The Detroit Autorama provides a great dose of automotive medicine for any gearhead that’s suffering from a case of the winter blues. This event brings a wide variety of iron from every era to one place and shows what can be done to customize any vehicle. One of the highlights of the Autorama is the Great Eight — these are the rides in contention for the Ridler award for best-in-show, but if you’re like us the high-performance cars are what you want to see.
For 2019 we hit the Cobo Center ready to check out all the killer rides and the Detroit Autorama delivered. There were plenty of all-out race cars, modern muscle cars, Pro Street monsters, street machines, and nostalgia race cars on display. Here is just a taste of what caught our eye, along with a huge gallery for you to check out from the 2019 Detroit Autorama.
Chris Hardee commissioned Pande’s Performance to build a 2004 Ford Mustang to see some action in the Carolina NT Productions series and they delivered one amazing ride. The Mustang is named “Savage”, the middle name of Hardee’s father, and the car totally looks the part. Since this is a no-time car there wasn’t a brag board talking about what’s under the hood, but you can see a rather large turbo in the front bumper so you know this car will be fast.
The HEMI engine is 426 cubic-inches of Mopar power that helped kick start the muscle car wars of the 1960s, and it found its way into some great cars. Jerry Helfman’s 1968 Dart is a clone of the classic SS/AH HEMI cars that were developed for drag racing battle. This car features all the classic options you could get like a lightweight front end, radio delete, HVAC delete, van seats, and no rear seat. The steel wheels with dog dish hubcaps help to conceal just what this car was capable of at the track back in the day.
Finding the classics that are in good enough condition and affordable to morph into race cars is starting to become difficult. Bill Amsdill from Warren, Michigan found a way around that issue with his 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass. This big-body machine just grabs your attention with its bright yellow paint, cool flame paint job, and plenty of chrome at each corner of the car.
The Fox-body Mustang continues to age well in the looks department and they are a great platform to accept horsepower. John Michalowski brought a fine example to the Autorama with his 1990 Mustang GT featuring 425 cubic-inches of stroked Ford power. The engine has a NOS fogger system to add plenty of horsepower that is harnessed by a C4 transmission.
Gassers continue to grow in popularity and that’s something we’re perfectly fine with. Gary Matesic and David Eldridge’s 1953 Henry J is a true original Gasser that has been racing since the 1950s. The car has received extensive body modifications like a 4-inch roof chop and has been shortened 8-inches to help with weight transfer, so it’s actually 7/8 the size of an original Henry J. Under the hood is a period-correct 392 cubic-inch HEMI backed by an M22 “Rock Crusher” four-speed transmission.
Just because a Pro Mod can put impressive numbers up on the scoreboard doesn’t mean it can’t look good right? “Shake It Fast” is a 1957 Chevy built by RJ Race Cars and campaigned by Terry Phillips. Martin Motorsports helps keep all 864 cubic-inches of nitrous-fed power putting power through the Bruno transmission.
Big blowers and big tires are an easy way to grab our attention; Greg Csernai’s 1967 Mustang has both and we love it. Csernai has been campaigning this classic Mustang for over 30 years on the street and the strip. The pony car has seen plenty of action in the NMRA as well as making laps on Woodard Avenue in Detroit.
Trying to race a Fuel Altered in a sane manner is a lot like trying to control a force of nature — you just can’t do it. Tim Wilkerson and Richard Hartman have joined forces on this wild creation of a Fuel Altered that wears a classic Bantam Altered body on a modern NHRA Nitro Funny Car chassis. Hartman has already put some test laps in on the car and laid down some stout numbers. Could this be the world’s first 300 mph Fuel Altered?
Walking through the Cobo Center you might miss Don Vargo’s 1969 Dodge Charger because upon first glance it just looks like another black Mopar. When you take a closer look you will notice the twin-turbo engine under the stock hood that produces over 2,000 tire-shredding horsepower. Inside the car you find a well-hidden roll cage that’s required when Vargo takes his Charger to the track and runs well into the single digits with little effort.
NHRA Top Fuel racer Terry McMillen had a very special 1967 Nova on display at the 2019 Detroit Autorama. Originally, Terry purchased this car as a project that he could complete with his son Jason before he tragically passed away. The car sat for 18 years in McMillen’s shop until friend Joe Plummer offered to paint the car after he heard its story. The project took off with the help of Gary Lambuth, Rolin Beaumont, and Chris Burgo all jumping in. When McMillen was in Phoenix racing, everyone helped to finish the car so Scott Wahlstrom could bring it to the Autorama where it won first place in the Pro Street category.
An amazing array of nostalgia Funny Cars were front and center during the Autorama. Restored floppers that were driven by the likes of “Ohio” George Montgomery, Jeg Coughlin, Sr., Roger Lindamood, Eddie Schartman, and others were all on display.
Another rare Mopar we found was this 1965 Dodge Coronet owned by John and Kim Barich of Roseville, Michigan. This car came equipped with factory tinted glass from the dealer, no heater, and 426 cubic-inches of HEMI power that featured a magnesium crossram intake. To give the car some modern power and big sound a set of TTI long tube headers with electric cutouts were added to let the HEMI breathe.