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Identifying the early Roadster Show years


The Oakland Roadster show is now called the Grand National Roadster show or perhaps better known as the GNRS “the big Daddy” and is the oldest still existing Hot Rod and Custom Car show in the US.

Since 2004 the show is held at the Pomona Fairplex in California. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the show was held in the Northern Californian city of Oakland. In 1968 the show moved from the Exposition building to the Coloseum in Oakland, then in the late 1990’s to the Cow Palace in Daly City and then in 2004 to Pomona in Southern California where the weather was much better for this winter held show.
In 1949 Al and Mary Slonaker put up a car show in the Exposition Building in Oakland California. There were only a handful Hot Rods and custom cars at this show which was known as an international auto show. And these “home build” car were not planned to be at the show at first, but added at the last moment after it had become clear that the popularity of this type of vehicle was growing fast. The rest of the entries consisted of “foreign” cars, mostly sports cars.

After the show is was clear to the Slonaker’s, there had been much more interest for the few hot rods and custom cars than for the Exotic cars during the show hours. They made up their mind and decided to create a new show for the next year – 1950 – strictly around the hot rod, custom cars and “home build” race cars. And they would name the show the National Roadster Show, also known as the Oakland Roadster show and later as the big Daddy of them all. From this first show on the 8 feet tall trophy for America’s most beautiful Roadster has been a huge part of the event. Jack Stewart always reverse to the biggest little car show in the US. He mentioned that he visited the show a few times in the early years, was not impressed with the number of cars, but mentioned that the quality of the cars and the show was always the best of the best.

Example how the show sigs were used in 1951. In this case for the Sam Barris 1949 Mercury.
Example how the show sigs were used in 1951. In this case for the Sam Barris 1949 Mercury.

The Oakland Roadster show has ever since 1950 played a huge role in the history of custom cars and hot rods. The Exposition building has a very recognisable metal structure inside which always helps identify new old photos. However not to many photos are known to have survived from these early years of the show. So when some photo do show up from these early shows, it is always nice to be able to identify not only the cars in the photo, but also which year the photo was taken.

The great thing about these first shows is that the design of the show cards or display cards are different for each year. These show cards were most all hand painted and pre-made before the show. At set up day the owners name and or car info was added to the base cards. This helps us identify which year of the show the photos are taken. In the past this has helped solve some car mysteries already.

Below you can see the the show cars from 1950 till 1955.








Rik Hoving

Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)

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