POMONA, Calif. — Ten buildings at the Pomona Fairplex house what has become the granddaddy of the hot-rod, custom-car shows: The Grand National Roadster Show, now in its 64th year. Held on Jan. 2 this year, GNRS has become a ritual gathering of the faithful. Once known as the Oakland Roadster Show, it is the longest running indoor car show in the world, and this is the 10th consecutive year it has been in Pomona.
More than 500 vehicles compete for awards. The show culminates with the anointing of America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, a title that might as well be the Oscar of hot rodding.
Judging from the prominence of gray hair (and a few motorized scooter chairs) at this year’s event, hot rods and custom cars seem to appeal to a mostly older crowd. That’s pretty natural since the majority of these cars date back to the 1950s and 1960s, but it makes me wonder about the long-term viability of the hobby I don’t see a lot of young people building hot rods or custom cars.
The roots of hot rodding reach back to the time after World War II when young, mostly male enthusiasts, many just home from the war, modified their cars to make them faster or unique. They raced at drag strips, the dry lakes in California or the Bonneville Salt Flats. Speed, any way you could get it, was the goal.
For those who valued style over performance, customizers chopped the tops of ’50 Mercurys, Fords and Chevys. Hood ornaments removed, door handles were “shaved” and various grilles and taillights were grafted on. Wild paint jobs, often with flames or scallops, were the order of the day.
Metalworking geniuses, such as George and Sam Barris, used lead to smooth their work. In many ways, they were the American equivalent of European coachbuilders except they modified existing cars rather than building bodies from scratch. Today, the torch is carried by builders such as Roy Brizio, Steve Moal, Troy Trepanier and Dave Simard, to name but a few.
The roadster show is a throwback to those glorious days. The “suede palace” building houses traditional customs and hot rods, many painted in flat black primer. Originally, cars were left in primer because their owners couldn’t afford paint, but now, primer has become a fashion statement.
This year’s America’s Most Beautiful Roadster was a 1927 Ford track roadster owned by John Mumford of Portola Valley, Calif. Mumford’s car, built by Brizio, captured the essence of hot rodding’s early days. All of the parts are original and periodcorrect. The Ford V-8 60 engine has a very rare set of Ardun heads (only eight were made). Kirkman disc brakes and a Halibrand quick-change rear differential are icing on the cake.
Brizio’s workmanship is the picture of perfection, and the old-school look of Mumford’s car fits perfectly with the spirit of the event.