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GNRS 2009 – Personally speaking
The Grand National Roadster Show 2009, which took place in January, marked the 60th anniversary of the event, and it was quite possibly the biggest GNRS ever - certainly the biggest since the event moved to the Pomona Fairplex. The show occupied an extra exhibition hall at the complex, making a total of seven, which provided a total of well over half a million square feet of floor space. A large display of past GNRS winners occupied a separate hall that was decked out with oil drums and ribbons, just like the shows of the ’50s. The Suede Palace was more popular than ever and you really had to fight to get in there at times. It seems the type and style of car exhibited there is increasingly attracting a bigger following – plus, of course, there were bands playing throughout the weekend. The English duo of Mark and Melissa Gee won the class with their ’32 pickup - should have got a long distance award, too!
Chuck Lombardo had this Jaguar-influenced roadster on show
A recurring theme, evidenced in this year’s America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR), is the blending of American hot rods with European sports car styling. The 2009 AMBR winner, the Willet Special, had a faired-in cockpit, engine-turned dash and other features that were decidedly race car inspired. And this 1932 Ford, all-steel roadster was powered by a modern Viper V10 motor. Another example of the trend emanated from Chuck Lombardo’s California Street Rods. The ’33 American Speed Roadster on show featured a late-model Jaguar V8, skinny Jag wires, wire mesh grille and British Racing Green paint.
One of the flawless contenders for AMBR harked back to the past
As usual, there was another strong entry of big-budget hot rods all vying for the coveted AMBR trophy. These cars must have cost in excess of $1 million each to build and, as you would expect, were flawless. A friend of mine who manufactures precision custom wheels for such vehicles had about eight sets in the show, costing anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 a set. People are very serious about winning the AMBR title, but can you imagine the disappointment of not winning after spending so much – and how do the judges decide on a winner when all of these hi-buck hot rods are so immaculately put together?
We think this is Roy Brizio's Ferrari-motored '34?
As for the established hot rod shops, Roy Brizio had a selection of neat cars on show, from a lovely blue ’32 five-window coupe done traditional-style to a sweet ’34 roadster, equipped with a Ferrari motor no less. Roy is also on his fifth car for legendary guitarist Eric Clapton.
Another Brizio car to debut was this stock height five window done in the traditional style for which he is so well known. It's his own ride.
So Cal displayed several cars, including a bare-metal Model A coupe for Debra Kipp, while Chip Foose was there with Terracuda, his custom rework of a Plymouth Barracuda. Incidentally, Chip has sold half a dozen Hemisfear’s to date, and when you consider the workmanship and the $290,000-ish price tag, you are getting a lot of car for the money compared with the high-end show specials - and you can drive your Hemisfear.
Chip Foose's Terracuda - one tough looking Mopar
As usual at this event, there is just so much to see and not enough time to fit it all in. I was too tired and went home.
Injection is all the rage at the moment and you can see why on this beautiful 40s Ford
Bare Metal revelations
Personal show favourites included a couple of amazing steel Willys coupes representing different hot rod eras. The first was a lovely old ‘40s Willys shown by Don Waldron of Rods West. It was a stunning gasser that looked as if it had been plucked out of the ’60s. Maybe it was, or maybe it was made to look that way, but it was a class act. Similarly, the slammed, bare metal ‘41 Willys done contemporary style on another stand was just unbelievable. There’s something about a bare metal car that attracts people, and this one, which looked like it had a brand new, hand-built body, was mind-bogglingly good.
The two cars that impressed Wayne were these radically different Willys coupes. So is someone making steel bodies, or was this just an amazing one-off?
Another highlight for me was seeing Jake Jacob’s ’34 coupe in the metal for the first time. It had such an influence on me all those years ago, and it was every bit as good as I’d imagined.
The standard of car on display just keeps going up, to the point where it’s difficult to know how it can get any better. I came across a gorgeous ’58 Chevy lowrider custom in pale blue that had every component on it engraved, chromed or painted – even the discs had been individually engraved. I appreciate all types of car on show, whether nostalgic or hi-tech. If it looks right, then it does it for me.
We're not quite sure what this custom started out as, certainly there's a '37 Ford nose about it, but which ever way you look at it, the concept and execution is spot on
I’ve been going to the GNRS for the past three years, and consider it unmissable. I went with a bunch of friends for four days and we spent three at the show (two in the rain) and another visiting all the local rod shops. It was a brief yet action-packed trip.
As for the show itself, it’s difficult to choose individual cars to heap praise on, as they all do it for me, but what I did like this year was the separate hall displaying all of the past show winners. That was a real highlight, as it illustrated how styles and trends have changed over the years.
The GNRS is a must-see event - you will never see so many amazing rods, customs and bikes, plus an equally great outdoor display, at one venue. Imagine the UK’s Doncaster show, multiply it by 100, and you are probably getting close.
Another coupe that had all the hallmarks of a Brizio build
Other show highlights included a special tribute to the 75th anniversary of the 1933-34 Ford in the nearby NHRA Motorsports Museum and the live build-up of a Speed 33 roadster on stage, within the show, over the three-day event. It was put together by Extreme Automotive in California, and featured some of the best-known hot rod builders in the United States helping out.
The roadster featured components from top manufacturers, including an all-steel 1933 roadster body from American Speed Company, a TCI chassis and a Speedway Engineering quick-change rear end with Wilwood brakes.
Hemi-powered roadster should prove an entertaining drive with those skinny rear tyres in place
Tribute to past winners
As featured at the 75th Anniversary of the Deuce in 2004, a special display of hot rods was assembled in a separate hall, only this time to showcase 60 years of GNRS past winners.
All four double-winners of the GNRS were present: the George Barris-built “Ala Kart” for Richard Peters, which won in 1958/59, and is currently owned by John Mumford; Bob Reisner’s “Invader” 1966/67 winner; Lonnie Gilbertson’s 1923 “T-Bucket”, which won in 1971/75, and the last two-time winner, “Golden Star”, the 1925 T roadster of Ermie Immerso, which won the coveted title in 1989/91.
Along with the double-winners was a solid line-up of other AMBR trophy holders. These included: Blackie Gejeian’s “Shish-Kabob”, 1927 roadster from 1955; Rich Guasco’s purple winner from 1961; the 1963 LeRoi “Tex” Smith “XR-6”; the recently restored Don Tognotti “King T” from 1964; the Art and Mickey Himsl “Alien” from 1969; John Corno’s Russ Meeks-built, flip-top body, 1930 roadster from 1972; Ed Hegarty’s Dick Magoo-built 1932 “Deucari” roadster, originally built for Brian Burnett in 1979; John Corno’s John Buttera-built 1929 roadster from 1980; the first Boyd Coddington winner; Jamie Musselman’s 1933 roadster winner from 1982; Chuck Lombardo’s 1983 winner built by his company California Street Rods; James Ells’ Ferrari-powered 1987 winner built by Roy Brizio; Dennis Varni’s Boyd Coddington-built 1929 roadster from 1992; the Chip Foose-built “0032” from 2000; “Seduced”, the 1932 roadster from 2005 built by Steve Moal, and “Impression” the 2006 winner.
Equally significant was Bill Neikamp’s 1929 lakes roadster, the 1950s winner, and last year’s AMBR trophy holder, “Undisputed”, owned by Rudy Necoechea.
Story: Andy Kirk with contributions from individuals named above
Photos: Keith Atkinson
Steve Dennish from Limeworks had his Daimler hemi-powered roadster on display
The display of rods and customs outside the halls included this chopped '34 with interesting side panel detailing
As well as selling individual body panels for '32s, Bobby Waldon will also build you a complete chopped Brookville coupe body with fitted doors and trunk lid, as shown here, for $40,000.
There was nothing fishy about this John West built tin Willys, finished just in time to debut