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2023 Grand National Roadster Show Mega Photo Gallery | Hot rod heaven


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POMONA, Calif. — From an outsider's perspective, it would be easy to assume that the Grand National Roadster Show has always been a Southern California institution. After all, it celebrates the diverse postwar car culture of the region — hot rods, lead sleds, lowriders, and more. However, the show had its roots in NorCal in 1950 when Al Slonaker and his hot rod club showed their custom cars at the Oakland Expo.

The GNRS moved to Pomona, California, in 2004. By then it had grown exponentially and seen about a dozen more car customization trends come and go. However, the show and its centerpiece award, the America's Most Beautiful Roadster prize, celebrate what is perhaps the first of those trends: the American hot rod in its purest form.

Today, in its 73rd year, the GNRS is the oldest indoor car show in America. Annually it welcomes 500-800 cars, gathered into special themes like Tri-Five Chevys or Volkswagen Bugs. At this year's show, which was last weekend, a special hall was dedicated to pickup trucks built between 1948-98, including mini-trucks, groovy camper bed conversions, and resto-mods.

However, of all the vehicles presented, only nine are eligible for the America's Most Beautiful Roadster award. Winners get their names engraved on a 9-foot-tall perpetual trophy that was, according to The Ultimate Hot Rod Dictionary, the largest in the world when it debuted in 1950. Slonaker chose the word "roadster" initially because "hot rod" bore slightly negative outlaw connotations in 1950. Only American cars built before 1937 of certain body styles — roadsters, roadster pickups, phaetons, touring cars — are eligible, and they cannot have roll-down side windows.  Cars in the running for the cup cannot have been shown anywhere else before their debut at the GNRS.

Contestants for this accolade essentially build their cars to the a platonic ideal of a hot rod. This year the honors went to Jack Chisenhall of San Antonio, Texas, for his "Champ Deuce," a 1932 Ford Roadster. It's exactly what you picture when you think of a hot rod, but distilled to its absolute essence.

Other standouts included "Green Eyes," a two-tone green 1959 Chevy El Camino  with a heavily metal-flaked bed, "Blue Monday," a 1964 Buick Riviera lowrider, and a personal favorite, "Purple Reign," a purple and black 1951 Mercury.

Cars may have started out as tools, but there aren't shows like this filled with custom refrigerators. The sheer diversity of styles seen at the GNRS served as a reminder of how varied and beautiful car culture can be.

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