Detroit Autorama Extreme: What’s In The Basement?

What began a few years back as a way to include what some may call “the fringe element” in hot rodding, the basement of the Detroit Autorama has grown into a full-fledged car show (now called The Extreme), albeit with a traditional and homegrown feel to the cars rather than the glossy, high-end vehicles found upstairs.

That’s legendary Gene Winfield performing a chop job on an old pickup truck cab. At 88 years old, Gene still travels the world, chopping all sorts of vehicles in demonstrations at various car shows, and always to an appreciative crowd.

But that doesn’t mean the level of quality isn’t there — it is, and in abundance. Featuring the lifestyle of those who appreciate the early days of hot rodding, the show’s scope has also expanded, with many vendor booths ringing the edge of the room, with everything from well-known artists selling posters and artwork alongside folks offering branded clothing.

The basement of the Detroit Autorama has been home to The Extreme car show, which highlights old school traditional hot rods and customs along with vendor booths that cater to that lifestyle.

But between it all are the cars, with hot rods and customs making up the bulk, but vintage drag cars and racers along with some old Triumph motorcycles thrown in for good measure.

Bill and Autumn Jagenow of Brothers Custom Automotive were involved with a major car accident with their ’27 Ford roadster, almost destroying the car, and causing severe damage to the couple as well. They’ve returned, and rebuilt the Flathead-powered car to a better-than-before level.

Though it wasn’t yet finished, Todd Will’s channeled ’31 Ford roadster (which used to be a coupe) is well on its way. Check out the 192 louvers in the decklid.

Dead Last Car Club from Detroit had a multi-car display set up in the basement that included this old-timey ’31 Ford roadster that was powered by a hopped-up four-banger.

Mike Barillaro, out of Knoxville, Tennessee, drove his belly tank into the show. The custom pop-top allows work to be done to the tank’s internals, which includes the Edelbrock-equipped 221 Ford Flathead mounted midship.

The idea of stuffing a V8 motor into a motorcycle frame has been around for some time, but they’re usually not as clean a transplant as the 400-inch Chevy found in Keith Coleman’s bike.

Rob Bonello is adamant his ’30 Model A Ford is not a rat rod. With a 364 Buick Nailhead up front, a vintage microphone for a shift handle, and a pinstripe by Silkboy covering the decklid, we’d say it’s a hot rod.

This roadster pickup was typical of many of the rods found in Detroit’s basement: clean and well put together. Chris Shevlin owns this ’28 Ford that uses a black with white pleat interior, a 331 V8 topped with three twos, wide whites, and California black plates to get the idea across.

Looking like in another life they could have been race car and push truck, John Zick’s ’30 Ford coupe and Hollie Flint’s ’51 F2 Ford pickup had a look that worked well together.

Built at Rudy Rodriguez’s shop in Brea, CA, this ’33 Ford is owned by Darrell Falkinburg from Brielle, New Jersey. The mail-slot windshield really helped the car’s profile, and the interior featured black aluminum bomber seats.

Another great looking rod belonged to owner/builder Scott Fritz. His ’30 Ford sedan seemed to have all the tricks: a 5-inch chop, 4-inch channel, ’40 Ford dash, birch headliner, and an 8BA Flathead backed to a Tremec T-5 transmission.

Hard to believe Al Grooms’ ride started life as 1950 Ford F1 pickup truck. To say the least, the truck’s been heavily massaged, and Al was able to exemplify the Steampunk movement with so many custom one-off accessories you could spend an hour looking at them all.

Another creative expression of hot rod handiwork is this homemade bumper made from pieces of chain and a few extra wrenches.

“Chevamoco” combined an injected Chevy 427 moved back in the chassis and under the cowl of a ’64 Ford owned by Jim Sandlin of Ortonville, Michigan. No mention of its top speed, but we bet it is one great ride!

Nick Hardie from Holland, Michigan, went way back for his race car fix: a cut-down ’23 Model T track roadster fitted with a ’53 Merc motor. And those Hotten and Sullivan aluminum heads have got to be pretty rare.

Pat Reisinger turned to hot rod builder Ty Hauer for his special ’31 Ford roadster. Underhood is a fuel-injected Flathead topped with Navarro heads, and the dash is outfitted with three big-face New Vintage USA gauges, with the speedo topping out at 140 mph.

At first glance you might think there was some very creative graphics work going on here, but the body and grille of this sedan are actually made up of hundreds of playing card-sized pieces of copper all riveted together.

In a town called “Motor City” you would expect to see a few engines on display, but you won’t see too many V12s topped with Austin finned aluminum heads, a blower, and four carbs. The monster weighs just over 1,000 pounds, even with all of the aluminum parts.

Drag cars are what helped start the Detroit Autorama, and a few were displayed in the basement, including these front-engined cars: the Olds-equipped ’61 Chassis Research dragster owned by Herb Becker and the AA/Altered owned by Charlie Haviland.

The Road Devils, whose members can be found around the world, are celebrating 70 years in existence this year. June Bug Spade from Detroit had this Model A roadster race car on display, but we’d really like to see it outside driving down Michigan Avenue.

Another Road Devil ride has been to the show before, but we don’t get tired of looking at it. Brandon Hibdon owns the ’50 Ford, which has a 302 between the framerails and a Gene Winfield autograph up on the seafoam firewall.

The Quivira is a decades-old custom owned by Sam and John Climo. Lots of custom work here, not least of which is a ’51 Victoria rooftop added to a ’49 Ford convertible body. A 4-inch section job, 2.5-inch chop, and a 5-inch channel is only some of the work performed.

There are lots of bands playing all weekend long in the basement, but it would be hard to match the energy put forth by Rio and the Rockabilly Revival. They really worked the crowd into a frenzy with their frenetic performance.

There was also a pin-up girl contest that brought 20 hopefuls to the stage to collect a $750 paycheck. In the end, the judges picked a Marilyn Monroe look-alike (second from left) who not only looked the part but carried off many of Marilyn’s facial expressions and speech.

About the author

Eric Geisert

A journalist and photographer, Eric Geisert, worked for three years at VW Trends magazine before joining Street Rodder magazine in 1991. In 2002, he was named one of The 50 Who Made A Difference at the 50th Detroit Autorama and, in 2004, was named editor of Kit Car magazine, a 30-year-old title. By 2006, a move back to Street Rodder came with a senior editor position and, in 2007, Eric was inducted into the Circle of Champions, the Detroit Autorama's Hall of Fame. In 2013, he became a freelance writer and works on his expansive car collection that includes a ’34 five-window Ford coupe, '32 Ford roadster, reproduction '59 Lotus 11, 356 Porsche speedster, and '59 Karmann Ghia.
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