2012 Autorama: 1955 Ford Thunderbird Wins Ridler Award

Among the automotive elite, Detroit’s Cobo Hall is well-known as the home of the North American International Auto Show, one of the premier events on the annual auto show circuit. Yet perhaps only the true Auto Savant realizes that, each year, a little more than a month after NAIAS, Cobo is the site of a similarly world-class automotive exhibition that holds the same position in its part of the universe that the other Detroit auto show maintains for the new-vehicle industry. I’m writing, of course, about Autorama, the long-running hot-rod fest that’s now in its 60th year and wrapped up this past weekend.

Now, I know there’s some snobbism about custom shows, and yes, there is a markedly different ambiance at Autorama as compared to NAIAS. I can tell you, though, there’s certainly no less passion about the cars. Autorama even has its version of the North American Car of the Year prize: The Ridler Award.

The honor is named after Don Ridler, an early promoter of the event who died suddenly in 1963; it goes to the vehicle making its public debut at Autorama while also excelling in terms of creativity, engineering and workmanship. This year, the 49th Ridler Award went to a stunning 1955 Ford Thunderbird owned by Dwayne Peace of Tyler, Tex., and created by a team that included the Torq’d Design Lab (under the direction of Dwayne’s son Jonathan Peace); Greening Auto, located in Nashville; and Paul Atkins Interiors, of Hanceville, Ala.; and Advanced Plating, also in Nashville.

This was without a doubt one of the most sophisticated-looking customs I’ve ever seen, as even though just about every piece of the car was massaged in some way or another, the individual changes themselves were fairly subtle. As a result, the T-Bird doesn’t look like a “typical” hot rod, but instead reminded me of a factory-built concept car that might have graced NAIAS in the early 1960s. The interior was particularly striking, with a clean, minimalist vibe, setoff by excellently executed brightwork, and it perfectly complemented the car’s uncluttered exterior. And speaking of exteriors, my photos really can’t capture how incredible the paint job was. The gleaming red created a nearly hypnotic effect, so that if you stared at it too long you felt as if you were falling into a deep deep pool of maraschino cherries.

Of course, regardless of what the Thunderbird looked like, it definitely had a hot-rod’s engine. On the one hand, in an appropriate example of synchronicity, the powerplant here takes a page from the current Ford playbook by relying on a twin-turbo setup like today’s EcoBoost engines. On the other hand? There’s definitely more “boost” than “eco” going on, as the folks at Gale Banks Engineering have squeezed 1,150 hp out of the Thunderbird’s 6.0-liter V8.

There were hundreds of other cars, trucks and motorcycles on display as well, so be sure to check out the gallery for more pics!

1.-5.     Some photos of the Ridler-winning Thunderbird.

6.         A glistening blue 1933 Ford Tudor with the requisite flame accents.

7.         An exceedingly rare 1934 Hupmobile Cabriolet that wouldn’t have been (too far) out of place at a Concours event.

8.         There were plenty of 1932 Fords, but this was one of the nicest.

9.         Here’s a 1933 Ford with an interesting take on the Buick porthole theme.

10.       This 1953 Chevy pickup was a Ridler finalist.

11.       Just indulging my weakness for lowriders … check out those wheels!

12.       This 1934 Ford got the polished-metal treatment and really stood out.

13.       Another Chevy pickup, from one of our local tuning shops.

14.       The Roswell Rod, an homage to the legendary Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, an early icon of custom-car culture and the artist behind the inimitable “Rat Fink” character.

15.       The “Imperial Speedster” was developed from a 1959 Chrysler Imperial as a sort of personal concept car.

16.       And here’s an actual 1959 Imperial.

17.       Originally a 2008 SEMA project to promote BASF paint, this 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL is still making the rounds—and I still love it!

18.       The third generation Corvette is by far my favorite; it’s hard to believe this came from Chevrolet.

19.       Another rarity: An Olds Cutlass 442 W-30, packing a 455-cubic-inch V8 that originally made 300 hp and 410 lb.-ft. of torque.

20.       Living up to its name, this is a 1954 Buick Special.

21.       All the way from British Columbia, this 1967 Ford Shelby GT500 was a Ridler finalist.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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  1. I was at the 2012 Ridler as a spectator. The red 55 T-Bird owned by Dwayne Peace was truly a beautiful car. I however believe that the car had a 6 litre GM engine in it with a L40E GM transmission although I couldn’t see that stated anywhere and to look at the engine it certainly looked like the headers were coming off a Chevy head. If it is true why hasn’t anybody in the media mentioned it or are they afraid it would upset to many Ford purests?
    I am not a true purest but I think the 67 Mustang Shelby that was in the Great 8 is a better car over all than the T-Bird and it even had a Ford engine in it. Could the reason be the Mustang owner didn’t have as many car show product sponsors work on his car as the T-Bird owner did or is it maybe the Mustang owner was from Canada?
    I hope someone can convince me a Ford engine was in the T-Bird as I am willing to eat crow for my observation.
    The 2012 Detroit Autorama was a great show and Dwayne Peace does deserve congratulations.
    Now it’s off to Chicago to the 50th anniversary of The World Of Wheels.

    Dennis O’Connor

  2. Dennis:

    I ed Matt Peace about the engine, and here’s what he wrote:

    “The motor is actually a 1 of 6 limited edition motors built by Banks Engineering. It is a Dart block that is based on the LS design but is completely one off. We started with the already show ready motor and stripped it down. The block and heads were de-burred and smoothed then painted a matte charcoal finish, and the chrome pulleys were re-chromed. We had to change the entire intake system and build custom headers in order to keep everything under the hood. Most of the plumbing is hidden and routed through the wheel wells via custom sheetmetal piping, and also through the firewall into the back of the custom intake box. Twin intercoolers are hidden inside of each front fender right behind the wheel. We wanted to keep the engine bay as free from clutter as possible (unlike most twin-turbo setups) and also leave people wondering how it works.”

    It sounds pretty cool, huh?

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