The Great 8 & Don Ridler Memorial Award Recipients

By Eric Geisert   –   Photography By the Author & Barry Kluczyk

One of the most iconic awards in the automotive world is the Don Ridler Memorial Award, which is offered to the winner of the Great 8 competition at the annual Detroit Autorama. This year, the 71st presentation of the show had an impressive list of competitors. The Great 8 is as good as we have seen in years, making the competition much more difficult to win. Along with the prestigious award represented by a distinctive trophy, there is a check worthy of $10,000 for the winner to accompany the highly sought-after jacket and other goodies.

There is more to the Detroit Autorama than the Great 8 and Ridler competition, but clearly everyone knows this is the pinnacle. While there is much, much more to see, all those who visit the show take the time to review these amazing examples of hot rodding.

The Great 8

The Detroit Autorama’s Great 8, presented by BASF, are the eight vehicles selected from the dozens of entries car owners send into the show who believe their ride has got what it takes to win the Ridler.

A team of judges, whose only responsibility is to pick the Ridler, sifts out the great cars from the good ones and creates the base of eight from which the Ridler will be picked.

By all accounts, the quality of vehicles was “up” this year, and we can’t argue that point. Everybody had their work cut out for them, and the winner was picked on Sunday evening.

The builder of this ’68 Mercury Cougar Fastback, J.F. Launier of JF Kustoms, has won five Great 8 Builder trophies (one of which led him to winning a Ridler trophy in 2014). Mercury never built a Fastback Cougar, but JF Kustoms did for owner Kevin Mindel by adding wider handmade quarter-panels and a new roof, a centralized chassis spine, an injected Kaase Boss 529, a set of Curtis speed wheels, and an updated interior that looks contemporary but with nostalgic touches.
03 1967 cadillac el dorado cream colored on display at detroit autorama
David Blattner had many folks scratching their heads trying to figure out his ’67 Cadillac Eldorado, nicknamed the “Vanilla Gorilla.” Mike’s Auto Restoration in Long Lake, MN, shorted the Eldo almost 3 feet and from different areas (the nose, cowl, and rear quarters), so the proportions were not out of whack. After dialing in a new chassis, fabbing the needed metalwork, and adding a supercharged LT4, Blattner was ready for the Ridler.
04 1959 chrysler 1000x dull green color on display at detroit autorama
You might not expect a Chrysler 300E to be in the Ridler competition, but that may change after seeing Randy Kohltfarber’s ’59 Chrysler 1000X. It’s said there are only 118 300Es still in existence (only 522 were produced). Still, after 8,000 hours recorded at American Legends Hotrods & Musclecars in Phoenix (1.5-inch wedge chop, one-piece window trim, seams removed, 3-D printed parts, Glasurit paint from James Evans, and interior by Patrick Goodwin) the beast received a Great 8 trophy.
05 white 1956 chevy bel air on display at detroit autorama
Glen Talsma’s ’56 Bel Air was an ultraclean example of understated hot rod building. Little modifications are abundant but are not immediately noticeable, such as the tucked and narrowed bumpers, shaved emblems (but peaks added on the hood and trunk), and a custom front grille. And, of course, the 6.0L LS speaks for itself.
06 red 1959 corvette on display at detroit autorama
Lots going on with Steve Sheats’ ’59 Corvette even though you may not notice the widened rear quarters or the carbon-fiber used inside. Tru-Color Customs did the build, which included a 427 LS7 with a carbon-fiber cross ram intake that is good for 700 hp. The Vette is on an Art Morrison chassis and rolls on 10-spoke Schott wheels. Paint (a custom PPG mix) was also handled at Tru-Color.
07 1951 coupe rootbeer brown ls motor on display at detroit autorama
Henry J never made a pickup, but that didn’t stop owner Joe Faso or builders Lakeside Rods & Rides and Revision Rod & Rides from building one out of a ’51 coupe. On a Roadster Shop chassis with a wheelbase stretched 4 inches, the front fenders were lengthened 4 inches, the roof chopped, and hand built quarter-panels, tailgate, and bed were fabbed. Glasurit paint is on the exterior and an LS motor is under the pancaked hood.
08 bright blue 1963 impala on display at detroit autorama
Mike Garner’s “Good Vibrations” ’63 Impala was built at Pro Comp Custom in Pennsylvania—the shop that created the last two Ridler winners. The body received a host of mods and fabricated parts, including an air scoop inside the front bumper, a new grille, a reshaped core support, and a highly detailed undercarriage. A 409 powerplant bolted to a Richmond five-speed gives the Impala its go.

The Don Ridler Memorial Award Winner

When Dave Maxwell approached Dave Kindig of Kindig It Kustoms in Salt Lake City to build a serious Ridler contender for him, Kindig was already well involved with his own CF1 vehicles—the reimagining of the ’53 Corvette—except made entirely of carbon fiber with an updated chassis, drivetrain, and interior.

But the idea of taking those cars a few steps further soon developed into the “TwelveAir” project—a hand built, all-aluminum body based on the ’53 Motorama Corvette Corvair design (with its Euro-inspired fastback roofline). Oh, and then outfit it with a new type of LS-based V-12 engine to boot!

The project was kept under wraps for five years during its construction, which started with creating a station buck out of CNC steel to form the body. The outer skin was shaped from 3003 aluminum, and an inner structure of 6061 was used to give it a strong base to mount it.

The Australian company Race Cast Engineering developed their V-12 by using two aluminum LS V-8 blocks, cutting them down, and welding them up to create a 12-cylinder engine. They also developed the rest of the needed parts for a 9.2L (561 cid) beast that sends its power to a C7 8L90E transaxle.

The windshield and backlite are made of polycarbonate (think fighter jet) and feature a widow’s peak indentation at the middle top that flows down the center of a double-bubble roofline. Each corner utilizes Wilwood Aero disc brakes and EVOD wheels (21×12 and 20×8) wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4s rubber (345/25R21 and 345/30R20).

JS Custom Interiors stretched sienna-colored leather over a 3-D–printed dash, console, and interior inserts. What looks like luggage behind the rear seating is covers for the transverse horizontal coilover and pushrod independent suspension system. Congrats to Dave Maxwell and the Kindig It Design crew on winning the 2024 Don Ridler Memorial Award. MR

09 red 1953 motorama corvette corvair twelveair detroit autorama ridler winner
The 2024 Ridler winner is the amazing, one-of-a-kind representation of a ’53 Corvette masterfully built at Kindig It Design for owner Dave Maxwell.

10 red 1953 motorama corvette corvair twelveair detroit autorama ridler winner 11 red 1953 motorama corvette corvair twelveair detroit autorama ridler winner 12 red 1953 motorama corvette corvair view from above twelveair detroit autorama ridler winner 13 red 1953 motorama corvette corvair engine twelveair detroit autorama ridler winner 14 red 1953 motorama corvette corvair interior twelveair detroit autorama ridler winner 15 red 1953 motorama corvette corvair steering wheel twelveair detroit autorama ridler winner

16 yellow 1961 olds 88 trophy winner on display at the detroit autorama
Joe Siclari’s ’61 Olds 88 was a trophy-winner in the Autorama Extreme display and gives off an undeniable Larry Watson vibe with its distinctive paint scheme, whitewalls, and chrome reverse wheels.
17 black and gray c10 on display at the detroit autorama
We didn’t catch the owner’s name on this slammed C10, but its stance was spot-on. The chrome 20-inch U.S. Mags wheels filled out the fenders nicely. The black-and-silver paint scheme ensures it will look contemporary for years to come, too.
18 black 1934 ford three window on display at the detroit autorama
Steve McCann’s traditional-looking ’34 Ford three-window has a steel body on the boxed original frame, with additional crossmembers and the front axle from a V8-60. Rather than a Flathead, there’s an authentic Holman-Moody–built NASCAR Boss 429 engine, backed by a Top Loader four-speed. The Halibrand-look wheels are one-offs, too.
19 red 1950 ford club coupe on display at the detroit autorama
Gene and Joyce Dickinson’s oh-so-red ’50 Ford Club Coupe does more with less. The smoothed and de-chromed body incorporates a Pontiac grille insert that looks like it was installed in Dearborn, Michigan. Underhood is a ’70 Olds engine that’s matched with a 200-4R automatic transmission for overdrive cruising on the highway.
20 white 1957 chevy cameo carrier on display at the detroit autorama
Tennessee-based hot rod builder Jason Graham brought this super-smooth and supercharged LT5-powered ’57 Chevy Cameo Carrier to Detroit. It’s stunning in its subtlety and attention to detail, with arrow-straight sheetmetal, a great stance, and custom Schott wheels that fill out the big fender openings perfectly.
21 black 1930 model a pickup on display at the detroit autorama
Built by Brothers Custom Automotive for Jeanne and Carl Booth, this ’30 Model A pickup cleverly blends traditional style and contemporary powertrain elements. The Olds Rocket V-8 engine is topped with a modern reproduction of the S.Co.T. supercharger, and what looks like a quartet of Carter carbs actually conceals an EFI system. The transmission is a TREMEC five-speed, too, because the Booths were adamant about overdrive for long-distance drives.
22 yellow and black 1931 ford coupe on display at the detroit autorama
This customized and Chevy-powered ’31 Ford coupe, shown by Rick Mileman, was a former show winner and appeared in a ’65 issue of Car Craft.
23 black 1965 dodge coronet on display at the detroit autorama
Greg O’Connell’s ’65 Dodge Coronet has a vintage look backed up with modern tech, including electronically controlled fuel injection that draws air through the classic-looking velocity stacks. The system is mounted on a 588-inch Hemi that’s linked to a TorqueFlite with a reverse-pattern manual valvebody. There’s also a DTS-built Dana 60 with 4.10 gears and lots more.
24 black 1961 ford galaxie on display at the detroit autorama
Built by Wes Adkins and owned by Marc and Erica Craver, this ’61 Ford Galaxie was another subtle yet strong-appearing modern rod with vintage cues mixed with contemporary technology. The engine is a 427 side-oiler with a Borla eight-stock EFI system, backed by a TREMEC TKO five-speed. It also wears Schott 18- and 20-inch wheels.

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