These ‘Kustom’ beauties are chopped, pinched and shaved

Sue and Tad Leach of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, own this 1958 Lincoln Continental convertible, “Maybellene.” An example of the customized cars on the grounds of Cal Expo Feb. 16-18 at the 68th Sacramento Autorama.
Sue and Tad Leach of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, own this 1958 Lincoln Continental convertible, “Maybellene.” An example of the customized cars on the grounds of Cal Expo Feb. 16-18 at the 68th Sacramento Autorama. Rod Shows/Kahn Media

Electric cars aren’t their thing, and most probably they prefer to devote an entire weekend to crafting a perfectly symmetrical 1960s-vintage bumper instead of a night on the town.

Some of the West’s top automotive detailers will be showing off their colorful customized cars Friday through Sunday at the 68th Sacramento Autorama at Cal Expo. The primary sponsor is O’Reilly Auto Parts.

Billed as one of the longest-running indoor car shows in the world, this year’s event will spotlight more than 400 custom cars, hot rods, classics, motorcycles and specialty vehicles from across the nation. Those vehicles will compete for dozens of awards in various classifications. As in past years, the show touts the area’s significant role in California’s post-World War II car-craze era, when Sacramento became known as the “Kustom Capital of the World.”

Live music, celebrity appearances, vendor booths and special exhibits also will be set up throughout Cal Expo. In addition to the hundreds of vehicles competing for awards, hundreds more cars will be on display in the Butch Gardner Clubhouse at the Cal Expo Pavilion building and the outdoor Autorama Drive-In near Building A on Saturday and Sunday.

Numerous awards – including the 8-foot-tall H.A. Bagdasarian World’s Most Beautiful Custom award – will be handed out at 4 p.m. Sunday. Award decisions will be made by certified judges.

Autorama was started by the late Sacramento businessman Harold Bagdasarian in 1950. While serving as president of the local Capitol City Auto Club Thunderbolts, he talked club members into hosting a show to settle friendly arguments over the merits of their customized cars. The initial show, held at a downtown Sacramento auto dealership, had 22 entries. Bagdasarian promoted subsequent shows, which steadily grew in participation and attendance.

Show ownership has changed hands over the years. Rancho Cucamonga businessman John Buck took over in 2005 and runs it and other automotive gatherings under the business name Rod Shows.

“We can't wait for a great weekend with awesome weather, and even better custom cars,” Buck said this week.

Besides the massive Bagdasarian trophy, the show’s “Big B” awards pay homage to the Sacramento area’s rich custom-car history:

▪ The Sam Barris Memorial Award is a tribute to the late customizing wizard. Along with brother George Barris – the late maker of numerous handcrafted autos appearing in movies and TV series – the Illinois natives moved to Roseville and helped set off the post-World War II California custom-car craze.

▪ The Joe Bailon Award recognizes Joe “Candy Apple Red” Bailon, the Northern California customizer who created the color that became synonymous with his name.

▪ The Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence Award – presented to the car with the best craftsmanship in assembly, fit, finish and detail – is a tribute to the longtime owner of Bertolucci’s Body and Fender Shop in Sacramento. Decades ago, Bertolucci established a national reputation as a top-tier car restorer, and his personal car collection is considered world-class.

Event hours are noon to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

General admission is $20 for ages 13 and up, $10 for ages 6 to 12 and children ages 5 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult; discounted tickets available at participating O’Reilly Auto Parts stores. Parking costs $10 on the Cal Expo grounds.

More information can be seen at

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover


Channeled: The body has been dropped over the chassis to lower the car.

Chopped: The top of the vehicle has been lowered from factory stock specifications for a sleeker look; this applies to all body styles.

Custom: A vehicle that has an altered physical appearance, with changes to the body, trim and height. The engine, however, may be stock issue.

Decked: The removal of all trunk trim.

Frenched: Headlights, taillamps or other exterior parts have been molded into the bodywork.

Hot rod: A modified car with mechanical improvements, including more horsepower and different wheels and tires.

Lengthened: The car body and/or wheelbase have been modified to be longer than factory stock specifications.

Nosed: Hood trim has been removed.

Pancaked: The hood has been modified with a lower profile.

Peaked: There is a molded accent seam on the hood.

Pinched: The forward chassis has been narrowed to match the grille shell.

Rolled: The bumper or gas tank have been removed and replaced with a custom panel.

Scooped: Scoop-like openings have been integrated with the bodywork; the customizer has the option to make scoops functional or not.

Sectioned: A horizontal strip has been cut out of the body to lower it without dropping it down over the frame.

Shaved: Door handles have been removed.

Shortened: The car body and/or wheelbase have been modified to be shorter than factory stock specifications.

Stretched: The wheelbase has been extended for a longer, leaner look.