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Various Roads Converged on Toronto's 2017 Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Can we officially proclaim the automotive season as started in Canada? We look across our southern border and see events for sports cars as well as NASCAR stock cars already won by motorsport stars in Daytona. Heading into March Break weekend, we also saw the 2017 Verizon IndyCar season opener won by Sebastien Bourdais taking advantage of some outstanding luck to surge from the back of the grid. Appeasing classic car and custom car buyers, the eye candy of the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona provided a showcase for some great masterpieces of four wheels. In the sizable International Centre in Mississauga, the first signs of motoring life for Canadians in 2017 garnered great enthusiasm inside with the 3rd annual Motorama Custom Car and Motorsports Expo. Outside was another story this past weekend as winter decided to be a spoiler. It seems like a typical pattern in recent years that the coldest weather possible tags a ride with me to every winter car show I attend. However, despite the unwelcomed return of winter’s savageness, there was heat within a splendid collection of customized vehicles, race cars and a few other surprises.

Operating under different names over the years, I remembered attending what now exists as the Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo when I was in high school. The occasion then for me was a wonderful way to usher in March Break. An event that took place within floor space that exceeds 250,000 square feet, the 2017 show was a place where you see something for every motoring taste. While stock equipment-loving auto enthusiasts could set eyes on vehicles like the 1968 Ford Shelby GT500KR Convertible and a 1987 Buick GNX, the true heart of the show resides in vehicles that are far detached from a production line machine. The 2017 edition of the exhibition of performance shared some remarkable examples of personal expression. Before entering the hall, a yellow and black Chevrolet pickup truck provided a sample of what attendees could expect anytime during three days of the show. Indeed, the 2017 Motorama Custom Car and Motorsports Expo was a sight worth beholding.

Al Buccella's 1968 Ford Shelby GT500KR Convertible
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Receiving prime floor space within the first few steps past the entrance of the show were some top examples of beautifully sculpted metal and glimmering chrome. Called the Canadian 10, the elite collection was eligible for the Motorama Grand Champion Award featuring a $5,000 cash prize coupled with the accolade. This year’s finalists offered themes from a high-performance production car recreation like a 1969 Camaro COPO tribute car to a wild low riding Belair wearing lots of engraved chrome (even within the brake calipers). Between, you could have found a radical 1923 Ford T Bucket, a charming retro-modified 1923 Ford truck and a truly red hot 1968 Dodge Dart Hemi. In a spectacle of bow ties, blue ovals and a Mopar, a 1936 Ford Coupe belonging to Enzo Covello claimed the show’s top honours in 2017.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Travelling deeper down the show’s floor, motorsport vehicles were layered between Canadian 10 finalists and more street-going vehicles. The Motorama Custom Car and Motorsports Expo is not only a chance for Ontario race tracks to exhibit some of their weekend competitors’ cars before the 2017 season but reveals the pivotal grassroots auto racing scene in Canada. It was particular fun for me to see Sauble Speedway still going strong years after I lived in the area as a child and was taken to track by my dad. Related to Sauble Speedway, one of the most entertaining cars among the local stock cars represented the track with a vehicle sharing inspiration from Lightning McQueen from the movie “Cars”. A dirt late model for Brighton Speedway, sprint car for Ohsweken Speedway as well as Neale Armstrong’s jet-powered dragster and Lyle Williams’ Top Alcohol Funny Car affiliated with Toronto Motorsports Park were a handful of race machines attracting attention. With the International Centre so close to Pearson International Airport and the site once serving as the place where Orenda Engines Limited once built the propulsion for the mystical Avro Arrow, it was perhaps unsurprising that the jet engined dragster was so popular.

Neale Armstrong's Jet Drag Racer
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Proceeding deeper into the exhibition, a mix of motorsport, custom and a few stock vehicles featured something for everyone. Bruce Harvey and his Pro Comp Custom 1968 Chevrolet Camaro and 1970 Dodge Charger featured a height reduction up to six inches but were detached from any reality of flying under the radar. Both SEMA Show exhibited vehicles, their appearance at the 2017 Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo was nestled near the Canadian Motor Speedway’s booth. Endeavouring to be a multi-functional facility in Fort Erie with a progressively-banked 3/4-mile oval serving as the centrepiece, a bulldozer used towards the preparation of Canadian Motor Speedway was on display. As the future of Canadian motorsports appears to be gaining traction, Yesterday’s Speedways immortalizes the history of many short tracks that are no longer operating. The presentation of racing history was highly captivating for me thanks to various pieces of memorabilia from past decades and a 1970 Plymouth Superbird that served as pace car for Sunset Speedway that still stages racing action near Barrie. Seeing one of Don Biederman’s stock cars weeks after recognizing the driver as one of only eight Canadians who ran in the Daytona 500.

For anyone who had never seen a Stutz Blackhawk, the Rust Check booth gave audiences a moment to see the 1970s flashy coachbuilding residing on a General Motors. The Blackhawk was located close to collection of vehicles organized by car club Lead Kings. Going the extra mile (or rather kilometer) for this year’s Motorama show, Lead Kings organized themselves into a retro-like campsite.

Lead Kings Canada Camping Trailer
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

The fourth and final major section of the 2017 Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo ends with a showcase of import, sport compact and more modern custom vehicles called Spring Fever. Skillful use of lighting, big wheels, high-glossy or matte accents as well as the occasional engine swap was performed to the range of vehicles battling for a specific $1,000 show top prize. Spring Fever proved to be a hit at the 2016 show with the younger attendees. With Friday being a time where a variety of schools sent buses full of students, the exhibit continued to provide attraction. Not surprisingly, a Honda Civic that was equipped with a video gaming system and a controller accessible to spectators was exceptionally popular. A Chrysler PT Cruiser with scissor doors and enough monitors to outshine a sports bar was Sergio Sousa’s pride and joy. That PT Cruiser was coupled with customized Dodge Magnum and Chevrolet Cavalier part of the Swift Car Club each demonstrating some boldly-executed interior/exterior colouring. Among cars gathered together for Spring Fever included a Mini panel van equipped with a rear-mounted Honda V-TEC Turbo engine, a 1970s Toyota Celica with a tricked-out i-Force V-8 engine and a Volkswagen Jetta paying tribute to Canadian Armed Forces members.

Sergio Sousa's Custom Chrysler PT Cruiser
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Generally with multi-day shows such as the Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo the first day is accepted as a slower period. Major awards would not be handed out until Sunday while this year’s major unveiling, NASCAR Pinty’s Series driver Alex Tagliani’s rollout of a Lowe’s-sponsored race car took place on Saturday. While those happenings were saved for later in the show, there were some notable attractions extending beyond the main exhibition including some chances for spectators to see some of the celebrity. Steve Darnell of television’s “Vegas Rat Rods” fame returned to the Motorama expo for a second consecutive year and appeared several times on the event floor. Friday was also a time where “All Girls Garage” star Jessi Combs and Dan Wood from “Chop Cut Rebuild” took part in the Automotive Education and Career Panel. The involvement of the 2017 Motorama show’s guests was more prevalent on Saturday and Sunday. One of the headliners of the show was Miss Hurst Golden Shifter Linda Vaughn while additional personalities included pin-up model Cherry Dollface and ‘Barber’ Dave Lefler. As part of awards, the celebrity guests of the event gave honours to their personal favourite rides of the Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo.

Another famous guest of the 2017 Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo was Al Bergler who captures both genres of the automotive event. Since the 1960s, Bergler boasts honours in hot rodding as well as drag racing. The inaugural winner of the Don Ridler Memorial Award at the Detroit Autorama with a dragster titled “More Aggravation”, that exact car was campaigned in NHRA competition to a championship in Super Eliminator. Today, Al Bergler is honoured in many circles including induction to the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame. The man as well as his still stunning “More Aggravation” race machine were both present.

Al Bergler's 1964 Detroit Autorama More Aggravation Dragster
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

As my day of observing some brilliant sights of machinery came to an end, I proceeded to make my traditional purchase of a show souvenir diecast. These type of events is among few times in the year where I can buy auto racing replica diecast cars without a stock mainly either consisting of the same common five-year-old Tony Stewart car or having to pay twice its value in shipping.

Leaving the 2017 Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo, the frigid cold weather I was going to encounter wasn’t my only reason to regret as I departed the International Centre. The level of delight an automotive enthusiast can realize at one of these shows is unmeasurable. Given the chance to see such marvelous objects of motoring indoors presents a vibrant forecast for what Canadians can expect on wheels throughout this year.  

This YouTube presentation is published as a compilation of the 2017 Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo. 

This following slideshow presentation includes a diverse collection of images taken at the 2017
Motorama Custom Car and Motorsport Expo:

2017 Motorama Custom Car & Motorsport Expo Toronto


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