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Grand National Roadster Show takes on new judging rules, rodding wins

Mon, 31 Jan 2011

Daryl Wolfswinkel's 1934 Ford, built by Doug Jerger of Squeeg's Kustoms in Chandler, Ariz., won the title America's Most Beautiful Roadster on Sunday at the Grand National Roadster Show at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.

That in itself was not necessarily the biggest news out of Pomona last weekend, however. In a hobby/passion/love affair such as hot-rodding, you'd expect a '32, '33 or '34 Ford to win. The majority of winners since the show started in Oakland some 62 years ago have been one of those iconic hot-rodding shapes (except those weird years in the '60s and '70s when who knows what those things were that won). The difference this year was that, for the first time in decades, the judges were not necessarily looking for chromed lug nuts, chromed exhaust bolts and chromed cigarette lighters all turning on a rotisserie stand with a laser-light show spelling out "Vote For Me" on the ceiling. This year, the criteria were far simpler.

As former winner Roy Brizio said on Friday, "You might not need a gold-plated carburetor to win."

The judges this year were looking for. . . beauty.

"We're not looking for the guy who has every bolt on his car perfect," judging organizer Vic Cunningham said. "We want it to be what the trophy says it is, 'America's Most Beautiful Roadster.' "

So the whole judging process was different this year. Instead of rolling into the hall on Thursday, the traditional setup day for the Friday-through-Sunday show and letting the judges see the car up on the stand in all its finery, this year the 12 cars vying for the AMBR award came in on Wednesday, when almost no one was there. Each car was driven over to a white screen and parked.

"The judges got to hear the car drive, see it with a driver in it to know how that looked and how the car sits on the ground before it's raised up on a show stand," said Cunningham.

Then the builder and the judges talked for 10 minutes about the car and the build process before it was raised up onto its show stand, if it had one. Recent winners have all had show stands, mirrors, lights and carpeting. It was a formula that rewarded what cynics derisively called trailer queens.

This year, judges expanded beyond the traditional micromanaged rule book. Instead of a panel of International Show Car Association judges, this year there were nine judges, only three of whom were from ISCA. The other six were industry leaders and hot-rod heroes, among them SoCal Speed Shop owner Pete Chapouris, designer Thom Taylor and Street Rodder editor Brian Brennen.

"Even if there was a slight flaw, we decided we would pick the most beautiful roadster," said Brennen.

Under the old rules, you would have expected an entry such as the Takeout T to win. It was an exquisitely detailed purple-painted 1923 Model T, raised up on a spinning stand with mirrors underneath to show the chromed parts below. It looked as if it would have been at home either of the years the George Barris A la Kart won. Or Jeff Chandler's Double Dozen built by Steve's Auto Restorations, an entry so heavy on detailed engineering that it took wins for best chassis, engineering and paint. Even the unusual choice of a 1918 Dodge entered by Richard and May Seales had plenty of chrome to qualify for the title using the criteria from earlier years.

But the win went to the relatively unobtrusive and unadorned 1934 that Doug Jerger built.

"We just asked, which car would you want to get in and drive away?" said Brennen.

And you might have been able to do that with this year's winner. Wolfswinkel wasn't even present. Jerger was trying to keep his hands from shaking enough so he could dial his cell phone and tell the car's owner what had happened.

"I'm a little nervous," he explained.

Wolfswinkel apparently was happy to hear the news.

"He is thoroughly excited," Jerger said later that night. "He said drinks are on him tonight."

And who knows who will be buying drinks next year. Another rule change meant that all AMBR entries had to make their competition debuts at this show, a rule that came into effect after a number of winners had done well at the Detroit Autorama, a major rival in prestige for the Grand National Roadster Show. However, show owner John Buck said, many Autorama winners were not roadsters, so the Grand National Roadster Show could become the premier roadster show and the Autorama could be the top show for everything else.

Who knows?

The focus on pure beauty is a welcome change, however, one that could potentially stretch as far as Pebble Beach. For now, though, there will be celebrating at Squeeg's Kustoms for at least the next year.

By Mark Vaughn