While most of the national attention paid to the Detroit Autorama revolves around the six and even seven figure custom cars that compete for the Ridler Award many of the people that actually attend the show say that their favorite cars and car people are in Cobo Hall’s basement, in what the show organizers call Autorama Extreme. The rules for the judged show upstairs don’t apply so primer paint and not yet completed project cars are permitted. While there are indeed some rat rods downstairs, Autorama Extreme is way more than just patina and crude chops. It’s where real grassroots Detroit car culture can be soaked up. Some of the cars are finished projects, constructed to a high level, and could easily be upstairs, in fact some of them have been upstairs in years past, but the owners prefer the ambiance and fellowship in the basement.
When you don’t have a ton of money for a project you have to get creative and from the crowds around Al Grooms’ radical midengine Ford F1 Pickup based roadster, you might get a clue of how creative Grooms is. Of course once you got closer, you’d see that Grooms, of Miamisburg, Ohio, has made a car that is brilliantly insane. The Y block 292 CI Ford V8 engine indeed sits behind the driver, in the pickup bed, but it and the 4 speed top-loader transmission have been turned around so the engine faces backwards and the output shaft of the tranny ends up in the cockpit near the driver’s right elbow. A short driveshaft runs through a couple of bearing blocks before it terminates in a sprocket. Attached to the sprocket is a chain that runs down to another driveshaft which carries power back to the 9″ Ford axle in back. Remember, those shafts and sprockets can spin at engine speed and are sitting exposed in the cockpit. I’d advise against wearing loose fitting clothing.
Everything about this car is so perfectly wrong, it’s perfectly right. It’s registered as a 1950 F1 pickup, but about the only recognizable part is the hood, which now serves not just as the hood but pretty much the entire front end and passenger compartment. The headers and collectors don’t appear to have been designed for optimal gas flow, but who cares? They look just right, as do the 2″ copper pipes used to connect the radiator, and what I believe is a truck muffler turned into a gas tank. It all sits a few millimeters off of the ground, suspended on solid axles and friction shocks.
Everyone who saw it immediately started to smile and Grooms was relishing the attention his creation was getting. Hot Rod magazine noticed the little midengine roadster as well as the crowds surrounding it. In talking to some of the folks associated with the high buck customs competing for the Ridler upstairs, I heard at least a couple of them say that Grooms’ roadster was their favorite car of the show. It’s obviously a death trap but it’s just so so cool.