A celebration of American car culture
Text + Photos: Mike Blanchard
Feature | The Sacramento car community gets fired up for the Autorama every February. You start seeing social media posts about getting the car ready to be in the show. 2019 was the 69th year of the Autorama. It’s held at the State Fairgrounds, and three large exhibition halls (one of them with two levels) were filled with everything from pampered show cars that don’t really see the street to road-worn survivors.
• Related: Sacramento Autorama
The cars are mostly American with a custom/hot rod/muscle car theme. There are a few vintage European cars and a smattering of motorcycles as well, but the Autorama is primarily a celebration of American car culture.
There are a great many car shows these days. For the most part they are divided into shows catering to niche car cultures. The concourso is a European thing, transplanted to the States by people who were into European cars. By contrast the Autorama is a classically American spectacle. Cars, trucks and whatever are welcome. There are super-expensive cars here but pretty much any of it is within reach of the average middle-class person.
The crowd was mostly men but there were a lot of women as well. It’s the kind of thing you do with your wife and kids or your buddies. Many people who are into the car hobby will tell you that the thing they enjoy the most is the people they meet and the friends they have made. And of course the car hobby has always been a family affair.
On Saturday morning the crowd was just getting warmed up and beginning to fill the halls. Most of the heavy action takes place Saturday and Sunday night. The local car clubs have always been a big part of the show. The Sacramento Autorama is one of the oldest car shows in the country. It was started by Harold Bagdasarian and the Thunderbolts car club in 1950.
The Thunderbolts, the Poor Boys, the Old Ford V-8 guys, the FAST crew, the Classic Corvair club, and many more laid out their, in most cases, shiniest cars and stood by to talk with the public.
I got invited to join the Corvair club and to compete in the FAST hill climb in April. Look for a story in RustMag.
The viewing is helped in two of the halls by being able to look down on the cars, giving you a perspective that you don’t usually get. The first hall, buildings A and B, was filled with show cars. Many displayed elaborate presentations and mirrors showing the chromed and detailed undercarriages and signage laying out the story and specifications of the car.
There were wonderful examples of the body man’s skill and the painter’s art laid out to be admired-and judged. There is a bewildering array of judging categories. For the spectator I don’t think this means much. Most of the crowd is there to have a look at the cars and take a stroll down memory lane. A phrase heard over and over was, “I used to have one of those.”
But for the car owners and builders it is a big deal to win an award for all the hard work and dedication to the craft.
The second hall, buildings C and D, housed a mixture of show cars and super-clean drivers. In a side hall, the Suede Pavilion was blasted with really loud rock & roll. But there were some automotive gems in there for the noise-tolerant.
The Pavilion, the third and by far the largest, hall was pretty much all car clubs and drivers. The FAST club was lined up against the farthest wall in the building. These guys are into four-banger Fords, Model Ts and the A, B, C variants that followed. Easily my favorite car of the whole show was Robin Pharis’ ’14 T roadster. It was shown in barn-find condition with an accessory transmission and an OHV head on it that I have never seen. I will have to buttonhole him on the particulars in the future.
A word of warning: You will want to wear your walking shoes when hitting the Autorama next year. The irony is that to see the steel chariot that has saved us from having to walk everywhere, you must walk. But on this, the 69th version of the Autorama, the cars looked great, the weather was fine and the walking was easy.