2019 Sacramento Autorama: “Big B” Awards And The Hazy Days Of NorCal

It was hailing as I drove to the Cal Expo Fairgrounds last Friday up in Northern California.

Not a great start to the 2019 Sacramento Autorama, arguably one the most important indoor kustom kar shows in the country. Another big-daddy production from Autorama promoter RodShows, the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, California, was a big hit for them just a few weeks earlier.

According to RodShows, “From its humble beginnings as a two-day hot rod show in November of 1950, the Sacramento Autorama stands as the premier showcase of the radical custom and exotic show cars. The Sacramento area has evolved to be known as “The Custom Car Capitol of the World.”  Each year, thousands of spectators make the annual trek to California’s capitol city to view the latest in chopped, channeled, sectioned, and chromed cars as well as hot rods, pickups, motorcycles, muscle cars, and street machines.

“The Autorama was started by Sacramento businessman Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian. In 1950, while serving as president of the Capitol City Auto Club Thunderbolts, he talked the members into having a show to settle friendly arguments over the outstanding merits of their personal customized cars.

“The Capitol Chevrolet Company dealership at 13th and K Streets in downtown Sacramento was the site of the first gathering, which attracted 22 entries and 500 spectators. ‘We took in $262 in two days at 74 cents a head,” Baggy recalled. “We didn’t charge 75 cents because we would have gotten involved in the Federal Amusement Tax. The first Best Custom Car trophy went to Leroy Semas for his 1937 Chevrolet coupe, and Burton Davis was the winner for Best Rod with his 1931 Ford Roadster.”

I have a soft spot for NorCal and the Bay Area. It outshines SoCal when it come to kustom kars with many of the best builders in the country calling this area, home.

Sacramento, also known as the “River City,” is an interesting town full of history, grit and juxtaposition. The city is the birth canal of the California we know today. The transcontinental rail line ended near Alameda, California, in the late 1800s, and the Wild West was quickly transformed from a lawless, agrarian frontier to what would become an urbanized, industrialized, economic, and political powerhouse.

As I drive through the Capitol of California, you can feel history tingling in the air as it unfolds into the future. Now the fifth largest economy in the world, California has become the template for automobile air pollution and safety standards around the world. My sense is the powers-that-be would love to push the internal combustion automobile into extinction.

They will likely reach their goal in our lifetime.

The juxtaposition of the Sacramento Autorama and the reality of smoothly moving a California population of 40 million is palpable as I wait in miserable bumper-to-bumper traffic.

One thing is for certain. The history of the automobile is an indelible component of what made California great. That can never be taken away or legislated out of the DNA of the Golden State.

Here’s the best part: for three days, we can forget about nutty, anti-car Sacramento politics and the modern day woes of California, and stroll onto the late-sixties era Cal Expo Fairgrounds and leave all of it behind. Race, creed, class are all irrelevant on these sacred grounds. We become brothers and sisters “in the bond,” held together by the notion that life is too short not to have a cool car. It’s all about hard work, ingenuity, history, art, fashion, music, two molten stripes of rubber and AMERICA.

The weather did clear up on Saturday and Sunday and there was a pretty good turnout of cars outdoors, but the epicenter of the show was going on inside. The kings of of kustom kars brought their best efforts and battled it out for the four “Big B” awards.

Rod Authority was on-the-ground and we bring you the winners for 2019.

H.A. Bagdasarian “World’s Most Beautiful Custom” AND King Of Kustoms – 1940 Buick aka “Pamela”

Owner/Builder Steve Pierce brought this sumptuous blue Buick to the show and won big. This smooth, fat fendered Buick sat just right, with nary a line out of place. “Pamela” took home the King of Kustoms Award as well! Paint by Kyle Martin of Martin Kolor and Style, interior by Chris Johnson of Johnson Custom Upholstery, stainless by Robbie Azevedo, plating by Sherm’s, engine by Rich Olivier from Tem Machine Shop. This award is given to a custom from 1936 to the present that features a silhouette change, including chopped, channeled and/or sectioned. This is the first of the four “Big B” awards. Congrats to Steve Pierce and the gang!

Sam Barris Memorial Award – 1949 Hudson Club Coupe 

Eckert’s Rod And Custom out of Oregon brought this restomod Hudson packing LS power, C6 Corvette running gear, and every modern performance and comfort feature you could possibly imagine. The only thing stock on the car is the roof/greenhouse. The interior is a fantastic re-think of the old stock interior. The Sam Barris trophy is awarded to the vehicle with the best metal work, alignment of body panels, and paint. Must be an all metal body as well. Chosen by the Barris family too! This is the second of the four “Big B” awards.  Great job to all the guys and artisans at Eckert’s Rod And Custom!

Joe “Candy Apple” Bailon Award –  1933 Ford Roadster aka “Timeless”

Dominator Street Rods brought this candied confection and the judges swooned. We fell in love with this car last month at GNRS and were glad to see it get recognition here at the Autorama. Keeping it all Ford, the car is running a 4.6 DOHC motor with Imagine Eight Stack induction. Designed by Eric Brockmeyer with body built by Paul Blatt, this thing has a laundry list of cool gear including EVOD wheels, Classic Instruments and Winters rear differential. Joe Bailon is recognized as one of the nation’s premier custom car builders and the winner is selected as his personal pick of the show. The candy apple trophy is designed and created by Bailon as well. This is the third of the four “Big B” awards. Kudos to the talented team at Dominator Hot Rods.

Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence Award – 1936 Ford “Rusk Coupe”

Lastly, East Bay Speed And Custom took home the coveted Bertolucci award for their 1936 Ford, “Rusk Coupe” owned by Brian and Jessica Rusk. Brandon Flaner, founder of East Bay Speed and Custom, continues to ascend as a traditional hot rod builder. Based in San Francisco’s East Bay area, Flaner has made waves recently coming off three big wins with the car last month at the Grand National Roadster Show.  The Dick Bertolucci award is for rods, customs, sports cars, classics, trucks, and street machines manufactured prior to 1973 which exhibit craftsmanship in assembly, fit, finish, and detail. The winner is selected by Dick Bertolucci personally. Congrats to Brandon and his talented band of merry men at East Bay!

Whew, what a weekend!  Stay tuned to Rod Authority as we will be covering some of our other favorite cars over the next few months.  Thanks again to RodShows for a great party and we look forward to next year!

As far as Sacramento goes, we part again, but promise to reunite with our rough-hewn NorCal gem again, after a spin around the sun.

‘Til then.

 

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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