. Sean “Farmtruck” Whitley and Jeff “AZN” Bonnett, stars of Discovery Channel’s reality street-racing series “Street Outlaws,” will sign autographs and do a live burnout competition and wheel stand Friday afternoon. “Horny” Mike Henry of History Channel’s auto-restoration reality show “Counting Cars” will appear Sunday afternoon.

The biggest special attraction at this year’s Autorama is a Saturday-night concert by Count’s 77, the hard-rock band led by “Counting Cars” host Danny “The Count” Koker. Toundas says Autorama hasn’t featured a live concert in two decades due to cost issues. But Koker, who spent part of his childhood in Detroit and now owns a custom shop in Vegas, presented a triple threat as an auto icon and musician with local roots.

Koker, who’s attended several Autoramas over the years as a spectator, projects tangible enthusiasm for the gig.

“I’m coming back to what I consider home,” Koker says. “The fact that Count’s 77 is coming to Detroit to play Cobo Hall is not only a big deal for me in my heart, every member of this band is so beside themselves that I assure you that when we come to Detroit we’re going to destroy that place…We’re going to explode on that stage like a bomb.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

64th Annual

Detroit Autorama

Noon-10 p.m. Fri.; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat.; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.

Cobo Center

1 Washington , Detroit

Tickets: $19, $6 for children

(248) 373-1700