Every February, in the dead of winter, rodders and custom car fanatics from all over the country gather at Detroit, Michigan’s 723,000-square-foot Cobo Hall for the Autorama World of Wheels display. Coveted for having some of the most technologically advanced customs and out-of-this-world designs, this event is massive enough to force Northern climate folk out of their off-season depression to cure their car culture withdrawals.
Autorama is more than just a custom car show. It’s a part of automotive history: a cultural event for the record books. Many attendees have been going for over 20 years, as did their parents before them. During this year’s 65th anniversary, Autorama featured over 800 vehicles, each with its own stylish characteristics.
The convention center’s spotlights set off the glistening paint and flawless chrome. The reflections cause a sensory overload that will send your attention every which way, like a dog eating steak being distracted by squirrels. Listening to murmurs reverberate through the crowd of 180,000 attendees often reveals the names of must-see customs.
Here are five customs that were all the buzz of the weekend.
1. 1971 Plymouth Barracuda
This 1971 Plymouth Barracuda named “Medusa” is a far stretch from the hideous mythological creature it’s named after, but its race-prepped 725-horsepower V10 Viper engine packs a venomous bite.
All Speed Customs originally built Medusa to stand out among the other glamorous high-end SEMA builds, and it continues to gain admirers at every show. Its pro-touring stance and race-inspired aerodynamics contrasted with custom PPG Vibrance Liquid Metal paint immediately draws attention. Extensive aero and custom touches can be found everywhere from the sleek front end and reshaped bumpers to the “reverse mohawk” stripe on the roof. The sporty center-exit exhaust allows the monster to breathe through a set of Magnaflow mufflers.
For this build, everything was done in-house, including the exquisite black and red interior. The Recaro race seats are heated and cooled to keep the driver comfortable and firmly in their place as they carve up the road, and a re-worked Classic Instruments gauge cluster keeps the driver informed.
2. 1954 Kaiser Manhattan
Behold, the Voodoo Sahara — a throwback to the heydays of Kustom car culture. Voodoo Larry Kustoms of Illinois built this space age-like beauty as a rendition of George Barris’ Golden Sahara from the 1960s out of what was once a dilapidated parts car. Larry was thinking about this build for 25 years before he finally committed, and we are glad he did.
Personal touches are seen throughout the build. It was 90-percent hand-fabricated from junkyard parts, expertly fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, but you could never tell just by looking at the final product. The 1960 Corvair headlights, 1955 Chevy windshield, 1954 Kaiser frame, 1980 Camaro subframe and 1977 Nova rear end appear to be meant for each other, but what really sets off this build is the radical hardtop that opens up on the driver and passenger side for ease of entering the vehicle, and for optimum viewing of the alien green and white interior, including a wrap-around half-circle rear seat.
3. 1966 Chevrolet C10
Built from a beat-up and broken Bow Tie and transformed into a twin-turbo masterpiece by Classic Car Studio in St. Louis, Missouri, this C10 pickup lets it all hang out. The Nelson Racing 64 mm mirror image turbochargers are mounted out front and in your face, with the 346-cid. LS1 mated with LS6 heads resting directly behind the turbos. The radiator is mounted to the truck bed, allowing the turbo setup to be the focal point of the build. Controlled by Holley’s Dominator EFI system, the truck puts down an impressive 750 horsepower with only 8 pounds of boost on pump gas.
The truck was proudly named “Tiffany” after the light blue patina paint that resembles the famous jeweler’s color scheme. The shop originally planned on making a simple daily driver that could also be used as advertisement while running errands, but as the build continued, the team’s ideas became bigger and more brilliant. Every detail was expertly executed, from its stance (made possible with an AccueAire E-level air ride system) to the Pro-mod style fender exhaust exit, and the engine bay’s artistically fabricated sheet metal. Some may say that this truck is over-the-top, but we say that there is no such thing as too much turbo.
4. 1962 Kellison J5 Drop Nose Coupe
This vintage supercar is the real deal: It was the only Kellison J5 Drop Nose Coupe ever produced. Created by inventor and entrepreneur Jim Kellison as a concept to bridge between the original J5 and J6 models, the streamlined aerodynamic design features include active roof vents, a RAM air intake and a slanted wedge-shaped rear. Upon close examination, Kellison’s creations were undoubtedly inspired by his time serving as a fighter pilot in the Korean War and by his passion for building supercars to compete with Ferrari.
The Coupe’s fiberglass body houses a Chevy 327-cid engine, which is fed by a pair of four-barrel carburetors. This setup, paired with the four-speed manual transmission and the driveline that was set back in the frame (a well-known old school racer modification for better weight distribution), guarantees a raw driving experience.
5. 1952 Henry J
Dave Shuten of Galpin Auto Sports built this nostalgic 1960s Gasser-esque drag car for proud owner Daniel Nelson. The shimmering elaborate custom paint is the kind of eye candy that can’t be beaten, but it wasn’t just built for show: This little beastie was built to race down the strip. Built to NHRA specs, the car screams big muscle, while an 850-horsepower Chevy big-block engine pumps it up. The 1952 Henry J was built from a completely stock vehicle and lovingly named “Henry Jaded” upon completion.