Custom History

January 13, 2018

1950 Petersen Motorama




In 1950 Robert E. Petersen organizes the first Annual Motorama Show. A prestigious and well promoted Show setting the trend for all upcoming Shows.

In our series of Historic Custom Car Shows I’m creating articles around the, mostly, early Historic Car Shows. And then concentrating mostly on the show itself, and even more on the Custom Cars that were entered in these shows. In most of the Show coverage of these early shows the Hot Rods and Race Cars get a lot more attention than the Custom Cars. These early shows, till around 1956 can be considered as the jump-start to all later shows. From the beginning in 1948 till then, the shows were mostly about the beauty and ingenuity of the cars, displaying the creativity, and the beauty of the Hot Rods and Custom Cars. Awards were given to the most beautiful cars in each class. Then over the years the judging system at the shows was changed. To win trophies you had to score points, and each modification on your car gave you more point. The more points, the better chance you had to win trophies in your class. This obviously changed the way some people build their cars.

I have been collecting information and photos from these Early Show for many years, and still try to find out more about them. I hope that this article, about the first MOTORAMA Show, will be enjoyed by a lot of people, and I also hope that it perhaps will bring us some more info and even better would be some never before seen photos of this or other early events. My goal is to do as complete as possible write ups about these early Custom Car Shows.

The very early shows up till around 1950 were mostly based on Hot Rods, Race Cars, and exotics. The Custom Cars played a relatively minor role in these early shows. The first Petersen Motorama Show is no exception in this, the main focus for this show was Speed. The introduction in the 1950 Show Program illustrates (shown further down into the article) shows this very well.

The first Annual Petersen Motorama was held at the Shrine Convention Hall, 700 West 32nd Street in Los Angeles, California, from November 16 through 19, 1950.


Interior of the Shrine Convention Hall, this photo is from the 1930’s, but I believe that the interior was not changed much in 1950, when the Motorma was held there. This photo shows how huge the hall is, and also shows the very wide balconies where more cars could be shown and vendors could promote their products.


Robert E. “Pete” Petersen doing his Hot Rod and Custom Car publishing work with Trend Publishing putting out magazines as Hot Rod magazine and Motor Trend also wanted to do a special car show. Inspired by the Hot Rod Exposition from 1948-50 and the Hot Rod and Motor Sport Show Petersen decided to go all the way with his all new Show which he gave the inspiring name of MOTORAMA. Petersen had the privilege of having his own publishing company who could take care of all the publication he needed, having as much ads on his own nation wide read magazines as he wanted. And he knew his way around, making deals with all the right people, including local television for special broadcasts about to the show, to create the buzz and the visitor numbers he wanted.

Artist impression Created ahead of the show illustrates the luxurious feel the team was after. The impression was also used in the ad campaign in the magazines.


Announcing ad for the 1950 Motorama show on the back of the December 1950 issue of Motor Trend magazine. (This means that the December issue was distributed before the show, which was held on November 16-19, 1950)


One of the articles in Motor Trend magazine announcing the Motoram show on the left, and a promotional ad in Motor Trend magazine on the right.


Robert E Petersen is being interviewed by KTLA’s Kenny Grau at the 1950 Motorama the night before the event would start. The show was promoted on the KTLA “City At Night” program. The interest this program (and all other promotional actions) created made sure the Shrine exposition Hall was filled with audience every day. The Delehaye on the right was part of the Exotic and Sports Cars on display.


Petersen and his team wanted a very glamorous feel for the show, and of course the MOTORAMA name really helped with that image. The first location for the show was the beautiful Shrine Auditorium. A large building with a main floor, and also balcony space that could be used for displays, and for the visitors to have a walk and get an birds eye view of the event. (At around the same time GM also came up with the name MOTORAM, which they used to promote their new line of cars, and most of all new design studies. The two similar named shows had nothing to do with each other. It did however result in Petersen changing the name of his show into the Motor Revue name in 1954)

The 1950 Motorama show was the first show in its field that was promoted so much. Hot Rod and Motor Trend magazine had ads many month ahead of the show, and had several articles devoted to what would be displayed at the show. And when the show was over, Hot Rod magazine had a full four page article to cover the show, making sure everybody would remember this show, and would make plans to visit the show in the following years.

The Circle of Champions

Photo taken before the public was allowed from the balcony shows the “Circle of Champions” featuring the fastest of the fast. Johnny Parson’s ’50 Indy winner on the left, the aircraft Little Tony, Rollie Free’s Vincent Motorcycle, the So-Cal Streamliner and Ab Jenkins’ Mormon Meteor. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


This is how the Circle of Champions looked like during openings hours… (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


Johnny Parson’s ’50 Indy winner unique color slide taken by Walter Wyss. (from the Jimmy Barter Collection)


Another Walter Wyss color slide taken from the balcony shows Johnny Parson’s Indy racer,  Rollie Free’s Vincent Motorcycle and the Little Tony aircraft. (from the Jimmy Barter Collection)

Filming for the  KTLA “City At Night” program with the So-Cal Streamliner co-owners Alex Xydias and Dean Batchelor being interviewed. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


In 1950 this type of show was still a new phenomenon, cars shows specializing in Hot Rod, Race Cars and Custom Cars had only been around for two years. These early shows were extremely well visited, people from all over the State, and probably even from outside went to see the many top of the bill cars exhibited at these early events. Sadly very few photos have surfaced of the early shows, especially photos of the first Motorama show are very rare, and especially photos of the custom cars attending at this event have so far not surfaced often. If you have any photos that you think were taken at these early events, or know about some, or have any information regarding these early Car shows. Then please email us here at the Custom Car Chronicle, we would love to add the information and photos to this, or other subject related articles.

Tom Medley on the left and Al Isaacs, Art Director at Hot Rod Magazine, preparing the photo-shoot for the Jan 1951 cover of the magazine. This was done at the evening of set up day. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


Newhouse Speed Equipment Booth. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


So-Cal Speed Shop and Edlebrock shared a booth at the Motorama. Notice the glitter paper cut letters on the curtains.


Indian Motorcycle had a booth at the ’50 Motorama with girls promoting their latest bikes at the show. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


Fred Lobello “Ladybug” Lakester. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


Paul Scheifer’s track nose Model T. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


Rose Marie Reid bathing suit models and the Kenny Smith roadster on the main podium entertaining the crowd.


I came across this photo of this very rare empty 1950 Motorama Award plaque online a few year back. There was no info on where it came from, or what the story was behind it. I guess it was a left over from the show when to many awards had been ordered.


1950 MOTORAMA Introduction. (from the show program)

In the belief that an annual presentation of the finest motorized equipment obtainable in the automobile, motorcycle, boat and airplane fields would hold great appeal for Southern Californians the officers of MOTORAMA, Inc., evolved the idea for this exposition.
Planned as a late fall event coinciding with the completion of competitive events in the foreground categories, this show permits the owners of record-breaking and record-holding equipment to display their winner before an interested audience under the most favorable and colorful auspices.

No other exposition in this country offers a showcase for the nation’s fastest competition boats, airplanes, motorcycles and cars. No other exposition affords the numerous Clubs and Associations, identified with speed and sport event in the aforementioned classes, an opportunity to join together in one vast presentation for their mutual benefit.

An imposing array of parts, accessories and special equipment, manufactured and distributed in Southern California, is being exhibited in conjunction with the presentation of the motorized vehicles on which such equipment is used.

Thus, the entire scope of the speed movement is embraced in this exposition although the appeal is not limited to speed enthusiasts. Much of the “Specialty” equipment of today man be considered “standard” by tomorrow. Much of it already is easily adaptable to the family automobile.
Speed is therefore not without its constructive and practical aspects. Its contributions to American technological progress are recognized and validated.

MOTORAMA is something more than just another show. Aside from serving as a mechanical display, it has a second and equally important purpose.

For many years past, the need of a test timing strip in the Southern California era, which could be employed as a locale for the many time trials and related event held in this vicinity, has been most urgent. Such a facility would not necessarily be confined to speed events but also could be put to practical use by industrial concerns such as automobile and petroleum companies.

Out of Motorama, with the cooperation and aid of participants exhibitors, will derive funds to be used to inaugurate a cohesive movement aimed at the eventual construction of such a strip. This is the first definite step in this direction ever taken in Southern California.
The exhibitors and officers of participating Clubs and Associations, as well as the Public Service participants, join with the officials of MOTORAMA, Inc., in bidding you WELCOME!

MOTORAMA Management
Producers: Robert E. Petersen, Robert R. Lindsay
Show Director: Lee O. Ryan

Cover of the First Annual 1950 MOTORAMA show program.


The Customs at the Show

Even though the high light for the first Motorama Show was on Speed, there were still a number of Custom Cars entered in the event. The fact that the show was so well announced made it very interesting for people like George Barris, who understood the power of publicity. And he definitely wanted to be part of this event. Barris had a booth at the show, promoting the Barris Kustom Automobiles Shop, and we know about at least two Custom Cars created by Barris to be entered in this show.  Jim Skonzakes entered his freshly finished 1949 Buick, of which at least one photo taken at the show has surfaced. Nick Matranga also entered his brand new 1940 Mercury at the show. Sadly so far we have not been able to locate any photos of his car at the show. If you know of any other Custom Car that attended this first Annual Motorama show, please let us know.

Custom Cars attending the 1950 MOTORAMA Show

  • Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury
  • Jim Skonzakes 1949 Buick
  • Art Chrisman 1936 Ford 4-door
  • Leroy Viersen Sportscar with 48 Caddy grille
  • Ralph Carter 1949 Studebaker mild custom
  • Bill Tailor 1949 Chevy (possibly)

One page of the program was devoted to Custom Cars to be entered at the show. From only one of these cars we know for sure it was at the Show. The Viersen Sports Custom. From the other Customs shown in the program, we have so far not been able to find a picture taken at the show, or had any confirmation from somebody who attended the show.


Jim Skonzakes 1949 Buick was shown by Barris. Interesting promotional photo with George Barris and Jack Stewart behind the car. More on this unique photo in the CCC-Article (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


Art Chrisman entered his metallic maroon painted 1936 Ford four-door-sedan mild Custom. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


Leroy Viersen Motor Trend Cover Sports Custom (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


Ralph Carter 1949 Studebaker with Custom Hubcaps. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Petersen / AHRF)


Two page list of planned exhibitors of the 1950 MOTORAMA event. Interesting for us Custom Car Enthusiasts is to see Barris Kustom Automobiles and the House of Chrome at the show. Also interesting is that the Oakland Roadster Show had a booth at this event.


Very shortly after the event, for the January 1951 issue, Peters’ own Hot Rod magazine had a full cover and four page feature article about the show. Making sure everybody in the US knew about the importance of this show. Petersen was already planning ahead for his Second Annual Motorama…


The Cover of the January 1951 Hot Rod magazine showed the Kenny Smith roadster photographed the night before the show opened during the TV “City at Night” broadcast.


Overview photo from the Hot Rod magazine article shows the large crowds during opening hours. According the HRM article the large crowds made it hard to watch the exhibition from time to time.


More overview photos from the HRM article show how packed the building was. On both outside photos we can see the balconies, and how they were also used for display.


More mostly speed orientated vendors drawing a crowd all day long.


The First Annual Motorama was a huge success, with huge visitor numbers at all days of opening. According the Jan 1951 HRM article on the show, people from all states, and even some from Europe went to visit the show. The first two days of the show the weather was perfect California weather, but the last two days, apparently it rained non-stop, most likely dropping the number of visitors. Withe the large crowds already visible in the photos, we can only think, that the rain on the last two days was a good thing… Perhaps otherwise to many people would have wanted to get in during the weekend.

We can only imagine what kind of impact this show had on the visitors. Back in 1950 you only had Hot Rod and Motor Trend magazine for you Hot Rod and Custom Car buzz (and of course the cars on the street), and now you had this one building that was jam-packed with the finest Hot Rods, Race Cars, and Custom Cars, plus all the Hop Up and other related aftermarket products. Shows like this have played a huge part in promoting the Hot Rod, Race Car and Custom Car movement. While writing this article I also tried to imagine how the parking lot at the Shrine must have looked during the course of this event. Most likely many of the visitors drove their Hot Rod or Custom Car to this event, simply because it was their only way of transportation, but also because they knew all visitors would be just like them, very much interested in this type of cars. We can only hope that one of these days more photos of this event, and perhaps the parking lot as well will be shared.

Learning from this first show, Petersen decided to document the next shows even better than this first show. Always planning ahead, he realized it was important to show the public for the upcoming show how the last show had been. So he decided to create promotion movies of the next events. After having hosted the first Annual show at the Shrine Convention Hall, they would move to the Art Deco venue of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium for the next shows. From 1951 and up, the Motorama Show would be the place to show your new Custom Car. Beauty and graze would get much more place from than one, compared from the Speed controlled First Annual. More articles on Historic Custom Car Shows can be found HERE.

Location of the Shrine Convention hall where the Motorama Show was held in 1950 marked by the red pin. The blue pin shows the location of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, where the show would move to in 1951.


Special thanks to Jamie Barter, AHRF, Rodders Journal, Geoff Hacker.


(This article is made possible by)



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About the Author

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)


One Comment

  1. thanks…this is really cool. have you noticed that the Kustom plague on Jims Buick has holes in it…that could mean that the one i have is from TGS..unless he had a dozen laying around.

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