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Custom car universe centers on Fresno again

SUBMITTED PHOTO
Tom Stephens will show  ‘Vendetta,'  at this weekend's 51rst Fresno Autorama, to be held Friday through Sunday at the Fresno Convention Center's New Exhibit Hall. Vendetta is a creamy butterscotch orange 1948 Ford Pickup that was judged the World's Best Radical Pickup earlier this year at the Grand National Roadster Show.
SUBMITTED PHOTO Tom Stephens will show ‘Vendetta,' at this weekend's 51rst Fresno Autorama, to be held Friday through Sunday at the Fresno Convention Center's New Exhibit Hall. Vendetta is a creamy butterscotch orange 1948 Ford Pickup that was judged the World's Best Radical Pickup earlier this year at the Grand National Roadster Show. Merced Sun-Star

FRESNO -- Close to 200 top-shelf custom cars and hot rods will be gleaming under the spotlights today through Sunday at the 51st Fresno Autorama.

Promoter Blackie Gejeian is drawing award-winning cars from throughout the nation for his annual spring event at the downtown Fresno Convention Center.

Many thought last year's 50th anniversary blowout show might be Gejeian's last. But Gejeian, 84, isn't ready to quit despite numerous health issues. He has worn out three replacement hips and at least two pacemakers but still relishes preparing for his Fresno show.

"I got more nuts and bolts holding me together than a hardware store, but I've got too much to do to sit still now," Gejeian said. "We've got brand-new cars coming that haven't been seen anywhere. Top cars! Unbelievable cars!"

The Fresno Autorama follows January's Grand National Roadster Show in Southern California and the Detroit and Sacramento autoramas, all national-caliber events that merit extensive coverage throughout the year in the enthusiast press. Vehicles that debuted at the SEMA industry trade show last November in Las Vegas also get an invite to Gejeian's event.

If he doesn't invite you, you don't show your car in Fresno.

"People want to see something they haven't seen before, so I like to surprise them. Everyone thought I was done last year but wait until they see what we've got coming this time. I've got some eye-popping stuff coming," Gejeian said.

Gejeian said cars are coming from Indiana, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Arkansas, other states, the West Coast and throughout California. To cater to today's diverse tastes, the autorama also will feature hot-rodded barstools, wild pedal cars, a blown-hydro speedboat, radical motorcycles and a special category for shop trucks -- pickups that may be too fancy now just to haul auto parts.

Tom Stephens has entered "Vendetta," an orange 1948 Ford pickup that won four major awards when it debuted at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona. It took four years to build and has more than 100 major body modifications, including a 1937 LaSalle grille and 1937 Packard side panels.

"The craftsmanship on this truck is insane; it's just out of this world," Gejeian said. "This is one of the top trucks built anywhere recently."

Another attention-getter is sure to be "Slow Burn," a 1936 Auburn Speedster built for Metallica guitarist James Hetfield by show car builder Rick Dore of Arizona. The 2010 winner of the America's Most Beautiful Roadster award given out in Southern California, a 1933 Ford roadster called "Possessed" also is featured.

The Fresno Autorama often includes vehicles from Merced County builders but Gejeian and spokesman Eric Coyne were unaware of any local entrants this time. There will be vendors selling custom automotive products, as well as food and beverages.

The autorama, in the convention center's new Exhibit Hall, runs from 1 to 10 p.m. today, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $18, with seniors admitted for $16 and $8 for children 6-12 years of age. Children under age 6 are admitted free.

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