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We get a glimpse of hot rod heaven at Grand National Roadster Show

Thu, 22 Jan 2009 00:00:00 -0800

The Grand National Roadster Show is turning 60. It seems like only yesterday that it was 50. It does not seem like yesterday that it was just starting out--60 years is a long time. It is now the longest-running indoor rod show in the world, for whatever that's worth. We remember the 50th, when we got to check out the displays with the great Wally Parks, the patron saint of hot rodding.

Back then and for most of its long, illustrative life the show was held in Oakland, Calif. But it has been held at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., now for six years. The show opens to the public at noon Friday and runs through Sunday. But the Thursday before is when everybody backs their cars out of their trailers and starts setting up their displays. It is on set-up day that the big halls of the Fairplex are scattered with tools, trucks and bubblewrap as the cars and builders do their best to present their years of work in a unique setting. This is the best time to meet the builders and get an idea of what's cool and what's not.

Mike Feinstein was inspired to build his Black Widow from a model kit he assembled as a kid.

Like so many of these things, the Grand National Roadster Show is a competition, with hundreds of awards for almost any conceivable category. But the granddaddy of all awards here at the granddaddy of all rod shows is the AMBR--America's Most Beautiful Roadster. Older rich guys who started hot rodding in their youth will spend hundreds of thousands--sometimes millions--of dollars to get their names on the nine-foot-tall AMBR trophy.

We always go straight to the AMBR cars, which are spread out on the floor around the big trophy.

Roy Brizio has eight cars at the show, six of which are new. Our favorite is a beautifully subtle roadster that looked '32-'33ish at first, until you start counting the velocity stacks poking out the side of the engine cover--12!

"It's from a 1972 Ferrari 365 GTC/4," he said of the mighty V12 engine.

Where'd he get it?

"You just make enough calls and eventually you find one," Brizio said.

Across from Brizio is the Willett Specials 1932 Ford "Sports Car Influenced" Hot Rod. The Willett draws inspiration from '50s racers such as the Old Yellers of Max Balchowsky and the Iron Horse of Ak Miller that turned American iron into sports cars. The Willett resides in a '32 body stretched 13 inches to accommodate a 600-hp Viper V10. We liked the flying headrest, too.

Roger O'Dell's '36 Ford Roadster carries touches and parts from a variety of other cars.

Two over from the Willetts is the Bill DeCarr Special, a 1936 Ford Roadster with hints, touches and parts from all kinds of other cars. Those are '37 Desoto bumpers, a LaSalle grille in the shape of a '58 Edsel, headlights from a '37 Cadillac and a '38 Chevy and a convertible top from a Jaguar. Builder/owner Roger O'Dell grew up in Bellflower not too far from the original Barris Kustoms shop in Compton. He's built about 25 cars and still has them all. Heck of a garage, we guess.

Two over from that is The Black Widow, built from whole cloth based on a Monogram model Mike Feinstein built when he was 9.

"It goes completely full circle," said Feinstein of his lifetime love.

Who's going to win? We will find out Sunday night.

In the meantime, wherever you are, drive, fly or cruise to Pomona. It's only 20 bucks and you get to see 500 rods, customs and motorcycles. Ontario airport is a relatively short cab ride away. If you have a private jet, and who doesn't, Brackett Field is literally across the street. See all your old friends! See

We'll be back Sunday night for the awards.

By Mark Vaughn