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GNRS 2007 – A once in a lifetime experience

Imagine visiting an event the size of the London Motor Show and seeing nothing but street rods, customs and motorcycles, and you’ll begin to get an idea of the scale and impact of the Grand National Roadster Show, which takes place annually in Pomona, California, during January.   Now in its 58th year, the GNRS is billed as “the longest running indoor car show in the world,” although as the London Motor Show has run since 1903, and there are other shows that have been around longer than that, we’d probably dispute that particular claim. 


There is no denying the GNRS has a rich history, however, and this year’s event was the biggest ever, with seven halls crammed full of America’s finest custom-built cars and bikes.  For the participants there’s a lot at stake, with prestigious trophies to be won, plus of course, the highly coveted America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (and Bike) Awards.

"Radster" the Alstott's winning Chevy-powered Ford Roadster


This year’s competition was as fiercely contested as ever, with (allegedly) at least half-a-dozen $1-million cars in the running for the top trophy.  With that kind of money invested, imagine then how it must have felt for the runners-up.  This year’s AMBR winners were Kevin and Karen Alstott, with their Chevy-powered ’35 Ford Roadster.  Dubbed “Radster”, this car won the 2006 Ridler Award at last year’s Detroit Autorama, so you could say it was always going to be a strong AMBR contender.  The elegantly formed Marcel DeLay body hides a 408 cu in Dart motor hooked up to a Tremec six-speed transmission, sitting in an equally custom chassis sporting race car-style suspension.  As you might expect, each and every aspect of the car is a work of art and detailed to perfection.  Whether you like it or not is a matter of personal taste, but the immense amount of work that has clearly gone into the car can’t be denied, any more than the attention it attracts wherever it appears.  


Keeping the pressure on Radster were Ken Reister’s 1936 Ford “Impression” and Paul and Erik Hansen’s deep red ’32 Roadster, both previous AMBR winners.  John Lawson’s subtly modified, Dearborn Deuce-bodied ’32 Roadster, painted in British racing green was new to us, as was another ’32, “Xtreme Thunder”.  Finished in lime green, with an equally unsubtle purple and white interior, it also featured a Marcel DeLay body, but this time atop a Boyd’s chassis.  Owner Steve Barton had it painted by Steve Hutton, with the “icing” on this particular automotive cake being a 1200hp, DOHC motor!

"Impression" Ken Reister's elegant 2006 GNRS winner  

The 2005 GNRS trophy went to Paul and Erik Hanson 

John Lawson's Dearborn Deuce-bodied '32 was so subtle - maybe that was the problem?

On the other hand, Steve Barton's Roadster stood out in all areas, but it didn't help either


Dennis DeCamp exhibited another extensively modified ’32 Roadster, named “F-32”, which had all the hallmarks of a show winner, from its 427 Ford motor to the now-customary Marcel De Lay bodywork and mile-deep red paintwork.  Likewise, you couldn’t ignore Jesse Greening’s self-built, bright red ’32, sporting a black top, or Carl Sprague’s orange ’35 Chevy, equipped with a Gabe’s interior and matching Corvette dash. 


Barry White (left) and crew set up Dennis DeCamp's F-32, another high-buck contender

Jesse Greening completed the chassis, bodywork and construction of this fine '32 Roadster at his own shop

You couldn't miss Carl Sprague’s bright orange ’35 Chevy


These were the obvious high-buck, seemingly money-no-object cars on show, although there were many less showy, but technically challenging, vehicles that had a lot to offer and were definitely worthy contenders.  For example, we watched Jerry Kugel drive his rear-engined ’34 roadster into the show.  On the outside, it looks as you might expect, but lift the trunk lid and there’s a very neatly installed Aurora drivetrain, mounted transversely and powering the back wheels.  The project definitely falls into the “technically challenging” 


You'd swear the engine was meant to be there in Kugel's 32.  The installation was a masterpiece


category, and was also beautifully put together.  Bruce Cohn had a stretched 33 Willys on display, converted to roadster format and wearing a 502 big block Chevy, while Bill Freni’s blue ’32 had us scratching our heads thinking it was Dan Boone’s ’32 Roadster.  The electric blue paintwork, white interior and whitewalls all looked so familiar.  On our return to the UK, it came as no surprise to find out from Dan that this was one of two cars that provided the inspiration for his own project.

Bruce Cohn's stretched 33 Willys


Bill, who hails from Laguna Beach, purchased the car 10 years ago.  Fully fendered, it was on the cover of the October 1963 edition of Popular Hot Rodding magazine.  “I bought it from a guy, who had it sat in a garage, and it had been there forever,” says Bill.  “It had tired paint and upholstery, and someone had taken out the motor and rear end. It was pretty beat up, and I got into restoring it, but then went a little crazy with it.  I had friends help me with specific jobs, but I did pretty much most of the work myself.  I didn’t paint it,


Bill Freni's '32 Roadster - a source of inspiration for Dan Boone  


though, as a friend of mine did that.  It cost $200 for the whole car!  I had the metalwork done by Terry Hagemann, a famous metal guy in Fountain Valley who’s the best.  We painted the car at night, when it was really cold, and had to put a heater in the shop to keep from freezing.  I don’t know how it turned out so well, but it did, and after that, I had Costa Mesa Upholstery do the trimming.


Fully fendered on the cover of PHR in 1963


“It’s an all-steel car, fitted with its original Mor-Drop front axle, as well as original wishbones, Buick drum brakes and King Bee headlights, an Auburn dash with Auburn gauges, and ’40 Ford steering.  The car has a 327 Chevy motor in it, and although originally fitted with an Olds V8, it was no longer there when I bought it.  Looking back, I should have put an Olds motor back in, and if it wasn’t so much work, I’d do it.  I don’t really care, though, as I love driving the car, and the Chevy will carry on forever, as well as be a very inexpensive motor to run.  If you like driving your car, then that’s a big plus.”

The man himself - Bill Freni


One future contender for the title of AMBR must surely be Spencer˛, the second Deuce hi-boy roadster designed by Doane Spencer, in 1995, and put together for friend, Darrell Brunn.  Unfortunately, Doane passed away that same year, and the project remained unfinished.   Ten years later, it was sold to Kirk F White, and then to Dennis Higginbotham, who commissioned So-Cal speed Shop to finish the car in the spirit of the original Spencer design.  The car was displayed at the show as a rolling chassis, so all of Spencer’s lovely chassis detail could be fully appreciated.


Check out the custom wishbones and suspension components 


Apparently, Doane was always suspicious of “off-the-shelf” parts, and fabricated everything himself.  The hand-crafted components, combined with Doane’s astonishing ingenuity, are some of the key elements of this project.

The diff housing is a one-off casting, the top suspension mounts are totally unique - and the list goes on.  The project has been on the go for about 18 months and could have easily cost the owner in excess of $1 millon so far - and it's not on the road yet!


Spencer˛ features an original Ford body and chassis rails, but almost every other component, including the uprights and callipers, rear-end housing, wheel centres, forged and fabricated chassis components, and highly modified Ford top-loader four-speed transmission, are one-off Spencer designs.  Expect this car to make a very big impression at the show next year.

Troy Ladd of Hollywood Hot Rods had this very nice '32 Roadster on display. It was Hemi powered and combined more traditional hot rod practices to get its statement across.


Roy Brizio Street Rods had a stunning display of eight new cars to drool over, as well as a further four dotted around in other halls.  “We’re not interested in building AMBR – we like creating nostalgic-looking cars that are drivers,” said Roy.  Particularly noteworthy was their first attempt at a relatively late model (by their standards) 1955 Chevy, which is a mild custom for Roy himself, built in the spirit of the ’60s from an illustration by Thom Taylor, as well as Eric Clapton’s new ride, a stunningly subtle 1932 Ford Victoria.  We’ll have more for you from Roy in an interview to be published soon in  


Roy's own ride - a subtly modified '55 Chevy custom

Eric Clapton's new Vicky was one of our personal favourites, restrained, uncluttered and so tastefully executed


On the custom front, the competition was just as fierce, but one car that really stood out for us was the latest creation from John D’Agostino.  His Golden Star, a chopped, smoothed and lowered Oldsmobile, painted in Pagan Gold and complemented by acres of fresh chrome, with matching wheels and whitewalls, clearly harked back to the spirit of the ’60s.   It was simply stunning.


John D'Agostino came up with another custom show stopper


Of a similar standard was Keith Kaucher’s ’54 Ford Victoria, a Rod & Custom cover car last year, which sports a subtle top chop, using a much modified ’65 Buick Wildcat roof panel, a Mercury front clip and a ’54 Chevy grille.  Microscopic attention to detail is apparent throughout the car, but the overall execution is so subtle you’d swear it was meant to look like that in the first place.


Keith Kaucher's Ford mixes Chevy and Buick sheet metal with devastating results



If you were a Tri-Chevy fan, there was one hall crammed full of the most amazingly modified cars you could ever wish to see, while dotted around the various halls were numerous trade stands selling everything from fuel tanks to T-shirts.


Didn't get the details of this very trick '55 Chevy, but it was another stunning car on display.  Check out the matching interior below

Extensively modified Tri-Chevy with flawless paint and trick graphics 

One thing that did surprise us at the show was just how many companies out in the US want to build you a street rod.  We lost count, but there must have been well over a dozen!  Of course, there was British interest out there, too, in the shape of Steve Dennish’s Limeworks Speed Shop.  Steve told us how he’d been out in the US for 18 years now, and having served six years as Production Manager with Kugel Komponents, left to set up his own hot rod business.  Being heavily involved in the new wave of nostalgia currently running through the street rodding hobby has put Limeworks in a very strong position, as the parts they sell, or have developed, fit into this category.  Limeworks had two cars on show, including Steve’s 4.5-litre, Daimler V8-powered roadster.


Limeworks Speed Shop display with Steve Dennish giving advice on the right


Over on the other side of the hall could be found the Jalopy Shoppe, the hot rodding business with which Kev Elliot is now associated.  They had two neat cars on show – a radical, Hemi-powered, rat rod inspired, channelled, bare metal roadster, and a fully built and painted sedan.


Fearsome Hemi-motored rod on the Jalopy Shoppe stand 


Of course, the GNRS is not only about cars, but also about bikes, and there is an equally prestigious trophy for America’s Most Beautiful Bike.  This year, it was won by Christian Dotson and his bizarre-looking Dotson Design swingshot.  With its horizontal front forks and complicated-looking wheel movement, it would be interesting to see how this bike performs on the road. 

There's no denying the amazing amount of work in this bike, which is probably why it won the AMBM category, but to us it looks like a truck has just run over those front forks


Interestingly, the current nostalgia movement evident in street rodding is echoed in the bikes, and thus there were plenty of ’60s-influenced chops  on show, as well as the customary, fat-wheeled custom bikes from the big shops.  Perhaps the most elegant custom bike, though, belonged to Bob Rose.  It was shown as an unfinished concept, and the fact it was devoid of carburettors, cables and other clutter just added to the visual impact.


If we were giving out awards it would have gone to Bob Rose for this beautifully proportioned and elegant bike 


Away from the cars and bikes, and located by the stage in Hall 4, were the pinstripers.  Here you could find the likes of Herb Martinez, Jeff Styles (who was on the cover of last month’s Street Rodder), Hiro “Wildman” Ishii, and many others, all willing to lay down some stripes on an item for a few bucks.  On Saturday at 5pm, there was an auction of pinstriped panels and other

Jeff Styles gives the tripod a touch of individuality - thanks Jeff!

Hiro "Wildman" Ishii - this guy is another pinstriping genious


items.  A pinstriped, wooden rocking chair went for $500, while at the other end of the scale, an exquisitely pinstriped crash helmet by Hiro Ishii, with intricate platinum and gold leaf work, and conservatively estimated by the auctioneer as having  a thousand dollars-worth of work in it, sold for just $300 – an amazing bargain for the successful bidder.

countless pinstriped panels and other items were auctioned off for charity - some real bargains too!


Just when you thought you’d seen it all, though, outside the halls was another car show, with line upon line of rods and customs in attendance, and if you thought the quality of these machines would be lower than that of the cars inside, you’d be very much mistaken.  All in all, it was a show not to be missed – and we haven’t even talked about what was in Hall 9 yet.  Next week, we’ll bring you the full story behind the stunning show, “75 Years of the Deuce,” as told to us by Ford designer, dedicated hot rodder and the inspiration behind the exhibit, Larry Erickson.  

Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk

Further pictorial selection below

Another trick bike on display - not sure about the profile of that rear tyre though

John Buttera's '28 Lakes modified is full of innovation and is based on a one-off aluminium body designed and built by Moal Coachbuilders in Oakland.  Read all about it in the current, March issue of Street Rodder magazine


David Bethard's 1932 Ford Roadster

If you were looking for inspiration, the vast number of customs were an instant source

60s chop influences very clear in this lovely bike 

Robert Allen's 1951 Mercury

Jim Noteboom's 1935 Ford Phantom Wagon looked every inch a winner

Pinkee's Rod Shop, founded by Eric Peratt, was voted 2007 Builder of the Year

Nice valve cover detail on this Deuce

It's called Sick Dream - maybe the owner woke up and suddenly realised how much he'd spent?


Chris Couto's 1963 Chevy C-10 - great for crushing walnuts!

Kevin Robertson's fab roadster is a product of Three Crowns Speed and Custom who claim to build "traditional high end hot rods & kustoms with state-of-the-art 1959 technology" 

We loved the seat material with individual little crowns running through the light blue plastic

Neat finishing touch for this triple carb set-up

Wow!  What more can you say about this radical caricature rod

The paintwork on this '32 glowed.  It was originally flamed but repainted straight yellow for the show - another knockout car

Garry Coe's 1957 Ford F-100

The Monkeemobile, freshly restored and raring to go on the George Barris stand alongside the equally pristine Batmobile.  Both of course were Barris creations 

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