The West Coast has the AMBR, the Midwest has the Ridler Award. This time every year, with the weather just slightly less shitty than it was a few weeks earlier for the Detroit Auto Show, the Detroit Autorama hosts its show at the old Cobo Hall downtown, just like its done for the last sixty years.
And the Ridler Award, named after Don Ridler – the Autorama’s first promotor, has been the centerpiece of the show since the year after his untimely death in ’63. Now, the major difference between the Grand National Roadster Show’s AMBR and the Ridler is that there’s no restriction to the type of car eligible for the Ridler. Hell – fire trucks, roadsters, Pro Stocks and muscle cars are just a few of the winners over the years. The main prerequisite is that the car is being shown for the very first time.
And that brings us to the car that Dave Shuten and Beau Boeckmann entered for this year’s Ridler: a bitchin’ ’34 5-window coupe named the “Iron Orchid.” We love all kinds of cars, as long as they’re done well – and what Dave and Beau pulled off in this car is about as perfect a mid-Sixties early show rod recreation as we’ve seen.
See, by around 1965 or so, hot rod shows were becoming more sophisticated: people were becoming less and less satisfied with just a hot rod being shown, simply because the idea of a hot rod wasn’t the outlandish, counterculture menace it was just fifteen years earlier. By this point, there was an entire subculture with its own catalogs and magazines and sanctioning bodies and rules, for fuck’s sake. By ’65, folks were all, “Yeah? What else you got?” So, the concept of the show rod – a car purpose-built to win a car show instead of running flat-out on the salt – was hatched. And the earliest show rods were cars that looked like they could still be driven off the show floor, albeit carefully over the mirrors so the upholstered fenderwells wouldn’t get scuffed, compared to the phone booth/Pink Panther/funeral coach/bathtub/bunk bed theme rods that took over late in the Sixties.
Which brings us back to the Iron Orchid. Darryl Hollenbeck’s paint is just the tip of the perfectly faded paneled iceberg and we guess what we really love about it is its simplistic adherence to that earliest of show rod treatments: small block dipped in white pearl and chrome, white diamond tuck-paneled every-galldang-thing, a colored plexi-paneled something-or-other, a set of polished Halibrands and (for chrissakes, we can’t figure out why so many others get this wrong) a period-correct pairing of big-n-little BIAS PLYS. Let us repeat that: BIAS PLYS.
We say, if you’re gonna do it, do it right. Dave did it right. And, as always, there are a ton of people involved with something like this and since we haven’t talked to Dave or Beau about the car yet (they’re just a little busy at the moment), we haven’t gotten the full list of contributors. But we hope they win the Ridler this year, if for no other reason than to prove that the generation preparing itself to take over the old-guy slot in car culture hasn’t forgotten what got it interested in this stuff in the first place – which never included A/C, tilt wheels, radials or TPI motors. A boy can only hope.