The Party Is In The Basement: Detroit Autorama Extreme 2017

What happens in the ‘basement’ of Detroit’s Cobo Center at Autorama is the polar opposite of what happens upstairs – what happens downstairs, stays downstairs. Elaborate displays and cars that are polished hourly are replaced with vehicles surrounded by couches, and cars that have spare parts rattling around their interiors.

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Autorama Extreme is where the die hards party at the Detroit Autorama.

Glitz gives way to grit, stone chips are embraced, not hidden, and the cars found under the main floor are all built with one thing in mind and nothing more; putting a smile on the owner’s face.

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How It Started

The basement gathering started as a way to pay homage to the rebellious nature of early hot rodding, Autorama Extreme has grown in popularity to the point where it’s the only reason some car clubs visit the Cobo center in late February. It’s not uncommon for those same clubs to wear shirts with slogans promoting last year’s Autorama Extreme, nor is it uncommon for them to never visit the “other” show taking place that same weekend.

Both events might start with the same prefix, but they are considerably different. That fact was evident as soon as we stepped off the escalator that led downstairs.

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Silly as this sounds, the Autorama Extreme even smells different when compared to Autorama. Not that the Autorama has a distinct aroma, but in the basement, gas fumes mix with the smell of draft beer, and the perfume of a passing pin up model.

Traditionally-styled hot rods and customs might be found upstairs, but the cars they emulate and desire to be, are found preserved downstairs.

This ’27 Model T looked like it had been pulled out of a barn mere hours before the show started. Powered by a ’57 283ci Chevrolet engine, this Ford is a reminder of just how raw (and somewhat scary) hot rod building was when safety took a back seat to style and speed.

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The king of the survivors at Autorama Extreme 2017 had to be “Superstition.” A 1957 Chevy Bel Air gasser that sat neglected for 37 years before being brought back to life by it’s current owner.

Originally an A/GAS drag car, it was built in the sixties by Charlie Proite before Ken Richter bought the car and campaigned it steadily until the financial strain of racing forced him to retire the car. Powered, then and now, by a significantly-setback Pontiac 400ci engine, this car was a noteworthy competitor on the drag strips of Wisconsin.

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Aside from minimal mechanical changes by its new owner only to get the car running once more – the majority of which were made with authentic era-correct parts – the Chevy is untouched from the days that it raced.

Cars like Superstition, and the ’27 Ford, are time capsules of eras gone by, and the fact that both were in the basement is a perfect example of why Autorama Extreme is so important to so many. Another reason that this show is important to those that dutifully attend, is that the cars within this portion of the event are all built to the owner’s preferences, not to satisfy a judge’s score sheet or to win a trophy.

A bagged Mercury truck with the driver’s fender holding on for dear life, a matte-finished Plymouth with hints of pro street and kustom styling, a heavily worked over Nash, and a bare-bones, purpose-built Ford typically wouldn’t be spotted within a stone’s throw of each other, but at Autorama Extreme, it is a common sight.

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Gene Winfield’s Kind Of Place

“Because I could,” and “because I wanted to,” are more often than not the answers given to questions regarding style choices and motor swaps. Perhaps “because I could” and “because I wanted to,” is why style icon Gene Winfield could be found in the basement from Friday to Sunday, getting his hands dirty.

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Starting with a standard-roofed Mercury Meteor, Gene and crew masterfully chopped the top, with crowds looking on, and by Sunday one lucky car owner was able to say their car was chopped by Gene Winfield at Autorama Extreme.

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Opposite from the Summit Racing chop shop was a very unique, very long hot rod that lived up to the ‘extreme’ portion of this show’s name.

Sixty-five years ago, a 1952 Dodge M-43 Ambulance and this old Mopar was chopped into pieces and mounted atop a Ford cube van chassis.

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Now powered by a 6.6-liter Ford turbo diesel, and sitting on a custom chassis with air ride suspension, this vehicle stopped every passerby in their tracks.

We would have loved to pick the owners brain on this one, but each time we made our way back tot he ride, he was nowhere to be found.

In front of the operational Rusted Crow Distillery bar was where one of the more unique Fords of the weekend could be found.

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The Copper covering the 1930 Model A was all formed by hand, and there are 9,000 rivets and more than 800 hours of blood, sweat, tears, and probably a few drinks consumed creating the outstanding copper work. The wood strapping that covers the side is created from authentic Kentucky whiskey barrels to go with the distillery theme.

The headers are designed to look like parts from a moonshine still, as are a lot of the other components in and around the 350ci small-block Chevy that has been dropped into the car.

Sitting as low as possible, the copper work and attention to detail continues inside the car where owner/builder Joe Schebel again used whiskey barrels for accents, along with even more copper.

A great discussion piece, the Rusted Crow Ford was the perfect thing to look at while waiting for your drink to pour.

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Not all about patina, patchwork, and raw steel, the basement did have a number of vehicles with high gloss paint. The only distinction was that these had a few paint chips in thir color from being thoroughly enjoyed.

The Cadillac above was courtesy of Detriot’s own Dead Last Car Club, and had just about every custom paint trick thrown at it. Heavy flake, patterns, pinstriping, scallops, there might even have been some lace work on the roof!

Handmade Trophies

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With so much thought and creativity put into the cars, it makes perfect sense that the Autorama Extreme trophies are equally detailed.

Hand-built every year, these trophies are not the focus of anyone entered in the basement, but, we don’t think there would be a single entrant that wouldn’t want to take one of these home to display proudly in their garage.

If you’ve never been to Autorama before – or even if you have but have never ventured into the party downstairs, do yourself a favor and check it out, we promise you won’t be disappointed.

The music, the cars, and the atmosphere, are all too perfect to let anyone down.

Article Sources

About the author

Dave Thomas

Currently living near Toronto, Dave spends much of his free time behind a camera at car events, and likes just about anything with wheels, but usually the lower the better. When not taking photos, writing articles, or going upside down on his bike he can be found in the shop wrenching on his 1951 GMC pickup.
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