The O’Reilly Auto Parts Grand National Roadster Show
AIN’T IT GRAND!
If using Google, driving from the center of Los Angeles to Pomona via I-10 is about 30 miles. But if relying on historical perspective, and your destination is the Grand National Roadster Show at the Pomona Fairgrounds, the journey is closer to 60 years. The distance isn’t mileage and time; rather, it’s memories and time travel. Once you land, park and grab your ticket or pass, you’ve left 2024 and strolled into 1964.
This assemblage of traditional rods and less-than-traditional customs (‘traditional custom’ is an oxymoron, if ever there was one…) grabs you from the git-go. If you enjoy individualistic design this is the place. And if a fan of hand craftsmanship, the almost lost art of beating aluminum panels and welding tubes, the Pomona exhibit halls are the space.
Beyond the overdose of modified Fords, restored Beetles, an almost-overdose of restomods and – thanks to Ron Jones Garage in Windsor, Colorado – a totally tubular take on VW’s Thing, there is also a judged competition to determine both America’s Most Beautiful Roadster and, for builders of the not-a-roadster, the Al Slonaker Memorial Award, honoring show founders Al and Mary Slonaker.
This year’s AMBR went to a ’32 Ford 2-door Phaeton owned by Beth Myers and built by Roy Brizio Street Rods. With the win, Ms. Myers receives a $12,500 prize, which is provided by ARP Fasteners. And that, ladies and gentlemen, might cover the cost of painting America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, which – you’ve already guessed – was beautiful …but $12K probably went for the paint prep, with painting optional!
The Slonaker went to a ’59 Impala built by Steve Cook Creations, featuring 518 cubic inches of LS3 motor, sitting atop a Roadster Shop chassis. In short, this isn’t a ’59 you’ll find at a tote-the-note; in all likelihood the costs of its construction would have sucked up all of a used car lot’s floorplan. Finished in Adventure Green Pearl paint, the Impala also garnered a $12,500 cash prize from ARP Fasteners.
Of course, there’s far more to the Grand National Roadster Show than those two builds and their two awards. And while I didn’t take a full accounting of who’s there from where, this is far more than a California-based show with California-only participation. The Ron Jones display from Colorado was notable, as was the presence of Cal Automotive Creations from an Omaha (Nebraska) suburb. That company’s Wagoneer reminds me of a time when the Wagoneer could credibly navigate an offroad park – and wasn’t the size of an offroad park. The rebuild is beautiful, and while its offroad rubber is bigger than standard spec, the footprint can still navigate a Starbucks drive-thru. And is absolutely perfect for the inevitable snow-covered Nebraska.
Additional highlights included the hand-hammered Schroeder Speedster Special, a ’55 Ford Fairlane Victoria, a slammed 4-place Thunderbird, and the aforementioned Porsche-powered Thing. In that same Ron Jones display area was a beautifully restored Bugatti, which would have received my nod for France’s Most Beautiful Roadster. That’s if, of course, there was such an award…
Pomona’s Grand National Roadster Show can leave you overwhelmed, just as the current state of new car shows, which I’ve most recently seen in LA and DC, can leave me underwhelmed. Beyond the craftsmanship and color of the Grand National Roadster Show is the bottom-line reminder: This skill set (and, perhaps equally important, the mindset), while fostered in the post-WWII ‘50s and ‘60s, is alive and well in this century. And once a year, much of it is sitting in Pomona.