DETROIT, Mich. – After the global pandemic had stalled the 68-consecutive-year streak that the Detroit Autorama enjoyed up through 2020, the iconic car show roared back to life this year with a new twist: We spotted as many young people in attendance as the more typical Boomer fans – perhaps an indication that teens, twentysomethings and thirtysomethings actually have more than a passing interest in the custom car culture after all.
The 69th edition of this mega hot-rod, custom-car and street-machine show that was scheduled to take place April 30-May 2, 2021, at the TCF Center in downtown Detroit had been canceled last spring due to rising cases of COVID-19 in Michigan at the time. That show was already rescheduled from its usual late-February / early March date in the hopes that a full show could be presented on both floors of the convention center (formerly known as Cobo Hall) in the heart of Detroit. Organizers were thrilled when this year’s show got the green light for a full return to a 600-car extravaganza that has become a staple for enthusiasts across the Midwest. In fact, the selection of the annual “Ridler Award” for the best new custom build from the “Great 8” display car finalists – is among the most coveted custom-car happenings on the continent. (Chip Foose was in attendance this year to witness the selection.)
Autorama features hundreds and hundreds of display vehicles of all types, makes and models, with old Detroit iron being the big draw. Despite being held during one of the coldest months of the year in Michigan, the extended-weekend event draws 150,000-plus attendees to the multi-level show each year. The main floor houses the major displays for the Ridler Award, the Cavalcade of Customs, Vendors, a Toy-A-Rama and Food Courts along with all of the registered show cars. A new display was set up this year to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the 1932 Ford V-8 “Deuce” – with plenty of fine examples to wow classic hot rod fans. A separate “show within a show” called “Autorama Extreme” is held downstairs, where rusty metal, rat rods and imaginative home-built rides are shown along with motorcycles, bikes and purveyors of the “automotive subculture.” While young fans are always found downstairs, the sheer numbers of teens and young adults on the main floor as well this year was a welcome sight for the old-timers, who seemed pleased their cars are attracting new generations of fans.
This year’s show ran from March 4-6 at Detroit’s venerable convention center, newly named Huntington Place, so we secured a media pass and toured the show on the opening Friday afternoon to capture some of the sights at the show for you here. Later over the weekend, Ford Marketing retiree-turned-car show photographer Bill Cook attended this celebrated yearly event with his camera and shot photos of his favorite rides as well. Check out our selections in the gallery below, and then check back soon for our look at Autorama Extreme as we cover all 723,000 square feet of display space to find the cool Fords for you.
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY JOHN M. CLOR & BILL COOK