Thank you for your interest in the Ridler Award. This page briefly summarizes the man behind the award’s name, lists past winners and includes a general guideline for those interested in competing for the award.
The Detroit Autorama Ridler Award is Presented By
*** 2014 Ridler Award Winner!!! ***
J.F. Launier, Osoyoos, BC 1964 Buick Riviera
By David Hakim
Ask any custom car builder what their ultimate dream is and they’ll quickly answer – “to win the prestigious Detroit Autorama Chevrolet Performance Ridler Award”. For over 50 years, the Ridler award has represented the best of the best. It’s a defining moment to any car builder and if they’re fortunate to win the trophy, it will further launch their career to the stratosphere. It’s sort of like getting more street cred for already being in the trenches, or we should say, on the shop floor with torches and a welder. These builders are trying to create an over the top, one-off machine that will make the judges fall over backwards and unanimously vote for their car to be Ridler worthy.
For young JF Launier, his 1964 Buick Riviera was as original and ambitious as any Ridler winner in the award’s five-decade history. It has redefined the competition, forever altering the perception of what it takes to win the Ridler awards. To say JF Launier raised the bar would be an understatement. Future customizers will have to look beyond the ubiquitous ’32 Ford Coupe, 1955-57 Chevy’s or a 1969 Camaro to wow the crowds and get the judge’s attention. Appropriately named “Rivision”, it has made the hot rod and custom car community stand and take notice with its modifications, including a low-slung profile and stance, front fender vents and tight proportions. J.F. has clearly created a rolling masterpiece that is aggressive yet beautiful with exquisite attention to detail and functionality.
A Pirelli Great 8 finalist on multiple occasions, JF Launier knows better than most what it takes to win hot rodding’s top award. The bar is sky high and until a builder has been there, the fit and finish and attention to detail required at this level must be difficult to even imagine, let alone execute.
Having made it to the Pirelli Great 8 before, JF Launier understands it’s a very exclusive club that only a diligent few can be inducted into. With countless restless nights leading up to the 2014 Detroit Autorama, it was all or nothing with his newest creation based on a 1964 Buick Riviera.
“I competed for the Ridler many years ago but didn’t win. It didn’t discourage me from building another car. When I came time to build the Riviera, I knew in my head what I had to do better. I’ve been known for building really beautiful customs and have an eye and like to proportion cars differently than other builders,” said JF Launier.
Taking styling cues from General Motors’ early sixties concept designs along with the production 1963-67 Corvette Stingray and Buick Riviera, JF Launier had the insight to combine them into one. “What if the Buick engineers peaked over the wall and saw the Corvette guys with their split window and said, ‘Wow we really need a two seat sports coupe’,” said JF Launier.
“I knew I was not going to continue my career building 1950s cars. There’s not enough of a market and it’s for an older generation. If I want to make a living for the next 20 years, I had to build street machines. I wanted to do something different and as the Buick came together during the build process, it sort of morphed into to two-seat sports car,” said JF Launier.
So the build process on the 1964 Riviera began, and the team at JF Kustoms team shortened the car 18 inches, cutting it just behind the doorposts. Here is where they grafted a boat tail roof from a ’71 Riviera then chopped it 2½ inches and grafted it into place. JF Launier also accentuated the roofline’s spine.
Like old-school craftsmen, the team reshaped and hand-built the front fenders. Despite looking like production units, they’ve been dramatically reworked. The wheel arches were moved three inches forward and widened ¾” at the fender apex. This process was also repeated in the rear to give the car a slight “Coke bottle” look. Also, the vents in the front were added to extract hot air from the engine compartment, as the Twin-Turbo 6.2L Chevrolet LS V8 would generate massive amounts of underhood heat.
JF Launier also modified the hood by shortening it and then reversed the hinges similar to that of a Corvette. He rounded the corners and added a deep air scoop sculpted within the hood and beneath the front bumper and spoiler to allow hot air to exit from the radiator. Here, JF Launier also used a combination of materials including fiberglass and aluminum.
Like the front fenders, the rear quarter panels are also handmade and the rear is stretched to five inches for a sleeker look. The taillight housings for the 30 led lights were built in-house and JF Launier made the lenses in his wife’s oven. The trunk lid was has also been reshaped to with the overall theme of the design.
In building his Ridler winner, JF Launier modified every conceivable body panel, seam, fame rail and more. The attention to detail borders on the obsessive compulsive, even the vast array of nuts, bolts and screws face the same direction.
The entire undercarriage has been smoothed to perfection. There are also aerodynamic fins under the car’s apron to provide high-speed stability for when JF Launier gets bored with the show scene and hits the Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour.
When it came time to paint the Riviera, JF Launier, who had initially wanted the car to wear a school bus yellow color decided a change was in order. A yellow base from BASF was put down, and then a red russet pearl (again from BASF’s color palette) was sprayed over the top to give the car more depth and changes depending on the direction of the light. JF Launier has aptly named this one-off color “Rivieran Sunset Pearl”.
This Ridler winner won’t be a show poodle, as it’s powered by a modern Chevrolet LS 6.2-Liter V8 engine that’s pushing over 850 horsepower thanks in part to twin turbo chargers. The heavily breathed-on engine is connected to a Tremec six-speed manual transmission that sends the power to Pirelli P Zero tires sized 335/25/21 on the rear and 275/35/19s on the front. Rivision’s one off billet aluminum 13-spoke spindle mount units were made by Curtis Speed and measure 21” x 14” rear and 19”x 10” front.
To match the exterior, JF Launier paid just as much attention to the interior of Rivision with rich, chocolate brown leather seating surfaces, unique custom gauges, relocated firewall, integrated roll bar and machined pedals, vents and door handles. And even though the large intake pipe that feeds the turbos catches your eye at first glance at the interior, you’ll appreciate the love and the craftsmanship he and his team put into this important aspect of the build.
In this day and age, having a car builder who’s willing to finance a Ridler project winner is almost unheard of. But it also takes more than deep pockets; it takes passion, dedication and the understanding winning the coveted Ridler is not a guarantee, no matter how much money you throw at it.
“It took five years, 20,000 hours, blood, sweat, tears – lots of tears,” said JF Launier.
For JF Launier, it was worth every drop.
Don Ridler was a man with a very competitive spirit, excelling in athletics in high school and later at Michigan State University. His many achievements eventually landed him in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. After college, Don coached Lawrence Tech’s basketball team and served as Athletic Director in the 40’s. After games, Don would contract entertainment such as Tommy Dorsey and Glen Miller for dances. During this period, Don also produced the Michigan State Fair Grandstand shows and handled public relations for horse tracks in the Detroit area.
In the 1950’s, the producers of Autorama decided they needed promotional help to take the event to the next level, and turned to Don Ridler. With the help of Don’s creativity and professionalism, car enthusiasts flocked to the Coliseum at the Michigan State Fairgrounds to see some of the wildest hot rods that cruised the streets of the Motor City, and were entertained by acts such as Little Anthony and the Imperials and the Big Bopper.
Don Ridler passed away in 1963 at the age of 54. It was immediately decided that an award be created to honor his memory. Don’s forté had always been his creativity. Therefore, it was decided that the award would honor individuals who are equally creative in building cars. The award, geared to honor new creations, is only eligible to cars shown for the first time.
Don Ridler was the first professional promoter hired by the Michigan Hot Rod Association to assist them with the fledgling Autorama in the fifties. With Don’s creativity and professional approach in promoting, Autorama was able to grow tremendously, and eventually move to its present home at Cobo Center in 1961. In 1963, Autorama decided to honor Don Ridler, who had prematurely passed away, with an award given in his name.
Originally the award was given to the Best Vehicle shown for the first time. Over the last forty-nine years the award has evolved to better conform to new ideas, changing designs and concepts. Today it emphasizes creativity, engineering and workmanship. Anyone building a vehicle for Ridler competition should post these words on their garage wall. The vehicle that best represents these three areas will win the Ridler Award.
In addition to the above judging guidelines, there are a few hard and fast rules, with no exceptions.
The vehicle must make its first public showing at the Detroit Autorama. Showing the vehicle at any indoor or outdoor show or any unique part of the entry, i.e. frame, engine or body, will make it ineligible for the competition. Please feel free to contact us with any questions about eligibility.
Realizing that car owners and builders may need some form of exposure to develop interest or to gain sponsorship, vehicles contending for the Ridler Award may have limited exposure as follows: Magazines or video of the building process are allowed, only of individual components such as chassis only, engine only, body panels being built, but not assembled. Photos, internet, magazine, TV coverage or video of the entry in its completed form, with or without paint, interior or engine are not permitted. If the coverage of the entry gives the appearance of a total or completed car, painted or not, the vehicle entry will be disqualified from the Ridler Award competition. Additionally, no articles may be written about the build project; allowable coverage is limited to photos with captions only.
The vehicle must prove to be minimally operable. It must start, move forward and backward under its own power, turn left and right and stop using the brake pedal, before it can be placed on the floor for display. Keep in mind that these guidelines are minimum qualifiers. Operational functionality is something the judges will look at.
Once the final Ridler Contenders have been determined, the field will be narrowed to eight finalists, which will be referred to as the Pirelli Tire Great 8. Because of the number of entries contending, the process of elimination will begin on Thursday evening after move-in has been completed. Entries do not need to be 100% set-up, but should be to a state that they can be evaluated fairly. The Pirelli Tire Great 8 Finalists are notified Friday morning and introduced at the Ridler’s Ball on Friday evening.
If an entry is selected as a Pirelli Tire Great 8 Ridler Finalist, the car will not be eligible for any Autorama awards involving class judging and special awards. Each of the Pirelli Tire Great 8 will, however, receive a cash award of $1,000 paid on Friday evening at the Ridler’s Ball. Owners and builders should also keep in mind that they will be asked during the weekend to open and close their vehicle to be checked for fit and finish, and to make sure everything is operational.
There will be a Pirelli Tire Great 8 Ridler Contenders meeting Saturday evening for the builders and owners. This meeting is an opportunity to meet the other finalists, the judging staff and ask questions on how your car will be judged.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call (586) 771-7110 between the hours of 9am-5pm EST or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Detroit Autorama is one event produced annually by Championship Auto Shows, Inc., North America’s largest producer of indoor hot rod shows. The Detroit Autorama is hosted by the Michigan Hot Rod Association.
These creative minds and craftsman are past recipients of the Ridler Award. Those appearing with asterisks are deceased.