A Short History of the Sacramento Autorama – Part 1

I am very excited to attend this year’s Sacramento Autorama. I hope a lot you can come by and see me at my booth in Building A. I will be next to my friend Art Wong from Maita Motorsports.

As a lifelong Sacramento resident, I thought it would be fun, as this year’s show approaches, to learn a little about the history of the Sacramento Autorama. My Dad took me to my first Autorama when I was a teenager in the 70’s and I have attended most for the last 25 or 30 years. I remember being impressed with the mirrors on the floor so you could see the under side of some of these custom cars. They were and are works of art! If you have any stories or memories that you would like to share please contact me at tnewey@norcalcarculture.com.

Here is a poster of the first auto show courtesy of Ed Gardner:

Sacremento AutoramaThe first Sacramento Autorama was called the Capitol Auto Club’s First Annual Auto Show. It was held on November 4th and 5th, 1950 at the Capitol Chevrolet dealership on the corner of 13th and K Street in Downtown Sacramento. It wasn’t called the Autorama until 1953. Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian, President of the Capitol Auto Club, the “Thunderbolts”, had an idea to hold a little car show to win bragging rights for the quality of the custom cars in their Car Club. The first winner of the Best Custom Car trophy was Leroy Semas and his 1937 Chevy Coupe. The winner of the Best Rod trophy was Burton Davis and his 31 Ford Roadster.

Here is the winner of the Best Custom Car trophy, a 1937 Chevy Coupe that belonged to Leroy Semas and was restyled by Harry Westergard. There is a great article on this car at CustomChronicle.com. 1937 Chevy CoupeThe second show was moved to the Newton A. Cope Buick dealership at 15th and K Streets. It wasn’t held until April 19th and 20th of 1952. The program featured a picture of Bud Crackbon’s Roadster which was judged “America’s Most Beautiful Roadster at the Oakland Auto Show earlier in 1952. Here is the program cover of the second “Autorama”. The Best Custom trophy that year went to Joe Bailon and his beautiful 1941 Chevy.

Second Annual Auto ShowBy 1953, the members of the Capitol Auto Club were hesitant to continue the promotion of the Auto Show so Baggy decided to find a new location and go for it. He eventually settled on the Memorial Auditorium and renamed the show the Sacramento Autorama. Attendance was growing every year and after 2 years at the Auditorium, Baggy rented the Old Fairgrounds on Stockton Blvd. That was in 1955 and it kept growing every year until in 1970 when the Autorama was moved to it’s present location at the Cal Expo Fairgrounds.

Here is an article from the January 1951 issue of Hot Rod Magazine on the first Autorama:

Hot Rod Magazine Jan. 1951In the late 1980’s Baggy was joined by Don Tognotti as a promoter of the Sacramento Autorama. Dan Cyr purchased and promoted it in the early 2000’s. Then in 2005, John Buck and Rod Shows Inc. took over promotion of one of the longest running indoor Car Shows in the country, the Kustom Capital of the World. John has done an excellent job of growing and expanding the event while at the same time honoring and preserving the 72 years of history of the Sacramento Autorama.

1966 AwardThere are several very prestigious awards given out each year including the Custom D’Elegance and the Big “B” Awards. The Custom D’Elegance award traces it’s roots to the Car of Elegance award first presented in 1953 to the legendary Joe Bailon.

The 2014 Custom D’Elegance Award winner was James Hetfield and his beautiful coachbuilt 1948 Jaguar named “Black Pearl.”! The first of the Big “B” Awards is the H.A. Bagdasarian Memorial Award, the World’s Most Beautiful Custom. It was started in 1991 to honor founder Baggy Bagdasarian and is still chosen by the family.

The 2020 winner of the  World’s Most Beautiful Custom, H.A. Bagdasarian Memorial Award was Bob Dron and his stunning 1948 Chevy Fleetline.2020 Baggy Award WinnerNext is the Sam Barris Memorial Award was started in 1968 after his passing and is also chosen by members of the Barris family. It is an award for body and paint work on an all metal bodied car.

1962 Autorama ProgramThe Candy Apple Joe Bailon Memorial Award was started by Joe Bailon himself in 1992 and goes to the best Candy paint job.

In 2020, the “Candy Apple” Joe Bailon Trophy went to Calvin Fisk and his wild 1953 Ford F-100!“Candy Apple” Joe Bailon TrophyThe Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellance Award honors excellence in craftsmanship. in 2000, the Bertolucci award took over what was originally the Harry Bradley Design Achievement Award.

In 2017, the winner of the Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence Award was Michael McAuliffe and his 1940 Ford Sedan called ‘The Second Time Around’.

Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence Award A list of all the past award winners can be found on the new Autorama Website Here.  Check out Part 2 next week with lots of photos and memories of some legends of the Sacramento Autorama!