Doane Yawger: Trip to Sacramento Autorama is memorable

February 25, 2012 

Doane Yawger, Sun-Star reporter


Sometimes you just want to freeze-dry a day in your memory. Last Saturday was just such a day.

I got a chance to take a charter bus ride from Merced to the Sacramento Autorama with more than three dozen like-minded car enthusiasts.

For just over five hours there were easily more than a thousand vintage vehicles on display at the sprawling CalExpo grounds.

When you throw in about four hours of fellowship coming and going with auto buffs, it makes for a memorable experience. Doughnuts and door prizes didn't hurt either.

The Sacramento Autorama has the reputation of being one of the best custom car shows on the West Coast.

Customizing trends understandably are in a constant state of flux, but I'd have to say many of the modified vehicles I saw were exercises in subtlety.

Some of the design extremes we've witnessed over the years weren't obvious at the Autorama. There were plenty of cars and trucks that were totally stock, maybe with some hidden mechanical upgrades.

Furthermore, many cars I spotted fall into the daily driver category, not non-functional show queens. Sure, they're generally gleaming and shiny but a few rock chips and faded chrome show up as well.

Several buildings showcased cars and trucks that are in progress. They're better than rat rods but still need some finishing touches.

So what was there to see? Ten Chrysler Imperials from 1959-1968 showed off their factory opulence; another eight Studebakers from the 1950s and 1960s exuded their natural charm. A row of Corvettes beckoned to sports car lovers.

A 1938 Graham four-door phantom cabriolet had fender skirts on all four wheels and the marque's distinctive shark-nose grille. A jet-black 1960 Cadillac convertible hugged the ground and had a painted grille adorned with little spikes, looking like Darth Vader on wheels.

Showgoers had to notice a gray 1963 Lincoln Continental four-door with modern wheels and tires. A 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop looked better than when it left the factory and a blue and white 1958 Ford Skyliner showed off its retractable hardtop and washtub-sized trunk space to put your luggage.

I was drawn to a 1929 Ford highboy roadster painted black with orange scallops, a checkered firewall, narrowed 1932 Ford grille shell, whitewall tires and salt-flat disc wheels. Next to it was another fenderless Model A in black with red-orange flames.

A large crowd was gathered around a candy-apple red 1963 Cadillac convertible with leopard skin upholstery, ghost graphics, a bar grille and Bellflower-style exhaust tips. Outside, a 1959 Ford two-door hardtop was painted in stock-looking salmon and white colors.

Several Mercedians were present at the Autorama.

Andrew Marshall had his mint green and white 1958 Edsel hardtop there. Rick Sapien had a 1954 Chevrolet four-door; William Avery had another 1954 Chevy, in flat black with a metallic blue roof and white tuck-and-roll upholstery.

A 1938 Ford two-door had sparkling Daytona sunburst orange hues. Called the "Yard Sale Special," an open top roadster had a 1927 Chevy frame, 1924 Studebaker body, Nash radiator and Model A Ford engine, all cloaked in flat black paint.

Called the "Moonshine Special," a 1950 Dodge business coupe, a single-seater, had cream-colored paint with metallic gold flames. A 1963 Ford custom convertible was covered with graphic scallops.

My eyes also were drawn to a 1953 Hudson two-door hardtop with a chopped top, remaining in bare metal. A 1955 Chevy pickup had original dark green paint with a vintage Cushman motor scooter sitting in the bed.

Another prevalent trend seen at the Autorama involves cars with dull or barely-shiny body panels but elaborately decorated roofs. Many of these cars have metal-flake painted roofs with intricate graphic panels on top.

For full custom aficionados, a 1951 Mercury two-door hardtop had the traditional touches; a custom 1955 Thunderbird roadster had rolled pans front and rear, with taillights from a Mercury of that same era.

Back on the bus, about a half-dozen of us compared notes on what we had seen. Sharing experiences added to the glow that should remain in my memory banks for years to come.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service