What We Learned From The 2017 Grand National Roadster Show

Each year, the Grand National Roadster Show lives up to its well-earned nickname as the Grand Daddy of Them All, by bringing in more than a thousand of the hottest custom cars from around the nation. Along with the slick cars on display, the show also hosts over 40,000 hardcore automotive enthusiasts during the three day event.

While billed as a roadster show, attendees are treated to just about anything under the sun. Competitors compete in more than 100 classes, with the crown jewel of the event being the AMBR award.

Cars enter the event which is regulated under the International Show Car Association (ISCA) rules. This means there are roughly 110 or more categories to compete. You’ll find everything from customs to restorations, racecars, trucks, hot rods, musclecars, and street machines. There are even categories for non-motorized special interests like tricycles, and specialized categories like custom wagons and pedal cars. We took our time this year, and viewed examples in each category. We never fully realized how many classes were competing at the event until now.

There is even a model car competition.

AMBR Competition

The end of the three-day event is celebrated with the presentation of awards, which includes the highly prestigious America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) award. This award is open to all U.S. production-based roadsters, roadster pickups, and touring vehicles built prior to 1938. The award has always represented the best of the class in engineering, detail, and display. Cars in the AMBR category are not eligible for any other ISCA class awards, and entry must be pre-approved. There are no walk ins.

In the past 10 years, cars entered for the AMBR have been owned by an individual that has spearheaded the project, utilizing a specialty shop to perform and coordinate much of the detail work. That trend was broken last year when Darryl Hollenbeck’s ’32 Ford roadster took home the award. We had hoped that this trend would continue into 2017, but our hopes were dashed when an entry built by Troy Ladd’s Hollywood Hot Rods was announced.

What we learned from last year’s AMBR winner is that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. We can say this, because this year we saw no less than five cars built and finished similar to Hollenbeck’s winner. No one really considered the Burnt Avocado Green paint job a serious color choice prior to the 2016 AMBR winner announcement. If winning the AMBR generates a trend for next season, we can hardly wait to see what the 1.2 million dollar 2017 AMBR winner does for next year’s show entries. One thing is for sure: Building an AMBR winner just got more expensive.

What Is A Roadster And How Is It Judged?

One of the most remarkable questions we kept hearing all weekend concerned what exactly qualifies as a roadster. More than once we passed small groups of four or five persons discussing that topic. In the most basic terms, a two-seat convertible is considered a roadster. Those roadsters considered for the AMBR award have other rules that are in effect for the vehicle to be considered for the prize.

Another criteria to eligable for the AMBR award is that the vehicle must not have been shown at any show prior to the GNRS. This is becoming common practice in the automotive show circuit when vieing for the elite awards. The cars that are pre-approved for the competition will be judged by the ISCA rules along with a fairly new, recent change to the judging procedure. Roadsters will be driven a short distance by the owner or authorized driver so the judges can observe the car in action. The driver must stop the car in front of a viewing screen where judges approach the vehicle at different angles to gauge how well the car and driver fit, along with the other fine details of the car.

Cars are driven to a viewing area where the judges approach the car from different angles with the driver behind the wheel. Photo from www.good-guys.com

Each roadster is accompanied by a build book that the judges use to review the build sequence and then the overall score covers basic categories like visual design, detail, engineering, interior, engine, paint, and undercarriage. In addition, the owner or driver is given the opportunity to point out features of the car that set the vehicle apart from the other contenders. The judges award points for each vehicle and then a winner is selected.

Trucks, Trucks, Trucks

We’ve been in a serious truck trend for the last six years with the once affordable early-’60s C10s leading the charge for the everyman build. If this year’s GNRS was any indication, that trend has really reached a peak, and the C10s that were affordable may suddenly no longer be so. It was apparent that 2017 looks like the year of the truck.

The ’50s Ford and Chevy trucks have been popular for many years, then the early-to-mid ’60s C10 started becoming the truck to own because they were affordable and easy to customize. With almost every car show, we notice that the popular years of trucks keep moving up a year or two at a time. Now, we have noticed that trucks from the ’80s are starting to show up as the blue collar custom vehicles. If you wait too long, you won’t even be able to buy a late-’80s truck at a reasonable price.


You don’t have to look any further than the AMBR contenders to see an emerging trend in fenders on ’32 Fords. Don Lindfors’ Boss ’32 roadster pickup and Matthew Gordon’s 1932 Time Merchant roadster pickup both sported fenders. Lindfors’ was a full fendered pickup while Gordon’s sported motorcycle fenders. Both were classic examples of roader pickups with one having a traditional west coast style, and the other a classic east coast vibe.

Matthew Gordon’s 1932 roadster pickup built by Goolsby Customs featured motorcycle fenders.

We managed to spot a couple of other fendered ‘32s throughout the show, but as we have seen in years past, builders tend to copy past AMBR contenders. That being said, we may see more fenders on ’32 roadsters in the near future.

Lindfors’ home garage built roadster pickup featured a full-fender look.

A Word About Rod Shows

The Rod Shows crew has really held up their end by producing the west coast’s finest events, focusing mainly on indoor shows like the Grand National Roadster Show, the Sacramento Autorama, and the father’s day weekend LA Roadster Show. This group continues to set the stage for professional car shows that push artistic boundaries.

Each year seems to get better with increasing attendees and participants. The 68th Grand National Roadster Show was the best yet, and paved the way for a great car show season for the left coast. We can hardly wait to come back to the Pomona Fairplex in June for the LA Roadster Show. For more information on Rod Shows, visit www.rodshows.com.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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