The Ridler Award started out in 1964 at the Detroit Autorama and has grown to be one of America's most highly coveted awards regarding custom classic car builder.

This annual award is given to a truly unique world-class vehicle. In fact, this award has a very strict “never shown before” guideline. The builders who win this award

Since its debut at the 1964 Detroit Autorama, the Ridler Award is one of the country’s most prestigious automotive awards that concerns custom classic car owners and builders. The Ridler award is given annually to an exceptional vehicle that falls under strict “never been shown before” guidelines. As a result, the folks who win this prize become members of a very elite group.


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Ridler Award Winners Gallery

Ridler Award History

On January 31 and February 1, 1953, the University of Detroit Memorial Building hosted the first Detroit Autorama. The event, hosted by the one-year-old Michigan Hot Rod Association (MHRA), featured 40 cars. “Merge small local clubs into one coherent company” was their goal to collect funding to move drag racing indoors.

Detroit Car Clubs Road Kings, Shifters, Milwinders, Motor City Modified, and Spark Plugs, which organized the first event, joined the MHRA. Moreover, the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum hosted Autorama from 1954 through 1961 before transferring to Cobo Hall.

The second performance was moved to the Colosseum at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, where it ran from 1954 through 1960. The Michigan Hot Rod Association (MHRA) enlisted Don Ridler for the fourth event in 1956 to promote the show. Furthermore, Don Ridler promoted the show until 1 963. The Michigan Hot Rod Association (MHRA) created the Ridler Award the following year. The Ridler award commemorated Autorama’s first eleven years’ most influential person.

The inaugural event at the brand-new Cobo Hall was the ninth annual Detroit Autorama. A new-record 230 cars competed that year, filling the whole 10,000 sq ft (930 m2) of the lower-level basement of Cobo. The 1961 show’s last day drew approximately 35,000 people, breaking the attendance record. The first non-Motor City professionals at Cobo were George Barris, Darryl Starbird, Carl Casper, and “Big Daddy” Ed Roth. “Ford Custom Car Caravan” customizers Bill Cushenbery, Jack Florence, Dean Jeffries, and Gene Winfield attended the show.

When the Don Ridler Memorial Award was first presented as the competition’s top honor, the program was already in its twelfth year. Al Bergler of Macomb won the first Don Ridler Award in a competition slingshot dragster. (Bergler later rose to prominence in the NHRA as the Motown Shaker Top Fuel Funny Car’s driver.)

Following Bergler’s victory in 1964, the number of exhibitors and professional custom car builders vying for the show’s new top prize both increased during the following ten years. From 1965 to 1973, Larry and Mike Alexander, Jerry Pennington, or George Busti—all skilled builders—were either the owners or builders of all nine Ridler-winning entries.

1970s Ridler automobiles were unique. Jerry Pennington’s rear-engine Corvette (Scorpion) and hand-built custom street rod (Devilfish) were fashionable. In fact, they had shag carpeting, velvet seats, and sharp edges. 1974’s Autorama saw the first out-of-state Ridler Award winner, Don Campbell of Wimauma, Florida, and his ’27 Ford. Six Ford T-bucket Ridler victories—three ’23s (’76, ’78, ’79), two ’27s (’74, ’75), and one ’26 (’77)—ended the decade.

The 1980s Ford roadster fever continued with two ’34s (’81 & ’82), a ’28 (’80), a ’29 (’83), a ’33 (’85), and a ’35 (’84). At the 1986 Detroit Autorama, Dale Hunt’s late-model Pro Stock Pontiac Grand Am won the Ridler. Only two Pro Stock vehicles—Grand Hunt’s Am and Bob Rizzoli’s 1992 Mercedes 560 SEC—have won the Ridler.

The Ridler is a World-Class Event

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Autorama became a national car show. The next generation of famous car owners and builders traveled to Cobo every winter to win the Ridler Award to promote their progress. They included Bobby Alloway and Boyd Coddington from California, George Poteet from Memphis, and others.

The departure of Michigan only hampered this burgeoning national focus. As cars from throughout the nation battled for the show’s top accolade, several Detroit and Michigan competitors lost pace. However, the majority of the cars were produced on much larger budgets. The Alexander Brothers produced regional cars for competition (including a Great-8 opponent in 2012) till this point. The final Michigan entry, Dave Emery’s ’32 Ford Roadster (Revolver) from Rochester Hills, earned the Ridler Award in 1997.

Great 8

With the Millenium, Ridler and Great 8 cars got a fresh look. It introduced a new generation of competent automakers. Chip Foose’s first winner was Wes Rydell’s ’35 Chevy Grand Master in 2002. Foose won the following year with a 1934 Ford Stallion, becoming the third builder and first since Jerry Pennington. Foose’s 1936 Ford (Impression) for Littleton, Colorado’s Ken Reister returned in 2005. The impression made Foose the first builder to win three Ridler Awards in four years. In 2015, Foose’s 1965 Chevrolet Impala (Imposter) won his fourth Ridler.

Ridler cars switched from individual to collective construction starting in 2007.

Ross and Beth Myer hired “Rad Rides By Troy” owner/operator Troy Trepanier to build their 1936 Ford, “First Love,” the first modern Ridler-winning custom car. The 2010 and 2012 winners, Dwayne Peace and his 1955 T-bird from Torq’d Design Lab & Greening Auto Company and Rob & Deb Cizek and their 1940 Ford Coupe Checkered Past from Cal Customs, continued the trend. Rob & Deb Cizek won in 2013.

Roadster popularity is declining. Since 2008, only four roadsters or pre-1940 vehicles—Gold Ray’s Digger, the Cizeks’ Checkered Past, Doug Cooper’s ’32 Ford Duecenberg, and Billy Thomas’ Olds Cool—have won the Ridler. J.F. Launier of Osoyoos, British Columbia, won the Ridler as a single owner/builder entry in 2014.

Taking It A Step Further

For car enthusiasts and gearheads alike, the Ridler Award is a name that resonates with awe and admiration. Considered the holy grail of custom car shows, the Ridler Award is the most prestigious trophy in the world of hot-rodding and automotive design. But what exactly is the Ridler Award, and what makes it so coveted? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the history, significance, and criteria of the Ridler Award, as well as some of the most iconic winners over the years.

What is the Ridler Award?

The Ridler Award is an annual prize presented at the Detroit Autorama, one of the largest custom car shows in the world. Named after Don Ridler, a legendary promoter and announcer of hot-rod events, the Ridler Award was first introduced in 1964 as a way to honor the most outstanding custom car of the year. Since then, the Ridler Award has become the ultimate accolade for car builders and enthusiasts, representing the pinnacle of innovation, craftsmanship, and creativity in the world of hot rodding.

Criteria and Judging Process

To win the Ridler Award, a car must meet several criteria, including:

  • It must be a completely new creation, never before seen in public or commercialized.

  • It must have an outstanding design, combining aesthetics and functionality in a unique and innovative way.

  • It must showcase exceptional craftsmanship, using high-quality materials and techniques to create a flawless finish.

  • It must demonstrate superior engineering, incorporating advanced technology and performance enhancements.

  • It must have a wow factor, impressing the judges and the audience with its originality and impact.

The judging process for the Ridler Award is equally rigorous and thorough. A panel of industry experts and custom car enthusiasts evaluates each entry based on the criteria mentioned above, as well as other factors such as attention to detail, presentation, and overall appeal. The judging takes place over several rounds, with each finalist being scrutinized under close inspection and in different lighting conditions. The winner is announced at the end of the Detroit Autorama, amid cheers, applause, and often tears of joy.

Iconic Winners of the Ridler Award

Over the years, the Ridler Award has crowned some of the most iconic and memorable custom cars in the world. Here are some of the most notable winners:

  • The Beatnik Bandit (1961) – Built by legendary car designer Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the Beatnik Bandit was a futuristic, bubble-topped hot-rod that defied convention and set new standards for creativity.

  • The Aluma Coupe (2006) – Created by renowned builder Troy Trepanier, the Aluma Coupe was a sleek, silver bullet of a car, with a hand-formed aluminum body and a supercharged V8 engine.

  • The Renaissance Roadster (2008) – Built by Steve’s Auto Restoration, the Renaissance Roadster was a stunning blend of classic and modern design, featuring a sculpted body, a retractable hardtop, and a custom leather interior.

  • The Impression (2014) – Crafted by John and Nick D’Agostino, the Impression was a breathtakingly beautiful car, with a candy apple red paint job, a custom-built chassis, and a powerful V8 engine.

  • The Mulholland Speedster (2020) – Built by Troy Ladd and his team at Hollywood Hot Rods, the Mulholland Speedster was a tribute to the classic roadsters of the 1930s, with a hand-formed aluminum body, a bespoke chassis, and a timeless design that evokes the golden age of motoring.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who can enter the Ridler Award competition?
A: Any custom car builder or owner can enter their car in the competition, as long as it meets the eligibility criteria and has not been previously shown or commercialized.

Q: How is the winner of the Ridler Award chosen?
A: The winner of the Ridler Award is chosen by a panel of judges, who evaluate each entry based on several criteria, including design, craftsmanship, engineering, and wow factor. The judging process takes place over several rounds, with each finalist being scrutinized under close inspection and in different lighting conditions.

Q: Is the Ridler Award only for American cars?
A: No, the Ridler Award is open to custom cars from all over the world, as long as they meet the eligibility criteria and are presented at the Detroit Autorama.

Q: What does the Ridler Award trophy look like?
A: The Ridler Award trophy is a large silver cup, adorned with a gold eagle and engraved with the names of all the winners since 1964. The trophy is presented to the winner of the competition amid much fanfare and celebration.



The Ridler Award is not just a trophy, but a symbol of excellence, innovation, and passion in the world of custom car building. For over five decades, it has inspired generations of car enthusiasts and builders to push the boundaries of design, craftsmanship, and engineering, and to create some of the most awe-inspiring and iconic custom cars in the world.

Whether you’re a fan of hot-rodding, classic cars, or just appreciate creativity and artistry, the Ridler Award is a must-see event that embodies the spirit of American car culture at its best.

If you’re a fan of custom cars, check out Elite Restomods for some of the best classic car restorations and customizations in the business. Contact Us today.


Whether you’re buying or selling investment grade restomods, the Elite Performance Center team of professionals offer next generation service, and we have an inventory of fully sorted investments. Guaranteed.

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