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The coolest custom cars and most radical roadsters rolled into the nine halls of the Pomona Fairplex on Thursday in anticipation of the Friday opening of the 68th Grand National Roadster Show, the so-called “Grand Daddy of Them All.”

While the total number of cars at a typical GNRS can easily exceed 1,000, and there seem to be at least that many trophies to hand out in the course of the weekend, only 12 cars compete for the show’s highest honor, America’s Most Beautiful Roadster. That title goes to the best of the AMBR entries, all of which must be roofless two-seaters made before or based on a car that was made before 1937. So on the day before the show opens to the public, what you could call setup day, we always go down and try to guess which of the 12 AMBR entries will win.

This year, as in previous years, there were many strong contenders. 

Mulholland Speedster

The Mulholland Speedster from Troy Ladd’s Hollywood Hot Rods.

We saw Bruce Wanta’s Mulholland Speedster when it was in bare metal about a year ago. We got a look at it at Troy Ladd’s Hollywood Hot Rods shop in Burbank. It’s based on a real Packard 1401 C but with quite a few modifications. For instance, the fenders are straight off that Packard, but the team modified them and modified them and then modified them again. Each fender is now a reassembly of 17 pieces, but you wouldn’t know to look at it. The whole car looks like a deep red Jell-O bowl of smooth perfect Packard, albeit reimagined smooth perfect Packard swathed in “Mulholland Merlot” paint.

“The goal was to build a real hot rod and make it elegant,” said Wanta. 

Time Merchant

Time Merchant was built by Goolsby Customs in Hueytown, Alabama — home of the Allisons of NASCAR fame.

Across the floor from Mulholland was Time Merchant, a Brookville ’32 with an Oldsmobile Rocket V8 engine and “Starfire Blue” paint so perfectly sky blue that if this thing could fly, it would be invisible.

Then there’s Rick Dore, who might have found himself trapped somewhere between a Southern California speed shop and Pebble Beach, all to our benefit. Several years ago, Dore decided to go away from traditional rod and custom designs and create his own, distinctly art deco style, one that would not look out of place at The Mullin Automobile Museum. This year, Dore entered the AMBR competition with a creation called “After Shock,” based on a ’37 Ford and Art Morrison chassis. It could just as easily have been a Delage or a Delahaye.

Wayne Johnson, meanwhile, designed his AMBR winner when he was 16 years old and in high school. He thought up the design, anyway. It was just finished this year — he will be 76 years old on the day you read this. His ’29 track-nosed roadster is called Proboscis, maybe because of that track nose and its 90-pound chrome grille. It’s powered by a 351 Windsor stroked to a 419 to put out 537 hp and 567 lb-ft of torque.

Another standout was Fool’s Goldster, built by Matt Taylor of Taylor Made Kustoms.

Gordon Gray brought his ’32 Ford Roadster all the way from Surrey, British Columbia. Local entries included Don Lindfors’ ’32 Roadster Pickup from Orange, California; Bill Grant’s ’28 Ford Roadster from Upland, California; and Shawn Killion’s 1928 Lincoln Roadster built by San Diego Rod & Customs.

Which one will win it all? We’ll find out — and tell you — Sunday night.

Meanwhile, there should be as many as 900 to 1,000 cars parked in the halls and on the grounds at the Fairplex in Pomona, California, from Friday to Sunday, including the 60th anniversary of the Tri-Fives (1955, ’56 and ’57 Chevies) in hall nine; rat rods and rockabilly in the Suede Palace, and genuine Pink’s hot dogs and various barbecue and beer vendors pretty much everywhere in between. Whatever your taste in rods and or customs, you’ll find something to like at the Roadster Show. See you Sunday night!