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Grand National Roadster Show 2010: Possessed for victory--and just in time

Mon, 01 Feb 2010

The car that won almost didn't make it to the show.

To officially enter the Grand National Roadster Show, the most prestigious hot-rod event on the planet, your car has to be in the building at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., by noon on opening day. Possessed, an elegantly elongated take on a '33 Ford roadster, was officially signed in by the judges at 11:58 a.m.

“You know that guy Murphy, of Murphy's Law? He lives in our shop,” said builder Justin Scott Padfield, whose cars have now won America's Most Beautiful Roadster two times in three years and to whom we spoke at about 12:07 p.m.

On Monday, the special hand-cut tires that were to go on Possessed's one-off Boyd Jr. wheels arrived at the shop--and they were the wrong size. On Thursday night, when every other entry was on its stand and polished, a special Comp Cams belt drive popped off, requiring the team to reset the timing of the engine by hand before locating another belt.

“That's not something you find in an auto-parts store,” said Possessed owner Mike Dingman.

They got the car into the trailer in Ventura at 10:15 Friday morning and looked like they'd make it--until two semis got together on the 210 and they found themselves stuck in a massive SoCal traffic jam.

“John Buck [GNRS owner and operator] called and said, ‘Where you at,” recalled Padfield. “We had 20 minutes, then 19 minutes . . .”

By the time they got to Gate 1 of the Fairplex the security guards, who didn't know who they were or exactly what was at stake, were not going to let them in. So Padfield went in anyway.

“I took out all the traffic cones; I must have had 50 cones under the trailer. I took out the gates; I had all the security guards chasing me,” said Padfield.

But he made it. With (by our count) seven minutes to go, the team pushed Possessed through the steel doors of Hall 4, started the engine to roll the car backward and forward for the judges, got signed off and hand-pushed their baby up onto the rotating stand as the clock ran out.

But that wasn't all Possessed had to face.

Right across from them sat Jerry and Maureen Magnuson's Magnatude, a Kugel-bodied, full-fendered '32 put together by no less than Chip Foose himself. Foose is the reigning hero of hot-rodding, though the most affable to ever hold that position. When a Foose car is entered in the Grand National Roadster Show's AMBR division (AMBR stands for America's Most Beautiful Roadster, the most prestigious class of this most prestigious show), it's like trying to get a hit off Sandy Koufax.

“I was scared to death of Chip and Jerry's car,” said Dingman.

There were other cars to be scared of, too.

Rick Dore brought a beautifully sculpted 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster done for Metallica's James Hetfield.

“James got it off eBay,” said Dore. “He said, ‘What do you think we do something with this?'”

Dore reshaped the rear fenders and the tapered rear center section, added headlights of his own design made by a company called Headwinds, got Jake Hill to do the trim out of brass and finish it in nickel, not chrome, and generally took an already cool shape and made it just a little more shapely.

“Not so much elegant but radical with a hint of that Delahaye, Figoni et Falaschi with AMBR,” Dore said.

Seven other AMBR contenders vied for space on the hall's cement floor, almost all of them different takes on the '32 Ford. Two in black and one in red anchored three corners of the AMBR section. Todd Stevens's orange '32 sat in another corner with an orange paint job so smooth and bright, it looked like you could jam a straw into it and drink. Racer and rodder Fred Stoke's blown, injected '32 was rich with details, from the 24-karat machine-turned gold-leaf pinstriping to seat pleating reminiscent of a 1967 Ferrari. Dan Smith brought his Goldenrod '32 pickup all the way from Mansfield, Texas.

“I'm pregnant with '32 Fords,” said Smith, relaxing in a folding chair after setting up. “I've got all of 'em. The only thing I didn't have was a roadster pickup.”

Hence the Goldenrod, with paint that explains the name.

“I like flatheads,” he said with a wry smile.

Conversely, Wayne Halabury's Hot Rod Heaven was bright, shining silver. He brought it all the way from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, after spending the last 10 years building it. Yes, 10 years.

“I have built eight '32 Fords over the years, and they are definitely my love,” said the master of understatement.

This year there were 10 cars entered in the quest for the nine-foot-tall AMBR trophy. Even if you win, you don't get to keep the trophy; you just get your name on it. And for this contenders are willing to spend what is usually rumored to be more than a million dollars for a front-running entry.

It's all pretty prestigious and heady stuff, especially considering that the show has been going for 61 years. But that alone isn't enough to make the show profitable or keep it growing as older hot-rodders grow older and younger kids wander off into computer games instead of chopping and channeling. So show owner John Buck has reached out to other groups to keep the Grand National Roadster Show relevant and lively.

This year, there was a superb collection of race cars in the Fairplex's giant Hall 9, arranged in three rows: circle track, Bonneville and drag racers. The rows were historically arranged with the oldest first as you walked in. Brave souls those early racers, as you could tell upon inspection of their rides.

In another huge hall dubbed “The Suede Palace,” Buck featured the work of younger rodders who mimic the lifestyles of the original hot-rod heroes. So-called rat rodz lined up next to kool kustoms with girls and girlfriends dolled up as they'd seen it done in old issues of Hop Up and Honk.

Low Riders had their space, and one hall over from the roadsters the motorcycles competed for America's Most Beautiful Motorcycle. On Saturday and Sunday, more than 400 cars drove in off the street to park and preen on the Fairplex's wide avenues, an added draw to the almost 600 cars on display in the halls of the GNRS.

But ultimately it all came down to Sunday night, when Buck announced the winner of America's Most Beautiful Roadster.

“When they started giving us [a few other awards that weren't the AMBR], I knew Justin would win it,” said Foose. “I still feel good.”

Foose explained that when he got the car from Magnuson it was fully built, but as a street rod, not as a show car. Foose drew up a list five pages long of things Magnuson would have to change to make it a contender for the AMBR. They weren't all done.

Rick Dore's car, while visually and proportionally stunning, lacked the exuberantly chromed undercarriage that AMBR winners must have. It was just cool and that's not what wins at this show, at least not the way the rules are written now. (Why not change the rules to encourage creative, game-changing entries?).

The other entries, for one reason or another, also fell to the judges' tally sheets. And in the end it was the elongated, deep red Possessed that won.

“I've always had in my mind taking a Delahaye or Delage and working that look into a Ford roadster,” said winning owner Dingman.

So Padfield's shop, Scott's Hot Rods, spent two years stretching the '33 by 13 inches--10 at the front and two in the doors--shortened the trunk, added the ports and made custom-fitted leather luggage and a picnic basket for the trunk.

A new rule this year requires that cars cannot have been entered in any other judged show. In previous years, many winners came here after entering their cars in the Detroit Autorama, many having won Autorama's distinguished Ridler Award. Dingman chose the Grand National Roadster Show over Autorama for Possessed.

“The awards are equally prestigious,” said Dingman. “The difference for me is I grew up with the Roadster Show. My family is here and my friends are here; they wouldn't have been able to travel to Detroit. Plus, the Autorama, the Ridler, is open to all custom cars. I could have been competing against a '43 Willys, a Chevy Impala, a Studebaker. The Roadster Show is just for Roadsters. For me this was the right place to be.”

Especially if you win.

By Mark Vaughn