Tri-five Chevies may be a staple at cars shows and cruise-ins, but there hasn’t been one in the running for the Ridler Award since 1965. That changed last weekend, when Imagine, a 1957 Chevrolet One-Fifty owned by Greg and Judy Hrehovcsik and Johnny Martin, founder and owner of Johnny’s Auto Trim & Rod Shop and the car’s builder, beat out an impressively diverse array of Great 8 finalist to take this year’s Ridler Award at the 2018 Detroit Autorama.
The Ridler Award, which may or may not have been used as a beer mug by this year’s winners.
Named for Don Ridler, the promoter who put the Detroit Autorama on the national car show map, the Ridler Award has been presented annually since 1964, the year after his untimely death. The award “emphasizes creativity, engineering and quality workmanship,” and to qualify, a vehicle must be making its public debut at the Detroit Autorama (though it is allowed limited prior media exposure, if shown in part only). Additionally, any contender must be “minimally operable,” able to start, stop, drive in forward and reverse, turn in both directions stop using a brake pedal. In 2018, car care company Meguiar’s signed on as the award’s primary sponsor, with company founder Barry Meguiar on hand to present the Ridler Trophy.
According to Hot Rod, the creation of Imagine was a 10-plus-year project that began with a conceptual sketch from designer Jason Rushforth. Since then, the car has gone through several stages of its metamorphosis, though it was Martin’s Alamosa, Colorado, shop that finished the build unveiled in Detroit. In addition to being chopped and channeled (three inches in both categories), the Chevy was sectioned in front and rear, and the roof shape was altered to give more of an aerodynamic sweep – and to accommodate a windshield and rear window with considerably more rake than the original design.
Power comes from a Chevy V-8, but it isn’t a typical small-block crate engine. Instead, a 515-cu.in. big block – force fed by a pair of turbochargers – sends torque through a modified Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 transmission to a Corvette differential, and, ultimately, to custom-manufactured 19-inch rear wheels that match the one-off, 21-inch front wheels. On pump gas, the engine reportedly produces over 1,000 horsepower, and is capable of significantly more on race gas.
Inside, there isn’t much that resembles a Chevy One-Fifty. Leather-wrapped bucket seats, split by a leather-wrapped center console and surrounded by a leather-clad dash and door panels, weren’t a factory option for the bow-tie brand’s value leader, and neither was a custom three-gauge dash or billet steering wheel. Though the term understated may not apply, Imagine’s interior looks like an extremely comfortable and pleasant place to spend time.
With the exterior trim and badging shaved, the car may not be immediately recognizable as a ’57 Chevy, even with its retained tailfins and familiar front end. As is the case with many Ridler winners, it’s a polarizing design that’s bound to attract fans and critics alike, but for builder Martin the win is also a redemption, of sorts: In 2011, a 1962 Corvette built by his shop made it as far as the Great 8, but lost to Suncammer, a 1956 Ford Sunliner convertible owned by Bruce Ricks for the Ridler.
Other Pirelli Great 8 finalists included:
The 1939 Ford sedan delivery owned by Harold and Rhea Schrader of Franklin Hills, New Jersey.
The 1934 Ford pickup owned by Danielle Lutz of Hamlin, Pennsylvania.
The 1967 Chevrolet Camaro owned by Chris and Greg Allen of Shelbyville, Delaware.
The 1936 Pontiac sedan owned by Robert Anderson of Savannah, Georgia.
The 1956 Continental Mk II owned by Chris Ryan of Ninety Six, South Carolina.
The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro owned by Stuart Adams of Mooresville, North Carolina.
The 1940 Ford Coupe owned by Reid Hotaling, also of Mooresville, North Carolina.