Friday, 23 February 2018 15:13

Autorama in Detroit, MI, Revs up Nostalgia, Historic Car Modifications, Restoration

Written by Gina Joseph, The Macomb Daily
Eric Lafata, co-owner of Lafata Auto Body in Roseville, works on a 1954 Ford F-100, one of nine vehicles Lafata’s team will show March 2--4 at the Detroit Autorama at Cobo Center. Eric Lafata, co-owner of Lafata Auto Body in Roseville, works on a 1954 Ford F-100, one of nine vehicles Lafata’s team will show March 2--4 at the Detroit Autorama at Cobo Center. GINA JOSEPH/Digital First Media

It’s hard to believe that what once was a pile of rusted parts left in an old barn in Tennessee will soon be one of the vehicles drawing a crowd at Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama, presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts at Cobo Center in Detroit, MI, March 2--4.

Then again, that’s how it goes at this show.


What was old becomes new.


What was blah becomes bling.


What was then becomes now, all through the imagination and talent of custom car refinishers and builders.


“It’s the biggest and most prestigious show of the year,” said Eric Lafata, owner of Lafata Auto Body in Roseville, which has nine vehicles in the show. He and his team, including his wife and co-owner of the shop, Sarah Lafata, Gerry Griffith of Eastpointe, Ken Hayosh of Warren, Dane Grzadzinski of Roseville and Dave and Steven Barrette of Warren, transformed the pile of old parts into a custom-designed 1954 Ford F100 pickup.


“We bought the truck a year ago,” Lafata said, before peeling back a plastic sheet to reveal the truck and its fancy paint job, which melds a classic-era candy finish with Ford’s modern blue. “He had it in the barn for 20 years and posted it on Craigslist. The fenders, the box, the motor---It was all in pieces. We redid the whole truck, top to bottom.”


He paid $8,000 for the heap. What he created from it is estimated to be worth $50,000.


“We’ve been doing this for 10 years,” Lafata said during an interview in the lobby of his shop, which is filled with Autorama trophies. Also displayed are news articles and photographs highlighting his work over the years, as well as the cars done by his late father, Joe Lafata.


Lafata and his wife started the auto body company, but he inherited his passion for the business from his dad, who was a car designer for Chrysler back when clay was used to carve out concepts for new vehicles.


“Just watching him in the garage, taking old parts and turning them into beauties like that,” Lafata said, pointing to a photo of a sports car hanging on the wall of pride. That’s what sparked his interest in the automotive industry.


The same is true of Bill Whetstone of Fair Haven and his grandson, Chris Herod, who worked on his first show car at age 14. Now a father himself, Whetstone will attend Autorama with Herod as participants and special guests. Whetstone, who has attended shows since 1958, will be inducted into the Autorama Circle of Champions. The special award is given to members of the custom car community who have made major contributions to the hobby and industry.


“It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever had,” Whetstone said. “It’s a place I never thought I would be. For a car guy, it doesn’t get much better than this.”


Along with his family, Whetstone will bring his historic 1960 Ford Starliner. So beloved and beautiful is the car that Whetstone named it Adonis, after the handsome youth of Greek mythology.


“It’s an attention-getter,” he said. “It’s just a very clean-looking car with a beautiful, candy wild cherry, finish.”


Another car that will turn heads is the 1967 Ford Mustang fastback presented by Detroit Deluxe Automotive.


“The fastback is what every hot rod-loving man, woman and child dreams of,” said Jim Jackson of Brighton, co-owner of the vehicle customization and restoration shop. “It’s hard not to smile every time it fires up.”


The fastback resembles the old classic, but under its hood sits a supercharged engine that can reach speeds of 200 mph.


Also a source of pride for Jackson and co-owner Paul Elizondo is a 1958 Chevrolet Apache. Elizondo said this build will resonate with people who like a classic style, but appreciate the high-end materials and craftsmanship of a modern vehicle.


“It suits the person who wants to stand out in the crowd, the guy who wants to break necks every time he rolls by,” Elizondo said.


More than 800 amazing and outrageous vehicles are expected to roar into Cobo Center.


Among the local legends will be cars that raced across the big screen in the latest “Fast and Furious” movie, and a special exhibit of speedsters famous for their record-breaking times on the Bonneville Salt Flats. The show also features a display of vehicles from students at 50 Michigan schools; 25th annual Toy-A-Rama and Pedal Car Challenge presented by Summit Racing Equipment; a charity auction for Leader Dogs for the Blind; and an outdoor truck and car flame-throwing fest. Celebrity guests will include racing legend Dale Ernhardt Jr., WWE wrestlers Charlotte Flair and Roman Reigns and “Car Crazy” host Barry Meguiar.


“We are always striving to bring new excitement to Autorama along with the most spectacular showing of performance cars anywhere in the country,” said Peter Toundas, president and owner of Championship Auto Shows Inc., producers of Autorama.


We thank The Macomb Daily for reprint permission.