Sacramento Autorama

text + photos by michael blanchard

Feature  |  It is Spring and a young man’s fancy turns to cars. This year Northern California car nuts flocked to the 67th annual Sacramento Autorama. Held over the Presidents Day weekend at the California State Fairgrounds.  The Autorama is the start of the car season in Sacramento. What the heck is the car season you ask? You know summer, car shows, racing, road trips, hot rod runs that’s what it is.  Where the hell did you grow up? Anyway, for those of us in California the year has been wet, cold and generally lousy for getting the roadster out and blasting around. But when the going gets tough the weird turn pro and the faithful flocked to the show to see what the rest of the guys have been up to in their garages all winter.

The judging crew gives a REO pickup a thorough going over. That's Ransom E. Olds thank you.

Sacramento has the great distinction of being one of the original cradles of the Custom Car as we know it.  Harry Westergard, Dick Bertolucci and the Barris brothers all worked or started their careers here. And these are just the famous guys. There have been a ton of fantastic customizers in Sacto that never sought the national limelight.

The promoters of the Autorama, ROD-SHOWS, are fond of saying the Sacramento Autorama, and the Grand National Roadster Show are the longest running indoor car shows in the world.  Doubtless that is the truth. Otherwise why say it.

Taking a spin in the wayback machine we find the roots of the thing go back to 1950. Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian. who was president of the Thunderbolts car club at the time, organized a gathering to show off the club members cars and settle a few disagreements about who had the best car. The first events were held in the showrooms of local auto dealerships. In 1952 Baggy came up with the name Autorama and moved the show to Memorial Auditorium. The show kept growing and Baggy kept having to find larger venues.  By 1955 the Autorama had moved to the fairgrounds and was drawing 20,000 some odd people over several days.

Just like in 1950, the Autorama is for people who appreciate craftsmanship and an individual viewpoint.

Baggy was a titan of the scene and is still fondly remembered by the old timers. Not least by the still active members of the Thunderbolts. I thought it was a little sad to see his ’40 Olds sedan tucked away in the corner of the livestock pavilion. True, it was right next to the large display of cars from the Thunderbolts.  However, to my mind, Baggy deserves to have his car front and center with a large commemorative display.

This year featured three large buildings of cars trucks and motorcycles at the California State Fair. The whole thing is rather overwhelming as you walk through and I am sure some folks take a couple days to get through it.  But the intrepid Rust crew walked it all on a rainy Saturday from the blue ‘56 Post by the first doorway in building A to the F.A.S.T. club’s display of traditional Ford four bangers against the far wall of the farthest building.

A load of super trick overhead valve, twin carb go fast treats from the F.A.S.T display at the very back of the farthest hall. You have to suffer for the good stuff

In the old days the show had two winners: best custom and best rod. These days there is a bewildering array of categories. They have awards for everything from bicycles to models to pedal cars to made up things to cars, trucks and motorcycles in every level of taste and or customization you could possibly imagine.  I like this show a lot but a quick look through the awards categories is a crackup.

Still, in a world that is actually excited about trash like self-driving cars it is very refreshing to be surrounded by a large group of people who still have the romance of speed and style. Just like in 1950, the Autorama is for people who appreciate craftsmanship and an individual viewpoint.  For me it is great to see the kids. It is a kick to watch boys and girls, with dad mostly, but lots of moms too, who are just wide eyed at the color and fantasy of the whole thing. These are the hope for the future of the car community.

Who won you ask? Well a whole hell of a lot of folks apparently but in the two original categories the Best Custom was Chris Roark’s ‘58 Impala and the Best Rod was Dan Wathor’s ‘37 Ford Coupe. Congratulations boys, well done.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in this case it’s true so here are the pics.