• Ridler Award
  • Detroit AutoramaThe Ridler Award


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

Sponsored by Chevrolet Performance

*** 2016 Ridler Award Winner!!! ***

Billy Thomas – Georgetown, TX – 1939 Oldsmobile Convertible

“1939 Olds’ vert”

2016 Detroit Autorama Ridler Awarded to a 1939 Oldsmobile

Written by Brian Brennan from Street Rodder Magazine on February 28, 2016

It’s that time within the show when all of us are anxiously waiting to hear that final announcement as to who will take home the Don Ridler Memorial Award. The winner now becomes part of a long tradition wrapped within the fabric of history to have their name engraved on the larger trophy, take home their own trophy, a custom-made embroidered jacket, a check for $10,000, all presented by Chevrolet Performance along with a lifetime of stories and memories.

The 2016 Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts is history for another year but the basking in the sunlight of having won the Ridler is just beginning for Billy Thomas of Georgetown, Texas. His immaculate 1939 Oldsmobile convertible has been a longtime in the making and under the watchful eyes and comforting hands of Harold Chapman and his crew at Customs & Hot Rods of Anice located just north of Austin, near Georgetown, Texas.

While it’s called a 1939 Olds ‘vert the fact remains that the body is a handbuilt piece of art where styling cues where taken from a ’39 Olds ‘vert Model 60. The body rests comfortable on an Art Morrison Enterprise (Fife, WA) chassis. The one-off wheels are wrapped with Pirelli rubber while the suspension founded within a RideTech system. From here this one-off sheetmetal hot rod is painted in a custom blend from PPG named Kona Brown and sprayed over the massaged bodywork aptly handled by the painting master himself Charley Hutton Color Studio out of Boise, Idaho.

Power for this ‘vert comes by way of a Joe Mondello prepped 455-inch Olds, appropriately enough, that features a Wilson Racing one-off intake topped with Don Cherry EFI and valve covers. Backed up to the Olds V-8 is a Bowler Performance Transmission.

​Others involved in this truly unique hot rod are Classic Instruments for the one-off gauges, Sherm’s Custom Plating and Jon Wright’s Custom Chrome Plating for all of the chrome and polished stainless steel, Triple T Machining, Dan’s Driveline, Clay Cook, The Car Shop, Rolling Oaks Glass & Doors, Greening Auto Company, and Not Stock Photography who handled the pair of build books.

There are plenty of images in this photo gallery to give you a good sense of what this car looks like and the immense amount of detail associated with it. For sure stay tuned as there will be more coming on this car in the near future.



About Don Ridler

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.


Detroit Autorama Ridler AwardDon Ridler was the first professional promoter hired by the MHRA 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 fifty plus years, the award has evolved to better conform to new ideas, changing designs and concepts. Today it emphasizes creativity, engineering and quality workmanship. Anyone building a vehicle for Ridler competition should post these words on their garage wall. The vehicle that best represents those three areas will win the Ridler Award.

In addition to those 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 (or any unique part of the entry, i.e. frame, engine or body) at any indoor or outdoor show will make it ineligible for contention. Please feel free to contact us with questions about eligibility.

Realizing that car owners and builders may need some form of exposure to develop interest or to obtain sponsorships, vehicles contending for the Ridler Award may have limited media exposure prior to competing for the award at the Detroit Autorama. This limited exposure is defined as: magazine photos or video depicting the building process, but only revealing individual components such as engine, chassis, body panels or interior. Photos, artist renderings or videos showing the vehicle in a completed state or in finish color are not allowed, and will result in disqualification. All decisions concerning prior exposure and eligibility for the Ridler Award will be determined by the Michigan Hot Rod Association and Championship Auto Shows, Inc.

The vehicle must prove to be minimally operable. It must start, stop, 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 at a state that they can be evaluated fairly. The Pirelli Tire Great 8 Finalists are announced 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 Great 8 Ridler Contenders’ meeting 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.

Chevrolet Performance sponsors the Ridler Award, the most prestigious award in the indoor custom car show industry, and presents the Ridler Award winner with a cash prize of $10,000 at each year’s Detroit Autorama.

Click Here to Purchase Tickets for the 2014 Ridler's BallThe talented artists and craftsmen that build Ridler contenders strive for perfection. Chevrolet Performance’s mission is to be recognized as the leader in the image, performance vehicle, and powertrain arena. With this passion in common, it was natural that in 2010, Chevrolet Performance became the sponsor of the indoor custom car show industry’s most prestigious award, The Ridler Award. The one-of-a-kind trophy, cash prize and jacket proudly carries the Chevrolet Performance logo. The winner will carry the title of “Ridler Winner” for the year, along with a cash prize of $10,000, special jacket, special accolades in the lobby of Cobo Center and the winning car will be featured on all 1st place trophies the following year. The winning builder will receive a 1/3 scale Ridler trophy.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call (586) 771-7110 between the hours of 9am-5pm EST or email michhotrod@aol.com.

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.

Winner Archive

These creative minds and craftsman are past recipients of the Ridler Award. Those appearing with asterisks are deceased.

2010’s | 2000’s | 1990’s | 1980’s | 1970’s | 1960’s

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