When I first arrived at the 71st annual Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, California, I was astonished to see what was in front of me—this was my first time covering the event, but it certainly will not be my last. I was greeted with three full days of near-perfect weather, good food, and the hot rod world’s most amazing automotive creations on display.
The Grand National Roadster Show is the world’s longest-running indoor car show. It aims to recognize and reward the top roadsters, hot rods, and customs in the country. More than 600 individual awards were presented during the closing ceremonies of the Grand National Roadster Show, which earned its reputation as “The Grand Daddy of Them All” by showcasing more than 490 world-class roadsters, hot rods, muscle cars, customs and more, which attracted 50,000 fans throughout the weekend. The ceremony held on January 26, 2020, also includes the show’s most coveted awards, America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) and the Al Slonaker Memorial Award.
America’s Most Beautiful Roadster—one of the oldest and most prestigious awards in the automotive world—is presented each year to the best open hot rod in the country. What this means is that the car must have a removable top, no roll-up windows, removable windshield, and be based on a 1936-or-earlier body. Therefore it’s no surprise that since 1950, nearly every AMBR winner has been a Ford Roadster, including the 2020 winner.
This year’s AMBR winner is the 1932 Ford Roadster—’32 Kugel Muroc No.4—owned by Monte Belsham and built by Jerry Kugel, which bested nine other contenders. The AMBR-winning ‘32 Ford Roadster is one of ten Highboy Roadsters created two decades ago by Jerry Kugel. Originally built for Nick Barron, the car was modified and painted by Squeeg’s Kustoms. An LS1 engine powers the Roadster with Hilborn injection backed by a 4L60 transmission. When Belsham originally acquired the car, it had seen better days, and Squeeg’s did a masterful job at bringing it back to life.
In the process, the car earned Belsham the $12,500 prize provided by ARP, and became immortalized on the award’s 9.5-foot tall perpetual trophy alongside the best of the best of hot rodding, including legendary builders like George Barris, Andy Brizio, Boyd Coddington, Barry White, Troy Ladd, and Chip Foose.
The Al Slonaker Memorial Award was elevated to the same importance as AMBR this year with a matching $12,500 prize purse, also thanks to sponsor ARP. The winner of this year’s prize is this 1936 Willys Model 77 owned by Ron and Vicki Ernsberger and built by The Tin Man’s Garage and is now held in high esteem as this year’s top custom.
The Al Slonaker Memorial Award is dedicated to the memory of Al Slonaker, who—along with his wife, Mary—founded the Grand National Roadster Show in 1949. This award has been presented to the best non-roadster vehicle at the show each year since 1974. The ’36 Willys Model 77 features a 498 cubic-inch Arias V6 Hemi mated to a Tremec TKO five-speed transmission. The build features a hand-built cab, bed, fenders, and a heavily reworked front clip. The paint, done by The Refinery by Adam Krause, is PPG Rosso Mugello Ferrari Red with six coats of clear over two coats of paint.
WORDS FROM THE TOP
“Each year, the best in the world congregate in Pomona to compete for America’s Most Beautiful Roadster and the Al Slonaker Memorial Award,” said John Buck, owner of Rod Shows and producer of the Grand National Roadster Show.
“Monte Belsham’s ’32 Ford Roadster and Ron and Vicki Ernsberger’s ’36 Willys Model 77 fit the bill as some of the all-time greats in their respective classes. Both builds now stand among giants, and deservedly so.”
The Grand National Roadster Show took over all seven main buildings of the Fairplex, while more show cars, exhibitors, and displays overflowed outside. While many spectators attend to see the top roadsters in the country, GNRS offers much more. Hot rods, rat rods, muscle cars, lowriders, custom builds, drag cars, and much more can be seen at this event.
This year, the Grand National Roadster Show featured a special exhibit, Drag Racing Then and Now, which was presented by Lucas Oil and sponsored by Cragar Wheel. The exhibit hosted a curated gathering of the most important, unique, and stylish dragsters from throughout history. Some of the dragsters on display included a 1967 Buick Gran Sport Funny Car by Lipori/Fiberglass LTD., the only Buick-powered Buick Funny car ever created, to Shirley Muldowney’s 1977 NHRA championship-winning Top Fuel dragster, the first car piloted by a woman to take home an NHRA professional series crown of any kind.
This year’s show also featured celebrity appearances from across the automotive enthusiast community. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Michael Anthony of Van Halen were both in attendance while Mike Ness of Social Distortion displayed a 1954 Chevrolet. This year’s Builder of the Year was Dave Kindig, owner of Kindig-it Design and host of Bitchin’ Rides. Kindig earned the accolade thanks to decades of work pushing the boundaries on the design and execution of his custom creations.
“Cashmere” is a classy and elegant 1957 Lincoln Continental Mark II owned by Joe and Jenevi Schenk. This masterpiece was built by the crew at Havasu Speed and featured a late model 5.0-liter Ford Coyote engine and 4R70W overdrive transmission. The frame was fabricated by Al Simon and Fred Meye Enterprises, while Kugel Komponents provided the upgraded suspension components. Premier Street Rod applied dark Cashmere paint and Ron Mangus Hot Rod Interiors mastered the inside accoutrements. This long-and-low Lincoln was one of the highlights of the event—just a clean, well-executed car in every aspect.
Lopez Customs of Riverside, California, absolutely killed this one! The GRIMM7.0 1969 Camaro built for Cesar Cabral is a work of art. Sean Smith Designs envisioned this Camaro, which was built with a Roadster Shop Fast Track chassis underpinning the sheet metal. The Mercury Racing SB4 engine knocks out 750 horsepower, and Michelin rubber wrapped around HRE three-piece wheels get it to the ground. And then there are those classic Camaro lines! The metal fabrication was provided by Carlos Dominguez and Tony Urieta and custom machining by Sparc Industries, while Speedkore handled the paint and carbon fiber. The interior was carefully designed and installed by Gabe’s Custom Interiors.
Where do I begin with this one? Havoc is a 1970 Dodge Challenger created by Rides by Kam and made its way to Southern California by way of Australia. Built by owner Robert Zahabi, Havoc features a 572 cubic-inch Mopar Performance engine with a ProCharger F-3R crank-driven centrifugal supercharger.
The Challenger features a Roadster Shop Fast Track chassis, RideTech Shockwave shocks, and Air Lift suspension. The body was covered in PPG Customs Charley Hutton Slanted Brown pigment; when combined with the orange pinstripe, the effect is striking. Other modifications include a Tremec T56 twin-clutch transmission, American Legend 20-inch wheels, and Baer brakes. The best way to describe Havoc is…wow!
Now here is something you don’t see every day. Say hello to the Hit and Miss Special! Owner Jerry Logan describes Lonnie Gilbertson’s creation as a 2019 P-58 Bellytank Salt Flat Racer, equipped with a single-cylinder John Deere engine. Target speed: 50 mph.
Impalamino is customized so well that it looks like something that General Motors produced back in the day. The Chevrolet El Camino had a void in production history from 1961–‘63, but Bay-area native Aaron Long had a vision that would bridge this gap. After Impala expert Mike Schiata hired Aaron, the creation of the Impalamino begun. Their mantra for the build? So custom, it’s stock.
A ‘63 Impala wagon was chosen as the base vehicle, and Aaron started the rough metal shaping with a factory approach—the rear doors were deleted, and hardtop doors were added. Metal fabrication continued with grafted quarters and the incorporation of the El Camino cargo bed. The roofline, as if stamped out of the production line, was sectioned and pushed forward for perfect fitment.
While the factory-inspired body lines display a flawless finish, it was the custom touches that truly set this build apart. The undercarriage was engineered to maximize travel on the air-ride suspension. The cab is equipped with a roll-down window, and the chrome trim shines bright with special attention on the hand-crafted cargo bed corners and side moldings. Just a beautiful creation, unveiled at the 2020 Grand National Roadster Show.
Imagined by Gary at Ragle Design, Cal Auto Creations built one wild, supercharged Hellcat Hemi-powered 1971 Dodge Challenger for Kent and Lisa Matranga. Andy Leach of Cal Auto Creations says this is his greatest build to date. We’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
Dustin and Dawn Smith’s 1927 Ford drew a lot of attention. It features a 226 cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine with a pair of single-barrel carburetors, a transmission from a 1939 Ford, and a quick change rear-end. The period-correct Firestone wide whitewalls complete the look.
“Voodoo” Larry Grobe’s creation—the Voodoo Sahara—is a 1954 Kaiser Manhattan four-door with a hand-crafted body that features T-tops, 1960 Corvair headlights, ’58 Mercury taillights, a ’55 Chevy windshield, and ’35 Ford headlight buckets reversed and used as dagmars (bullet bumpers).
This wild custom creation features a Chevy small-block engine and Turbo 350 transmission, and the body sits atop a ’54 Kaiser frame, which has been blended with a 1980 Camaro front subframe and ’77 Nova rear. It’s almost as if Larry just grabbed parts from every car sitting around the shop to use what was salvageable, but the result is more than the sum of its parts. What a cool ride!
‘69 Camaros will never go out of style, and we loved what Wyatt Smith and his father created. This Pro Touring-inspired build features a twin-turbo, 427 cubic-inch LS3 engine harnessed to a Tremec T56 manual transmission.
The annual pin striper’s auction raised money for the Teen Challenge in memory of Nicole Meguiar, the late daughter of Meguiar’s Polish’s Barry Meguiar. Nicole tragically passed away last June at the age of 49; see her story here. The auctions took place on Saturday and Sunday and raised $50,000.
For more information about the Grand National Roadster Show and the full list of 2020 award winners, please visit the show’s website. See you in 2021!