The annual O'Reilly Auto's 72nd Autorama encompassing both the Custom d’Elegance and West Coast Challenge Series rolled through the Golden State last week as one of the world’s largest and longest-running indoor car shows, crowning world-class custom cars with more than 400 awards onsite.

The three-day event featured some of the nation’s top customs from all classes – award-winning hot rods, motor-revving muscle cars, head-turner trucks, and motorcycles. In addition to the awe-inspiring builds, this year’s Autorama showcased a variety of events, including a meet ‘n’ greet and autograph signings with celebrity personality Courtney Hansen from the popular Overhauliin' with Chip Foose and Ride of Your Life television shows.

The 16th annual Granddaddy Drive-In stretched the event outdoors to the Cal Expo show grounds. Participants included all pre-1973 drivable builds. Editor’s Pick awards were given daily by guest judges from Modern Rodding, All Chevy Performance and Classic Truck Performance.

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2023 Builder of the Year

The 2023 Builder of the Year was showcased. The honor went to South City Rod and Customs (SCRC) of Hayward, California. SCRC is owned by Bill Ganahi, responsible for the creation of customs of all makes, years, and models since 2008.

Butch Gardner Kroozesate Award: 1927 Ford Roaster Pickup

The 10th Anniversary of the Butch Gardner Club House was celebrated giving nod to the memory of Gardner himself, a veteran member of the original Thunderbolts, an integral part of NorCal car culture. The Anniversary brought out the OG car clubs and their hot rods, tri-fives and classics. The winner of this year's award went to Bryan Fritsch's '27 Ford Roadster pickup with a 121-inch stretched wheelbase, powered by a 265 cubic-inch Ford flathead with a four-inch Merc crank.

West Coast Challenge Series Grand Champion: 1956 Oldsmobile 98

Jeffrey Hess 1956 Oldsmobile The 2023 West Coast Challenge Series Grand Champion
Rod Shows Autorama
Jeffrey Hess' 1956 Oldsmobile: The 2023 West Coast Challenge Series Grand Champion

The newest attraction of the long-standing event was the West Coast Challenge Car Show series presented by ARP Fasteners. For 2023, the Grand Champion was announced as a 1956 Olds known as the OLDSSLED brought in by Jeffrey Hess. Fab mods included a two-plus inch chopped top, pancaked hood, frenched headlights and tucked front bumper.

Pro Design Hotrods was credited as the builder. Other props went to Spare Industries for the design and machining and Bill's Hot Rod Interiors for the upholstery. As the first-ever winner of the Best of the West award, the Olds bested 11 other qualifiers from at least three of four select shows throughout three states. Hess held $12,500 for the honor, while the remainder of the top three divided another $10,000 in cash.

Custom d’Elegance: 1949 Buick Sedanette

2023 Autorama Custom d'Elegance Award: 1949 Buick Sedanette
Jody Only
Cody Walls' Gold 1949 Buick Sedanette wins Custom d’Elegance award at 2023 Autorama

ARP Fasteners also presented the Grand Champion Custom d’Elegance award for the best chopped, channeled or sectioned custom from the years 1936 – 1964. A gorgeous, shimmering gold 1949 Buick Sedanette was revealed as the recipient of the coveted title. The Buick’s owner Cody Walls of Traditional Metalcraft was named as the builder responsible for the metal fab and bodywork.

He received $5,000 for his lowered, sectioned ’49. The custom-work dropped the Buick 15 inches from its original stance, sectioned its body two-inches, chopped the roof by one-inch, shaved the door handles, pancaked the roof, reshaped the guard and added the one-off taillights

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Big B Award Breakdown

The reveal of the historic "Big B" Awards include the

  • Dick BERTOLUCCI Automotive Excellence Award for pre-1973 customs
  • Candy Apple Joe BALION Memorial
  • Sam BARRIS Memorial Award
  • H.A. BAGDASARIAN Memorial Award for the World’s Most Beautiful Custom

Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence: 1936 Ford Roaster

Cesar Ruiz 1936 Ford Roaster wins 2023 Autorama Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence Award
Rod Shows Autorama
Cesar Ruiz's 1936 Ford Roaster wins 2023 Autorama Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence Award

The ’36 Roadster was selected for its craftsmanship, fit, finish and exquisite detail. Owner Cesar Ruiz reaped the reward of $500 and the accompanying trophy.

Candy Apple Red Joe Bailon Award: 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

2023 Autorama Candy Apple Red Joe Bailon Award 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
Jody Only
Mitch Kelly's 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air wins Candy Apple Red Joe Bailon Award at 2023 Autorama

The Candy Apple Red award was created by Bailon a premier designer and builder himself. The award and $500 prize money went to Mitch Kelly’s 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. Kelly and Son was named as the builder and painter of the Chevy.

Sam Barris Memorial Award: 1956 Chevrolet 210 Sedan

Jesse Orozco's 1956 Chevy wins the Sam Barris Award at the 2023 Autorama
Rod Shows Autorama
Jesse Orozco's 1956 Chevy wins the Sam Barris Award at the 2023 Autorama

The Chevy’s metal work, body panels and exterior paint described as multiple coats of Candy Pearl Pagan Gold, with Aztec Gold Candy over House of Kolor white sealer and cream base was noted by the judges. The Sedan known as Memory '56 has been called out in several events including this year's Grand National Roadster show and more recently in the coverage of the 2023 springtime GoodGuys season kick-off. Owner Jesse Orozco earned $500 for the build.

H.A. Bagdasarian: 1940 Lincoln Zephyr Coupe

Ray Poletti 1940 Lincoln Zephyr wins the H.A. Bagdasarian award at the 2023 Autorama
Rod Shows Autorama
Ray Poletti's 1940 Lincoln Zephyr wins the H.A. Bagdasarian award at the 2023 Autorama

A three-window 1940 Lincoln Zephyr coupe owned by Ray Poletti claimed cash of $500 and the H.A. Bagdasarian World’s Most Beautiful Custom trophy. Not new to hoisting trophies, Poletti can be seen being interviewed a custom Zephyr in the 2017 Portland Roadster show.

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Pinstriper Auction

The Pinstriper Charity Auction was in the house, doing work for the UC Davis Children’s Hospital. Attendees could bring in any item – a skateboard, a cell phone, a laptop, a car door – anything and have it custom striped on the spot for a donation. All pinstriping proceeds went to the Hospital.

Although hundreds hoisted trophies or took wood, the eye candy didn’t stop with the award winners. We found several head turners tucked away throughout the show and felt many more could’ve easily made the trophy-cut. In no particular order here are only a few more of our favorites.