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Rotunda Customs 1956 Show




In February 1956 the FoMoCo organized the second Custom Car Show in the Ford Rotunda building. Sadly this would also be the last time this prestigious event was held.

The second, and last Rotunda Custom Car Show was held in February 1956. The first show was a good success, but for unknown reason this years event only had 9 Custom Cars and Hot Rods in attendance. A much to small number of cars for the car guys to make a special trip to this event. No matter how special the building was, and no matter how special the selected cars in the exhibit was. The main-stream Custom Car and Hot Rod shows around the country, also in the Detroit  area had perhaps hundred or more car in those events. Still the 1956 Rotunda show was a nice one, and all 9 cars in attendance were displayed on fake grass with small bushes surrounding the cars giving it a very elegant feel. Very much like the Petersen Motorama shows held in the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. The well done displays looked wonderful in the Rotunda building, and combined with the well selected cars this gave the event a very high end feel. It was clearly that the Rotunda was about quality, not quantity.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-55-building-02Mid 1950’s Rotunda postcard.


This year the cars at the event were not all local cars. Two cars came all the way from California, magazine featured cars that most likely were invited to draw a crowd. The heavily restyled and Eauropean Sports Car inspired 1933 Ford Roadster from Henry Rootlieb was the Custom entry from the sunny state, and Ray Cortopassi brought his wonderful streamlined dragster “The Glass Slipper” to Dearborn.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-11For the 1956 Rotunda show Henry Rootlieb came all the way from California to the Rotunda with his heavily restyled 1933 Ford Roadster. The car was based on an 1941 Ford frame, with an body created from 33 Roadster and Tudor body sections, hand made hood and chrome plated reshaped 1935 Ford truck grille and 1955 Ford hubcaps.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-10The car had a really nice European Sports Car feel to it.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-03Unknown 1942-48 Lincoln Contintal has some really interesting restyling going. The whole front was reshaped with a new custom shaped grille, Cadillac Bumperette’s and Cadillac headlights with molded in parking lights. The rear fenders were modified with 1952 Lincoln taillights and custom rock shield. These two photos taken at the 1956 Rotunda show are the only I have seen of this car as far as I can remember. Interesting car.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-04Birds eye view shows the Lincoln Continental with the black top (possibly a padded top), and here we can see the 52 Lincoln taillights in the reshaped rear fenders. In the center of the photo we can see the 1940 Mercury of Jerry Yatch, Bob Palmer’s 1955 T-Bird restyled by Clarkaiser, and Ray Cortopassi streamliner dragster.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-05Jerry Yatch’s 1940 Mercury with molded fenders, molded in trunk, 49 Packard taillight, chopped windshield and a panoramic rear window padded top.


CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-12Clarkaiser sectioned, chopped and added full fade away fenders to Les and Adle Volpe’s 1948 Mercury. A beautiful early style Custom inspired by the SoCal styled customs from the Ayala’s and Barrisses. The sectioned body and hood made this coupe look extremely long and low.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-01The Ford Motor Company had a couple of nice color photos made of the event. At least two of them have been shared, including this nice one showing the Volpe 1948 Mercury in the foreground, and the Frank and Charles Gilardone 1953 Ford Victoria in the background. Both cars were restyled by Clarkaiser. In contrast with the previous show, all the cars were now put on nicely created displays with fake grass and small bushes.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-02The two known color slides of the event together. On the left is Frank and Charles Gilardone 1953 Ford Victoria and on the right the Volpe’s 48 Mercury. It must have made the Clarkaiser shop very proud to have several of their cars at this event.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-13The styling on the Frank and Charles Gilardone 1953 Ford Victoria was done extremely well balanced. Unique shaped head and taillights with a perfectly proportiond chopped top.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-07Clarkaiser had a total of three of their restyled cars on display. The third one is Bop Palmer’s 1955 Thunderbird the ‘Golden Bird” created when the car was near new. The car has extended rear fenders with ’55 Ford taillight and modified 1951 Merc fender skirts, the front was reshaped with a new grille opening with grille created from 1955 Buick bumper components with peaked dagmars. The hood scoop was reshaped, it has molded in headlights, a general shave and a wonderful golden pearl white paint job.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-08Snapshot taken of Bob Palmer’s Golden Bird at the event.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-06This is the same photo as shown above, only this time it shows a bit more of the Rotunda interior.

CCC-ford-rotunda-customs-56-show-trophyThe Rotunda Custom Car Show Feb 1956 award won by the 1955 Thunderbird “Golden Bird” owned by Bob Palmer.

I have not been able to find any documentation on actual awards given out at this event. Not for the first year, or the second year. But apparently there must have been some kind of competition going. Bob Palmer’s 1955 Ford Thunderbird is now completely restored and there is still an original 1956 Rotunda trophy that goes with the car where ever it goes. As far as I know the 1956 was never published as well as the previous show was. And perhaps the lack of publicity and the lack of visitors made the people at Ford decide to not run the event again after 1956.



Custom Cars exhibited at the 1956 Rotunda Custom Car Show

  • Henry Rootlieb 1933 Ford Roadster
  • Jerry Yatch 1940 Mercury
  • Unknown 1942-48 Lincoln Continental Convertible
  • Les and Adle Volpe 1948 Mercury
  • Frank and Charles Gilardone 1953 Ford Victoria
  • Bob Palmer 1955 Thunderbird



More information and resources

(The Custom Car photos used in this article are part of the FoMoCo collection and can be ordered online in a wide selection of sizes and printed on different materials.)



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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)

3 thoughts on “Rotunda Customs 1956 Show

  • Both great articles Rik.
    As a boy growing up in Detroit the big 3 had a huge presence in our lives as most of our friends fathers worked for one of them. Being from the East side I never made it to the Rotunda before it burnt down but later I had my marriage reception at the Dearborn Inn. Another historic legacy from old Henry.
    Makes me smile to see the pics of the Clarkaiser 1953 Ford Victoria as I consider my lucky to have been one of it’s caretakers. The Clarkaiser shop produced some great customs but it seems that like some others that weren’t out in California they have been somewhat over looked.

  • Wow, what a lineup…cool to know a few of those kustoms are still around. Too bad about the ’46 Merc that was burned in a garage fire 🙁

    I have never seen that Lincoln Continental before!

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