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One Perfect Day: the Grand National Roadster Show

Published in blog.hemmings.com

The legendary Jim “Jake” Jacobs and his hot rod that changed everything at the Grand National Roadster show. Photos by author, unless otherwise noted.

It’s been a minute since the One Perfect Day crew was deployed, but better late than never, right? And we couldn’t think of a better excuse to get the band back together than the annual Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, California. We look forward to this show every January and, judging by the thermometers just about anywhere East of the Arizona border, a California Saturday in January just might be more One Perfect Day than we first thought…

The infamous “Grapevine,” heading south toward the L.A. basin. Who says it doesn’t snow in Southern California?

California is a big state. We say that, because even though the OPD crew is based in San Francisco — what’s considered “Northern California” — and Pomona’s Fairplex is in Southern California, way too many of our easterly friends seem to think the distance between the two is like a quick run down I-95 or a stop or two out the Ohio Turnpike.

“Hey, we’re gonna be in California next month — let’s get lunch!”

“Great! Where are you staying while you’re here?”

“San Diego!”

That’s like us flying into Charlotte, North Carolina, during Hershey car show week and telling our buddies on the show field to meet us at Midwood Smokehouse for ribs. Point is, when you fly into L.A. for the GNRS weekend, make it a two-week trip and come up and see us after the show. Lunch is on us.

A future GNRS winner on the road.

So, when we need to get to the Fairplex as quickly as possible, it’s a trip down I-5, right through California’s Central Valley, then southeast on “the 210” (as Southern Californians like to call out their freeways) right above San Fernando to Pomona. Do it right and you’ll likely see show entries being piggybacked into town on the Thursday before the show for load-in. Which is always fun to see…

Mikie, all the way from Gardena, California, under her already super-clean ’64 Impala. Socks only!

Second to Thursday, as far as fun, is Friday night at the Fairplex: it’s the first official day of the GNRS, but it’s also a great chance to take some pics for your Instagram, as well as catch glimpses of car owners and some of the most influential personalities of cardom. See, the Grand National Roadster Show was originally the Oakland Roadster Show. It’s only been moved to Pomona in the last 16 years, but it’s the longest running indoor car show in the U.S. This year is its 70th anniversary and it’s only gotten better. Make it to the bar at the Sheraton — the only hotel on the fairgrounds — and enjoy the friendly war between legendary hot-rod builders, Roy Brizio and Bobby Alloway, as they try to best each other by outfitting the bar staff in their own T-shirts and pieces of flare. Always fun.

Axle Idzardi’s Suede Palace at the GNRS. In 2019, it’s like a Gen-X reunion.

You’ll pay $12 to park through Gate 9 at the Fairplex, but it’s money well spent. Note the numbered light pole nearest to your car in the parking lot, get your show pass, walk through the tunnel, and emerge in a cluster of numbered buildings that are all designated by different themes. Building 10 is the Suede Palace and it’s the first building on your left. Alex “Axle” Idzardi has put together the Suede Palace show for years now and it never disappoints. Based on the the hot-rod and custom revival that was really a revolt against the pastel pro-parking-lot street-rod scene of the ’80s and ’90s, the annual collection Axle puts together is an accurate reflection of the latest trends in hot-rodding. All that to say there’s less “suede” and more candies, metalflakes, and finished paint, as the originators of this scene actually finished their cars. Contrary to popular belief, the original movement wasn’t dedicated to primer or rust or bolting junk to their cars, but just not waiting to drive, show, or generally enjoy them before they could afford paint. That was it. And now, they can afford paint. See how that works? Anyway, Axle rules it every year with his Suede Palace and we owe him a debt of gratitude for the effort.

The one and only Jim “Jake” Jacobs sits for 20 seconds with his game-changer ’28 Ford Model A tub.

Okay, allow us to contradict ourselves for a minute, here. Jim “Jake” Jacobs was in the Model A building with his legendary Jakelopy: the car that he drove out to a Goodguys car show in Pleasanton, California, in 1987, sat on the grass with a bucket of red paint and a few brushes and proceeded to make performance art that sparked the original — okay, we’ll say it — rat rod movement. Patient Zero, right there.

East Bay son, Rich Guasco, brought his 1961 AMBR-winning ’29 Ford Model A roadster to show the youngsters how it’s done.

One of the coolest underlying currents of the GNRS is the former America’s Most Beautiful Roadster winners showing up again, sometimes decades later. Rich Guasco, from Pleasanton, California, won the AMBR in 1961 with his purple roadster — and here it is, again! Rich is also the builder/owner of “Pure Hell”: one of the most famous Fuel Altered dragsters ever built, and he still rules hard. Bless his heart.

San Francisco’s Scotty Strebel brought the “Hoffman Roadster”: the Model A that changed the stance game in the ’70s.

 

Here’s a better example of the Hoffman Roadster’s stance: and those wires!

The Model A exhibit celebrated 90 years of the Ford that really became the workhorse of hot-rodding. “Yeah, but the Deuce,” you’ll say. But the Model A — coupe, roadster, phaeton, and truck — really did all the heavy lifting for the past 70 years. The Hoffman Roadster, built by “Fat Jack” Robinson for Chuck Hoffman in the ’70s, really set the standard for the stance of a full-fendered Model A roadster. The way he sat that full body over those Buick wires was genius. GENIUS.

The nailheaded, Fuller-chassis-ed Tony Nancy ’29 Model A roadster. Ross Meyers brought it back home, all the way from Boyertown, Pennsylvania.

 

Our own Neil O’Kane brought his restored ’29 Model A roadster down from Nor-Cal. Thing’s got a 301-cu.in. GMC six-cylinder and a Horning 12-port head topped by a Hilborn fuel-injection setup. Reet!

 

The RPU to end all RPUs: the one and only Ala Kart! Roy Brizio restored it for John Mumford years ago and the GNRS wouldn’t be the same without it.

 

The Eddie Dye ’29 Model A roadster was restored by Jimmy White’s Circle City Hot Rods for the 2018 GNRS and Tom Bobowski brought her out again from Point Pleasant, New Jersey, for this year’s Model A exhibit.

 

How cool is this? A blown Ardun behind a pair of E&Js in this ’31 Model A roadster. Brian George brought it down from Penryn, California.

 

Couldn’t NOT get a close-up shot of Brian George’s high-toned blown Ardun flathead. Too much is never enough.

 

Lucky Burton’s ’31 Model A, out of his Burbank, California, Lucky’s Hot Rods, is just a solid, classic flathead roadster. 1955, anyone?

 

Mickey’s Mouse! Art and Mickey Himsl built and painted some milestone hot rods over the years and Mickey’s ’29 Ford pickup is Northern California glory.

 

John Zick brought this wild ’30 Model A coupe down from the Wisconsin tundra to thaw in the Southern California sun. Wonder how those slicks do in snow?

 

The “Elvis car!” John Athan was one of the first to put a Model A roadster body on a pair of ’32 Ford frame rails in 1939. Elvis drove it in Loving You and that amount of cool cancels out that goofy windshield treatment. Love this thing.

 

One of the cars Dave Shuten brought out from the Galpin collection: so cool to see the Bill Likes ’29 Model A “Edelbrock Special” in person!

 

The Kenz and Leslie “Odd Rod” tribute: two flatheads, two mated Model A frames, a ’31 Ford truck cab, and some trick linkage to make it all work. Neat to see this recreation.

 

The Model A building at the 2019 Grand National Roadster Show. Did NOT disappoint, but almost too much to look at without just falling apart into a blubbering mess.

 

Mike Collman brought this killer Sixties-inspired ’31 Model A coupe down from Portland, Oregon. And got prime parking inside the front doors of the Suede Palace. Dig all that diamond-tuck and angel hair!

 

Too much Vern in one shot! Two of our favorite hot-rodders: Vern Tardel and Verne Hammond. A Nor-Cal and So-Cal summit, right there on the floor of the GNRS. We weep a little.

 

Richie Kreis snapped this shot of Roger Miret’s ’54 Chevy custom. We love this thing’s early Sixties aesthetic.

 

Another shot of Roger Miret’s ’54 Chevy custom. Fades, panels, and flames. It’s like another language, right?

 

Axle Idzardi awards Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret with his Best of Show. Axle has done more to support the hot-rod revival than almost anyone else we know. Dig that!

 

Nick Walterson’s crazy ’21 Ford C-Cab panel delivery was neat: a mixture of “Early Times,” dragster, and revival rod aesthetic.

 

Victor Galindo put the custom in his ’53 Ford Customline with this killer paint scheme…and that’s just the top of the long list of mods.

 

This is one of our favorite custom styles: lakes pipes, Astros, pinner whites, two-tone Pagan Gold, and laying frame. Part lowrider, part custom, all kewl…Jesse Martinez is doing something right in Murrieta, California.

 

Don’t know who belonged to this bitchin’ ’35 Ford coupe, but everything is right here. EVERYTHING, brother.

 

Okay, stop everything and just let the gravity of this shot by Dave Shuten sink in: hot-rod royal Jim “Jake” Jacobs escorting the legendary artist Robert Williams and his amazing wife–painter, Suzanne Williams, in Bob Reiser’s unrestored “Bathtub Rod.” The head spins…

 

There’s something at the GNRS for everyone. Exhibit A: A Mercedes-Benz sedan, in warm silver, laying frame on a set of whitewalls. We’d drive it.

 

This ’65 Riviera was outside in the sunlight and thank Jebus for that. Nothing worse than an indoor car show for photography, but this thing just punched a hole in the sky above it with that paint job. NEED.

 

Bud Millard brought out the Bill Cushenberry “Limelighter” ’58 Chevy custom. Where do you get a bucket of that color and a freeze-dried brick of metalflake? Asking for a friend.

 

This thing was oh-so cool. You have any idea what it takes to pull off a chop on a swept roof like that? Law of Averages says that about .002 percent of you actually do.

 

Mmmmmm…’flake, panels, lacing, fades, fogs, pinstripes, scrolling, and candies. Yes, please.

 

What does $37 get you for lunch at the Pomona Fairplex? A foot-long with grilled onions and peppers, of course! Law of supply and demand, kid: around Noon at the GNRS, you’re in demand. And there’s a hotdog trailer stocked with supply. You do the math.

 

Always good style at the GNRS. If tattoos surprise you, you’ve most likely just woken up from a 20-year nap. So, good morning. And welcome to 2019.

 

Not too many drag cars at a show with “roadster” in its name, but this ’63 Plymouth Belvedere altered had us just standing there, waiting for its owner to fire it. Never happened, dangit.

 

Always love seeing old friends: Famed striper and builder, Scratch, was manning his booth with regal aplomb. That’s right, we said APLOMB.

 

Got a Bronco? Got a set of wires? Got some blue and purple paint? Got a month of Sundays?

 

T-buckets have become cool again. Back in the ’70s, clubs like the Early Times, L.A. Roadsters, and others were the last ones to run these things before the fat-fendered street rods took over. Good to see a revival of these buckets.

 

Richard Casillas’ ’62 VW notchback is exactly what we love about the “Cal Bug” scene: lowered, Porsche wheels, German Chocolate paint, and a cambered stance. If you can’t dig it, you’re not ALIVE, man.

 

Tony and Justin Woods’ Thunderbird wagon tribute to George Barris was completely diggable: A set of Radirs and — what is that, a Vista Cruiser roof? All day long…

 

Did Amie and Teri Angelo drive this ’36 Ford three-window coupe to Pomona from Drummond, Montana? We’d like to think so…

 

John Dietrich’s Larry Watson Rose Mist aka Grapevine aka Heartless, back to Grapevine again ’51 Chevy custom.

 

Alex Gambino’s full custom Thunderbird really sums up everything that’s great about his San Jose shop. Alex really made a place for himself in the custom world with his “May Cause Dangerous” ’60 Ford Starliner a few years ago and he never disappoints.

 

Now, we interrupt this righteous photo thread for a good reason: You’re about to see a grip of shots of one particular car because, well, we’re biased. And loyal to our friends. Keith Tardel is a native California son who just happened to also grow up, the son of living hot-rod legend, Vern Tardel. A few years ago, Keith moved his own hot-rod shop, Rex Rod & Chassis, to Austin, Texas. Much as we hated to see him go (Keith — we still have your 460 out of your old Uncle Jesse F250!), his shop just exploded as soon as he hung the shingle. He took on a very special project with Jim Govro’s Deuce roadster and he made it the legendary Building 4 at GNRS with it this year. Great story, but start with a few shots of it, right here.

Now, this thing is cool: Keith Tardel’s Rex Rods in Austin, Texas, restored Jim Govro’s Deuce roadster, “Tweety” in time for the GNRS this year.

 

Keith Tardel told us that Jim Govro originally built this thing in his high school shop class back in, like, 1951. That’s a 331 Caddy mill, tucked between those fenders.

 

Here’s a shot of Keith Tardel’s Rex Rod shop in full Tweety-swing, by Rudy from the Dukes car club in Austin. Keith’s been invited to enter one of the grandest of all car shows in the world with Tweety Bird, so we’ll bring you that coverage in — ahem — August…

 

There’s ‘ol Jim Govro, rocking his AMBR contender jacket. Don’t look him straight in the eye. You’ll turn into a wee pile of red carpet scrubbins. Believe that.

 

Jim Govro’s “Tweety Bird” was the #13 entry to compete for the AMBR this year. We awarded it Grand Champion for Best Carpet. That’s a tough category to win, too.

 

A panoramic shot of Axle Idzardi’s Suede Palace at the Grand National Roadster Show. Feel the heat? You betcha…

 

Ray Enos brought this very kewl “East Coast stance” ’30 Model A roadster. That injected Ardun over blackwalled laced wheels combo just hits the spot, does it not?

 

C’mon…how cool is this batwinged Studebaker truck? That maroon and green-gold combination just makes it a the coolerest. Coolering? Coolzinga? Cooltastic?

At the end of a long day at the GNRS, two things become increasingly apparent: 1) it’s almost impossible to really see all the goodness piled up at the Fairplex and 2) you’re hungry. Now, you could do what everyone else does and head for the steakhouse at the Sheraton or the steakhouse in Pomona or the go to West Covina for steaks. Or, you could do something different. Stretch your surf-n-turf legs a little and head to neighboring Covina for the oddly-named GS Ethiopian Cuisine. If you’ve never had an Ethiopian meal, get ready: “western” utensils are replaced by rolls of injera bread – a fermented sourdough that is wildly addictive. And the entrees are combinations of grains, vegetables and meats. Nothing odd there, but they’re all cooked so that you can eat with your hands. It’s all as tasty as it is strange, the first time you try it. And here’s the secret at GS: if you ask, they’ll treat you to their own homemade honey wine. It ain’t on the menu, and it won’t be offered. But if you ask for it, you won’t be disappointed. Promise. Matter of fact, let us know that you’ll be in town for next year’s show and we’ll take you there for dinner. On us, of course.

On the way to dinner in nearby Covina, this Model T Touring was just patiently gurgling at a stop light, waiting to make a right on red. Probably heading to Walgreens for a bag of Red Vines.

 

GS Ethiopian Cuisine in Covina, California. Go ahead. Do something different after the car show. Dare you.

 

When was the last time you sat down to a great meal with rolls of injera bread as your only utensils? That’s what we thought.

 

Homemade honey wine at GS Ethiopian Cuisine in totally custom little glass drinking beakers. Very grrrrrr, baby…

 

Now, after dinner on the Saturday night of GNRS, it’s required that you head over to Bobby Walden’s Walden Speed Shop in Pomona. Bobby not only builds neat cars, but he’s developed his own signature 4-71 Roots-type blower with a ‘traditional’ v-pulley setup. Very cool. And speaking of cool, everyone you want to hang out with will be out there, doing exactly that. You wanna drink a beer with Robert Williams? Ask Cole Foster a question? Line up a bike project with brother Sinner, Rico Fodrey? Talk to the Hop Up guys? It’s all happening at Walden…

 

The Walden Speed Shop party: a must-do in Pomona, when doing GNRS.

 

This roadster was a great example of a late-Forties era build. All about the details and it’s amazing how many get those details wrong. This was not one of those.

 

Probably our favorite full-fendered Model A all weekend. Never found out who owned this thing, but we suddenly need it in our lives, once we saw it parked at Bobby Walden’s shop.

 

One of the things we love most about visiting hot rod shops are the hot rods being built at those shops. This is one such hot rod.

 

Like a family reunion: Cole “Salinas Boys” Foster and Rico “Father Fury” Fodrey at the Walden Speed Shop party. Good times with these two and proud to call them friends.

 

Some like bottle service and pool party cabanas and high-roller tables. We’d rather spend the same amount of money on horribly outdated speed parts that most people have never heard of.

 

There are few things in life as rewarding as doing the peace-out at a party in a channeled Model A coupe.

 

Ever end an epic car show weekend by looking back over your shoulder as you leave town, find your serenity-now in a lone custom parked on the street, take a quick pic, get in the rental and head toward the freeway with a smile on your face? Love that moment…

You can never take enough pictures or talk to enough people or get under enough cars and get enough ideas at the Grand National Roadster Show. And, you’ll notice that we didn’t talk at all about the class winners or the AMBR winner here. Figure you can find all that stuff with an easy Google search. But One Perfect Day is all about exactly that: from sun-up to sun-down, what to do and see at one of the last great legacy car shows still running continuously for generations. Car culture is alive and well, folks.