Al Slonaker launched a modified-car show in the Oakland Exposition hall in 1949 and decided to focus on hot rods for the following year. “Hot rod” meant “public nuisance” (menace, even) in the local (national, too) press, so he called his rechristened exhibit the “Roadster Show.”
Beginning with that second show there was a 9-foot trophy for the best hot rod in the exhibit. The “America’s Most Beautiful Roadster” trophy is a perpetual trophy with the names of winners engraved on a plaque — now extended to plaques all around its base.
The Roadster Show moved to the Oakland Coliseum in 1967, and then, after 30 years it became an itinerant in the Bay Area from 1998 to 2003. The celebration of hot rod legends was finally re-established in Los Angeles in 2004, the ancestral home of the classic American souped-up, pre-war, open-top car. In fact, it shares the Fairplex with the Wally Parks NHRA Museum.
During the last weekend in January 2017 it remains a national event with nine buildings on the Pomona Fairplex occupied by big-horsepower cars of all kinds, happy vendors of the required hardware — and still more hot rods filling the parking lots surrounding the buildings. The following images represent only the building containing the AMBR trophy, its contenders and the best of the best of current hot rods and hot rod builders.
America’s Most Beautiful Roadster for 2017 is Bruce Wanta’s “Mulholland Speedster” from a design by Eric Black, formed by Tony Ladd and his crew at Hollywood Hot Rods.
The design began as a mid-‘30s Ford with classic Packard details and inspiration from the great French coachbuilders. As it neared completion it assumed the proportions and grace of a 7/8 scale 1936 Packard, but it retains its 1940 Lincoln V12 engine as a tribute to its Ford beginnings.
There is nothing in the AMBR building not worthy a half-hour of detail study. The universal craftsmanship of the hot rod as art form competes with anything at Pebble Beach and most now perform with many current supercars and often share garages with both.