Since its inception in 1950, the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award has been the candy-flaked and chrome-dipped cherry on the hot rod show circuit cake. This year marked the 69th time the nine foot-high trophy was to be handed out, scribing one more name into a list of legends among which sit Bill Niekamp, Art Himsl, Boyd Coddington and many more.
At the Grand National Roadster Show this year, the fight for the AMBR gong produced a fifteen-strong field overflowing with genius design touches, both traditional and modern stylings, beautiful paintwork and endless amounts of horsepower and chrome. At the end of proceedings on Sunday, it was announced that the Martin Special, a 1931 Ford owned by David Martin and built by Scott Bonowkski of Hot Rods and Hobbies in Signal Hill, CA was this years’ winner.
If you want to admire a handful of the world’s best hot rods a little more, check out our rundown of the expertly built Martin Special and the rest of the cream-of-the-crop field:
1. David Martin’s 1931 Ford, Martin Special
The Martin Special began as somewhat casual street and race roadster back in 1982 but has since been through three different iterations to get to it’s place atop the hot rod world with the win of the 2018 America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award. The styling is clearly influenced by mid-century Indy racers but the ’31 can also rub shoulders with the race boys, competing in the Nevada Silver State Classic and averaging over 100mph for the entire 60-minute race.
The stout 401-cube Chevy small block was screwed together by Ed Pink Racing Engines and runs up 500hp and 493lb-ft. The heads are one-off aluminium Brodix pieces topped by a Borla fuel injection setup and those mesmerizingly beautiful headers were fabbed by Jerome Rodela of Rodela Specialty Fabrication in Temple City, CA. The bowtie mill feeds a five-speed Richmond ‘box and a Winters Performance quickchange rear.
The body has been louvered within an inch of its life, and this runs under the car with a full-length bodypan to suit. Chassis work includes a centre section and a torsion front-end suspension setup built by MOAL. Custom EVOD wheels give it that killer racey feel.
Inside the car, a full set of race gauges were furnished by Red Line Gauge Works, combined with a vintage-look four-spoke tiller. The tan leatherwork was stitched together by Mark Lopez of Elegance Auto Interiors. The entire build was handled by Scott Bonowski and the team at Hot Rods and Hobbies in Signal Hill, CA, including laying on the glossy coats of deep blue, and the striking orange belt-line accent.
2. James Bobowski’s 1929 Ford, The Eddie Dye Roadster
If you’re a hot rod nerd and historian most likely you would’ve heard about the Eddie Dye roadster – one of the earliest high-dollar, all-out builds from the 1950s. It was commissioned by Eddie for the famous Ayala Brothers to build ‘no matter the cost’. Copious amounts of custom work were done to the car and upon completion Eddie even raced it at Bonneville in the C Modified Roadster class. As time went on, bits of it went left and right and it changed hands a few times until new custodian James Bobowski commissioned Jimmy White of Circle City Hot Rods in Orange, CA to undertake the restoration.
The original Whitey Clayton track nose and custom bonnet were found but the belly pan, most of the interior structure, dash and a few extra bits had to be recreated. The original version was featured on the cover of Hop Up magazine in March, 1952 and a lot of those images were used as references. The new interior was handled by Chris Plant in Santa Rosa, CA and the special paint colour, an Ayala Bros special called ‘Cherry Orchid’ was recreated and laid down masterfully enough to take home Best Paint at the GNRS.
3. Bill Nash’s 1930 Ford, Double Take
Opting for the seemingly less-famous Model A Ford roadster body as a base for Double Take, Nash commissioned Warren Boughn and Precision Hot Rods in Northridge, CA to take on the project. The 1930 body includes a few interesting design touches, including the filled in windshield stanchions (normally they came with bolt-on arms), a custom flat-panelled bonnet and a pinched 1932 Ford chassis with smoothed sections at the cowl area.
The 383-cube Chevy small-block was built by Dave Gunther and is topped by dual Edelbrock carbs. The underpinnings include a Halibrand quickchange sitting in a coil-over rear and with those meaty rear tyres you’d imagine it’s a stout beast on the road. Interior was done by Albert Laura in a striking red, and the mirror-finish black duco is thanks to Dan Hansen of Dan-Go.
4. Pete Aardema’s 1933 Ford, Porsch-Chalet
Pete Aardema is no stranger to building wild engines that power anything from land speed racers to drag boats. His Porsch-Chalet ’33 roadster features a 440-cube Chevy big block with a pair of Porsche 928 DOHC4V heads mated to it! Its a seriously impressive feat and Pete has backed it up with a 6.99@99mph on the 1/8th mile.
The roadster took home Top Engineering considering the entire build was custom-made by the Aardema, Braun and Goetz team including a crazy combination of Corvette and Mustang suspension arms over a horizontal coilover shock system. The body is 3” wider and longer than stock, and was handled by Steve’s Auto Restoration, including the aluminium bonnet, skirts, and removable hardtop.
5. John and Pat Miller’s 1932 Ford, Deuce One
The Deuce One was built by Dennis Elmore and Adam’s Hot Rod Shop for John and Pat Miller. Its a really tidy representation of a traditional highboy ’32 Ford, stuffed with a BPE-built 420hp small block Chevy. Most of the build was completed by the team at Adam’s Hot Rod Shop, including custom exhaust, all wiring and final fit and finish.
The Brookville-bodied car was painted in that mirror-finish gloss black in house by Chad Adams and Dion Willcox. The interior is elegant with a small engine-turned dash piece and gauges that compliment the brown leather trim, all of which was handled by Chad Adams, Jamie Crook and Scott Fox.
6. Alan Johnson’s 1932 Ford, Blackstar
The Blackstar 1932 Ford was designed and built by Alan Johnson and Cadillac Hot Rod Fabricators out of Fallbrook, CA. The name of his shop is a giveaway that the car is powered by a Caddy, but one that is a bit left-of-centre; the 4.6L Northstar DOHC V8. These engines were originally made for the awkard age of Cadillacs that were front wheel drive, but Alan makes kits to convert them for traditional rear-wheel applications.
The body is a Wescott fibreglass number that was finished in House of Kolor gloss black by Dave Watts and Jimmy Allen. Mark Lopez from Elegance Auto Interior trimmed the inside in black leather. A lot of modern touches are included on the in-house-built chassis, including rack and pinion steering and 9” Aldan coilover suspension in the rear.
7. Bruce Meyer’s 1932 Ford, The Nickel Roadster
Bruce Meyer’s name is synonymous with Southern Californian hot rodding and car collecting and the Nickel Roadster he entered in this year’s AMBR was a car originally built in 1993 for Bob Morris by Don Thelen’s Buffalo Motorcars in Paramount, CA. It’s a seriously impressive build that has never been judged in a competition since its debut 26 years ago.
The chassis is a Pete Eastwood original ’32 Ford frame packed with custom spring and shock setups, Wilwood disc brakes, a Winters quickchange rear and is powered by a 302ci small block Ford screwed together by Dan Gurney. It runs Gurney-Westlake heads and 4-48 IDA Weber carbs. The interior was stitched together by Ron Mangus with Pat Patterson taking care of the stack of original Stewart Warner gauges and the 16” Bell tiller. John Carambia from Hemet, CA sprayed the DuPont black laquer.
8. Shawn Black’s 1932 Ford, Stinger
The Stinger roadster is a home-built jewel screwed together by Shawn Black of Hartselle, AL, using the 1963 Corvette as inspiration. It’s a Brookville body that was painted in Daytona Blue #916 (A ’63 Vette colour) by Adams Hot Rod Shop with metal fab handled by Steadfast Manufacturing.
The engine is a copycat version of a ’63 Vette 327/365hp small block Chevy and it sits on a So Cal Speedshop chassis. Even the interior mimics a Corvette, as all gauges, the shifter and steering wheel are off a 1963 model. The interior, stitched by M&M Hot Rod Interiors in Holly Pond, AL uses the same design cues, executed well enough to win Top Interior at the show.
9. John Leonti’s 1932 Ford, il Dolce Deuce
John Leonti built this ’32 Ford by hand from stamped panels. He even learned how to weld on this car. It was a four year build completed mostly in his home garage and features a TCI frame with independent front suspension and Wilwood disc brakes. It’s powered by a 460-horse 355 Chevy small block mated to a 700R4 and Speedway SuperMax quickchange.
The Mike Taylor paintjob in House of Kolor Divine Wine pops in the light and the combination of American Rebel Mfg wheels and a raked chassis give the car an aggressive stance. There are a few mod-cons to be found in the Ron Mangus-stitched interior, including a sound system and bluetooth – perfect for cruising around John’s hometown of San Jose. He’s already racked up a few thousand miles on it.
10. Scott Helliesen’s 1932 Ford, Little Red
The New Jersey-based Little Red roadster was inspired by a true-to-era theme of an iconic 50s highboy, and was modelled heavily off the famous Bob McGee roadster that graced the cover of Hot Rod Magazine in 1948. It’s a Brookville body on a Shadow deuce chassis built by Scott Helliesen and Jason Anagnostis. The paint was handled by Classy Chassis Auto Restoration and is the exact paint code used on the McGee roadster.
True to the period, it’s powered by a 1946 Ford Flathead V8 appointed simply with Offenhauser heads and two Stromberg carbs. That’s all coupled up to an S10 T5 transmission going to a torque-tube ’41 Ford rear end with banjo centre. The interior was handled by Harry Parker Custom Interiors.
11. Rick Dore’s Shangri-La
Rick Dore is no stranger to screwing together some wild coach-built creations, and after entering last year with Glen McElroy’s Aftershock, he submitted his own car this year, dubbed Shangri-La. The one-off body was hand-formed by Luc Deley of Marcel and is coated in a custom PPG colour dubbed Ink, sprayed by Ron Cambers at Cambra Speed Shop.
It’s powered by a 350-cube Chevy small block and 700R4 combo, 9” Ford diff stuffed into an Art Morrison chassis featuring independent front and rear suspension. Many of the features elude to the elegant early-century stylings that Dore is known for, including the custom brass trim pieces made by Little Louie in Ontario, CA and the silver-painted removable hardtop, mirrored from the look of classic Cadillac stainless steel roofs (think Biarritz models).
12. Dan Hostetter’s The Roadster
Dubbed The Roadster, Dan Hostetter’s build is a seven-year project to recreate a famous rendering that graced the pages of Rod & Custom magazine in 1955. The original rendering was by Joe Henning and was a futuristic take on a custom-built 1927 Model T roadster. Dan had been fascinated with the car for along time, even building a 1/4 scale model of it before tackling the real deal. He had to work out a few engineering pieces since the original renderings didn’t factor in actual drivability. Widening the car to seat two people, and customising the front end to allow for the wheels to actually steer, Dan built most of the car himself and it was debuted this year at GNRS.
Given the period of the original concept, there are a few interesting design cues that seem unconventional by today’s standards including the tiny Model T radiator and the swooping lines of the turtle-deck rear section. It still has a great Jetsons-age feel to it including the custom-formed dash and bucket seat interior, and the way the exhaust flows in and out of the chassis.
13. Chris and Robyn Parmelee’s 1936 Ford, .36 Special
One of two 1936 Fords to make an appearance for this years America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award was the .36 Special of Chris and Robyn Parmelee. The car was built in Chris’ garage in Norco, CA and is a fibreglass body sitting on a custom-made tube chassis. It was painted that deep burgundy by Chris and the brown leather interior was handled by none other than Ron Mangus.
It’s the only car in the AMBR field to sport an LS engine, but the aluminium-block LS1 and 4L60E combo fit the modern appointments of the car well. They feed a Strange 9” Ford diff that turn a set of fairly large modern five-spokers.
14. Dana and Marge Elrod’s 1936 Ford, Elrod
The team at Boesch Auto Body set out to fine-tune the design of the factory 1936 Ford for Dana and Marge Elrod and the resulting roadster had enough impact to take home both Top Engine and Top Display at this year’s show. The car is modified quite extensively though everything is very subtle. Nothing was modified more than a few inches but the windscreen was chopped and leaned, the top bows followed suit, the bonnet was stretched and flattened slightly, the rear fenders were sectioned and stretched, the list goes on and on.
Inside the Boesch-fabricated frame is a stonking 1958 Chrysler 392-cube Hemi beautifully appointed with Hillborn injection and bolted to a Bowler 200-4R auto ‘box and 9” Ford rear. It’s mean stance is thanks to the frame that is kicked 7” in the rear and 2.5” in the front. It hides the exhaust system inside its rails, too. Wheels are a Schott Indy-inspired design running 17×7” in the front and 18×9.5” in the rear. They stop thanks to electronic ABS-equipped Wilwood brakes and bounce on fancy Ride-tech Shockwaves.
15. Gordon Custer Leland Jr.’s 1932 Ford, Custer’s Last Stand
The Custer’s Last Stand deuce highboy was built over a two year period at Cruzer’s Customs out of New Braunfels, TX. It’s a Brookville body sitting on a Kiwi Konnection ’32 chassis coated in a retro-feel Glasurit baby blue in-house at Cruzer’s.
It’s powered by an immaculately detailed 450hp small block Chevy topped with Edelbrock go-fast bits and coupled to a 4L60E trans spinning a Ford 8” diff. The brakes are So Cal drums on all corners and the stance comes thanks to HE Forged Indy-style bigs and littles. The light grey leather upholstery was handled by Gabriel & Sons out of San Marcos, TX and it even has Vintage Air hidden under the dash for hot Texas summers.