The Grand National Roadster Show, 2023

David G. Fox

AMBR Competition

For decades, flawless execution has been the hallmark of contestants in the America's Most Beautiful Roadster competition. This year there were nine entries.

Jack Chisenhall, 1932 Ford

Jack's "Champ Deuce" 1932 Ford is the 2023 America's Most Beautiful Roadster. The plaque accompanying the car in the display names Jack as the owner, designer, and fabricator, and states that the car was primarily built in Jack's shop in San Antonio. The plaque credits engine builder Donny Anderson, body and paint man Darryl Hollenbeck, Jimmy Shine for louvers, Sid Chavers for the interior, and the Brizio team for project support and final assembly.

The car really is exquisitely turned out. The feeling, though, is still old-school hot rod, with Indy car influences including the vintage Indy wheels and the use of torsion bar suspension technology. The engine is a 355 cubic inch early Dodge hemi with fuel injection. While it is a high boy, with the body still on top of the frame, note that the rear tire (admittedly a tall one) rises above the body reveal where the fender would have attached, more typical of a channeled car.

I took a second set of pictures of the AMBR winner. Different time, different crowd, different light.

Ken and Joan Sapper, 1932 Ford

The Sapper's PPG Torch Red 1932 Ford, called "Precious," was built by Dominator Street Rods, in Tracy California. The drive train consists of a fuel- injected 350 cubic-inch small-block Chevy V8, 700-R4 transmission, and Speedway Engineering Super Max quick-change differential. Featured is an independent front suspension, with custom a-arms by Dominator. The Brookville body has been fitted with a DuVall-type windshield and trimmed by Ron Mangus. Wheels are from Bonspeed. Ken and Joan live in LaCrescenta.

Jon Hall, 1927 Ford

Out of Saginaw, Michigan, it seems that every inch of the Ford metal making up this car has been altered in some way. Of course, everything forward of the cowl is custom, ending at the track nose and flush-mounted grille. But the T body has been wedge cut to set up the slope to the front. The hiccups inherent to cars of this vintage have been smoothed; the doors now fit flush. In back are extended reveals from the quarter panels into the rolled pan, raised license plate mount and tail light mounts, plus custom exhaust outlets. Even the 1932 Ford frame rails have been trimmed from six inches tall to five. Note the curved windshield and frame.

Powering the car is a fuel-injected, aluminum Flathead connected to a five- speed manual transmission. Custom machined wishbones locate the front axle. Wheels use a one-off design.

Danny Hyde, 1936 Ford

Built "at home" in Laguna Niguel, California, this roadster was originally a three-window coupe. It is called "Cut Up," because, well, the body has been chopped, shortened, narrowed, and wedge cut. The cowl and grille were laid back. Body reveals were altered, and there is now a full belly pan, with louvers. To match the body cuts, the frame was shortened (altering the wheelbase), then boxed. The 302 Ford engine is topped with four Weber carburetors. The trans is and automatic, with overdrive. And the suspension is independent, front and rear. Four-coil Jaguar components are used in the back. Alan Budnik did the custom wheels, Ron Magnus the interior, Harley Brooks the PPG Ultra Black paint, Lon Phillips the mechanical/wiring/plumbing, Rod Sexton the stainless exhaust, and Bob Mariani the final assembly.

Three cars in contention for the AMBR Trophy this year had a strong Kugel Komponents connection. All three are 1932-Ford-ish. Jerry and the Kugel Komponents shop have contributed to the construction of countless 1932 Fords over the years. For past AMBR connections, there is Jerry's own AMBR competitor from 2007 (Kugel/Marcel Muroc bodied) that he famously fired up when the show was finished and drove home. Plus, the 2020 AMBR winner was the wonderfully refreshed "32 Kugel Muroc No. 4" of Monte Belsham.

Steve and Dannielle Schmidt, 1932 Muroc

First up from this new group of three is the Schmidt's entry from Costa Mesa, California. The show identification tag referred to it as a 1932 Ford, but this car uses the ninth Muroc body commissioned by Jerry Kugel and hand formed by Marcel's Custom Metal. The fully independently suspended chassis is also from the Kugel shop.

Body and chassis massaging on the car is credited to Chris Smith and Steve. Terry Hegman made the top and completed additional "specialty metal fabrication." Paint was applied by Tom Rodriguez at Cypress Auto Body. Sid Chavers stitched the interior. The engine is a Paxton supercharged, freshly rebuilt and updated, K-code Ford 289, spinning a C4 Ford transmission and then the nine-inch Ford center section in the Kugel rear suspension. Steve notes that he had to buy the whole 1960s era ski boat to get the hi-po 289.

The visual vibe of the car, various design touches and execution, suggest vintage coach craft, rather than stripped-down hot rod or bare-bones race car. It is a fitting interpretation for the competition, given the hand-crafted nature of the vast majority of its elements. The car was completed at Kugel Komponents.

Joe Kugel, 1932 Ford

Joe calls his entrant "32 MyWay." One can only speculate about the reasoning that underlies that title. I imagine that not being constrained by the wishes of a specific customer or the need to appeal to the potential customer base would be quite liberating to someone with their own creative aspirations.

Outwardly, 32 MyWay appears impossibly low, but early Instagram posts tell that the Kugel Komponents suspension has adequate room for full travel. Posts directly after the competition show Joe touring around southern California, day and night. Then there was a post with Jay Leno driving it, Joe beaming in the passenger seat. The car did win the Engineering Excellence award. It was built to go.

Although the outer skin retains its factory appearance, everything to do with the body, down to the rear frame horn covers, has been tightened up from the way Ford delivered cars ninety-one years ago. Joe's superb fabrication skills are demonstrated everywhere you look. The last photo, snapped of a greatly enlarged poster displayed with the car, shows the stout chassis. I suppose the lack of typical Kugel bright-work is a fashion statement.

Details and credits. The steel body came from Brookville Roadster; modifications were done by Stone's Metal Shop. Mahood's Collision sprayed the PPG paint. Trimming of the cockpit and trunk is the work of Bill's Hot Rod Upholstery. Custom Classic Gauges are set in a panel machined for the car by EVOD Industries. EVOD also cut the A/C vents (yes). The engine in 32 MyWay, a fuel injected 427 cubic inch Ford based on a Winsor block with Cleveland heads, was built by Mike LeFevers. A McLeod five-speed backs it up.

Coverage on this site of the 2019 L.A. Roadsters Show includes pictures of the car mostly assembled, but totally unfinished. In the metal as it were. The extreme parts fitment in the gas tank area is easy to see there. The engine photo there shows those artful headers just tacked together.

Sandie and Charlie Chadd, 1932 Muroc

"Misfit" is the third in the trio of AMBR contenders with a Kugel connection. It is fenderless, with a Kugel/Marcel metal Muroc body over a complete Kugel Komponents chassis. Rad Rides by Troy was responsible for the drivetrain, paint, interior, and final assembly. The Chadds hail from Neponset, Illinois.

Scott Williams, 1932 Ford

Taking inspiration from past famous 1932 Fords, like Tom McMullen's flamed iteration, Scott's Minneapolis based "Swillco Roadster" ticks a lot of boxes from the '60s. Among them: White outline stripes, interior, and headers, plus the NOS 4-71 blower. The supercharged Chevrolet 350 puts 425HP to the Tremec TKO 600 transmission, Winters V8 quick-change differential, and the 9.00x16 Radir slicks. The Brookville body wears Glasurit paint outside and an interior by Mark Milbrandt at In Stitches. Scott runs Swillco Speed Shop in East Bethel; he (and the shop) had a hand in most aspects of the build.

J. F. Launier, 1929 Ford

The detail plaque for J.F.'s entry dubs the car "Blue Collar 29 Model Eh Roadster." The chassis was put together with basic old-school hot rod ideology, in terms of brakes, wheels, and suspension technology. J.F. is from Osoyoos, British Columbia, so, yes, the dual-quad 409 is from a Pontiac. The body has been smoothed here and there, and modified to fit the 1932 frame rails. Lee Baxter, of Baxter's Custom Hot Rod Upholstery, is credited for the interior. J.F. is credited for the rest of the build.

AMBR 2022, Jeff Breault, 1932 Chevrolet

AMBR 2018, Dave Martin, 1931 Ford


Al Slonaker Memorial Award

The Al Slonaker Memorial Award competition works much like the AMBR competition. The difference is that the cars can be anything but roadsters. Here is a quick look at the contestants for 2023.

Bruce McDowell, Chula Vista, California, 1933 Ford Coupe

Ken Reister, Littleton, Colorado, 1956 Chevrolet Nomad

Niel Braun, Osoyoos, British Columbia, 1937 Buick Coupe

Cody Walls, Lewes, Delaware, 1949 Buick Sedanette

Thomas Bengtsson, Fresno, California, 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

Dennis Kilpatrick, 1929 Ford Coupe

Danny Schaffer, Bakersfield, California, 1967 Ford Mustang

Carl Akins, Laguna Beach, California, 1932 Ford Three-Window Coupe

Steve Schock, Oceanside, California, 1932 Ford Five-Window Coupe

The 2023 Al Slonaker Memorial Award Winner

George Eliacostas, Omaha, Nebraska, 1960 Buick Invicta

Missing here is the 1934 Plymouth belonging to Lori Mabe, which won Outstanding Engine and Outstanding Interior awards within the Slonaker group.


Rods & Customs in the Show


Outdoor Cruise In


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AMBR Competition

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Rods & Customs in the Show

Outdoor Cruise In

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