Sacramento Autorama 2020: River City Is Ground Zero For Kustom Cars

Blue skies and the warm February sun felt good in NorCal last weekend.

It was perfect weather for a car show as big crowds congregated at Cal Expo for the 70th Annual Sacramento Autorama. An average of 50,000 people come to the Autorama annually and this year was no exception. The buildings were packed with classic and custom automobiles, and 275 cars rumbled in for the outdoor Saturday Drive-in, the biggest turnout ever.

As I strolled the grounds, a guy wearing an Oxi-Washed  “Sacramento Autorama 50th Anniversary” jean jacket was walking ahead of me. “Sheesh, that was twenty years ago,” I thought to myself.

Back then as well as today, naysayers were conjuring up dire predictions of our hobby on life support with it’s best days in the rear-view mirror. Yet here we are in 2020 and the kustom car scene is a hearty and hale as ever, with new blood, talent, ideas and execution flowing freely.

This was my sixth time at what I consider to be the granddaddy of “Kustom with a K” car shows in the world. Yeah, all eras of automobiles are represented here, but if you dig Post WW II kustom kars, this is the epicenter of the art form.

Not only that, but where else can one simultaneously gaze at an old school lowrider in the shadows of concrete towers reminiscent of Soviet Cold War-era architecture?

Towering dystopian architecture is just one of many treats that await when visiting Cal Expo.

Promoter RodShows gave out over 400 individual awards during the ceremony on Sunday. Of the 400 awards presented, six are considered the epitome of acknowledgment at this big kahuna show, the Custom d’Elegance, the King of Kustoms and the four “Big B” winners. We included Rod Authority’s favorites as well.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the winners in the big cheese categories.

Custom d’Elegance Award 2020 – Jeff Boones’ 1936 Ford Coupe By Stanley Customs

The Custom d’Elegance award is the most prestigious at the Autorama. Each year it is given to the best chopped, channeled and sectioned vehicle from 1935-1948 that embodies the essence of a kustom car. This year, Jeff Boones' ’36 Ford Custom beat out six other contenders, cementing him in history along with other towering car builders on the historic perpetual plaque, as well as $2,000 in prize money. This old Ford features a 221ci engine mated to a ’39 Ford three-speed transmission. The roof has been chopped three inches, door corners rounded, slanted B-pillars and much more.

King of Kustoms 2020 – Glenn Black’s 1949 Mercury By Ironworks Speed and Kustom

Behold the new King of Kustoms for 2020! Bob Drake and Ironworks Speed and Kustoms really hit one out of the park here. Long and low with nary a line out of place. Buick headlights and De Soto grille are easily identified, but the rest of the mods take time to suss out. Chopped top, custom fade away and 1951 Merc body section all add up to one smooth look. Black cherry paint was a foot deep and polished to perfection.

“Big B” #1: H.A. Bagdasarian Memorial Award – World’s Most Beautiful Custom 2020,  Bob Dron’s  1948 Chevy Fleetline Restored By Lucky & Customs

The World’s Most Beautiful Custom Award, presented by the family of Autorama originator H.A. Bagdasarian, acknowledges the best custom car from 1936 to present that features a silhouette change, including a chop, channel, or section. For 2020, the award went to Bob Dron and his 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline. Designed by Rod Powell in the early-'80's, it was refreshed by Lucky 7 and what a beauty. The car has 1947 Buick fade away fenders, 1951 Chevy front wheel wells, 1950 Pontiac taillights and a 3"chopped top. The mirror finish emerald green was the perfect finishing touch.

“Big B” #2: Sam Barris Memorial Award 2020 – Chris Bonilla’s 1949 Mercury KUSTM Built By Sledsville

Next up was the Sam Barris Memorial Award presented to Chris Bonilla and his 1949 Mercury, KUSTM. The trophy is presented by the Barris family to a car with the best metalwork, body panel fit, and paint, and this old Merc was definitely worthy of the nod. Chopped 4-1/2 inches, with shaved emblems, Kaiser bumpers front and rear, and the coolest “Dagmar” taillights you’ve ever seen. Midnight blue with light blue scallops was the perfect finishing touch.

“Big B” #3: The Joe “Candy Apple Red” Bailon Award 2020 – Calvin Fisk’s 1953 Ford Pickup

The Joe “Candy Apple Red” Bailon Award was designed and created it’s namesake, one of the nation’s premier custom car designers and builders. This year, the award was presented to Calvin Fisk and his 1953 Ford Pickup. This big-block Ford-powered truck was flawless under the lights at Cal Expo. Think of dipping this thing raspberry wine and you get the idea. Manuel’s Autobody laid down the paint. Tucked away on the side of the show, it shined brightly nonetheless.

“Big B” #4: The Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence Award 2020 – Jerry Jacobs 1957 Chevrolet Built By Dominator Street Rods

The Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence Award is given to a car built before 1973 that custom builder Dick Bertolucci felt exhibited the best craftsmanship in assembly, fit, finish and detail.  This year, Bertolucci selected Jerry Jacob’s 1957 Chevrolet Belair built by Dominator Street Rods. With meticulous build quality, this thing has big-block power and rolls on a Chassisworks custom frame. The Candy Brandywine paint was cherry on-top-of-the-sundae.

Rod Authority’s “2020 Best Of Show – Indoors” 1960 Oldsmobile, Pearl Elegance By Santos Kustoms

Truly a standout, this work of art just happens to be on a 1960 Oldsmobile. The creamy tan and navy blue color combo (with matching paisley interior) were superlative. Scalloped and paneled to perfection with iridescent pearl touches that dazzled the senses. This was a breath of fresh air and deservingly won the John D’Augustino Award.

Rod Authority’s “2020 Best Of Show – Outdoors” Kevin Gillis’ 1961 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Two-Door Flat Top

The kind folks from RodShows asked me to pick my favorite car at the Saturday Drive-In and I was happy to oblige. Little did I realize, it would be so hard to pick just one. Thankfully, when I saw this ultra-rare, two-door 1961 Flat Top Olds, it was a no brainer. A plain jane with radio delete, it is original except for bags and a repaint. The stance and wheels were a bullseye as well. When was the last time you saw one?

We wanted to give a shout out to John Buck and the gang at RodShows for another killer show, we’ll see you next year!  For more information about the Sacramento Autorama and for the full list of 2020 award winners, go here

Photography by Dave Cruikshank

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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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