Custom Car Chronicle
In Memoriam

RIP Harold Bagdasarian


Sacramento Autorama Car show promotor and Capitol City Auto Club Thunderbolts president Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian has passed away.

Harrold Bagdasarian passed peacefully on October 16th surrounded by his family at the age of 91 of Dementia. The Funeral Service for Harold “Baggie” Bagdasarian is Friday October 24th, 2014 11:00a.m. at East Lawn Cemetery, 4300 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento. The family has said to drive your hot rod or custom car if you would like to.

You will be missed Baggy!



About Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian

Courtesy Rod

The Autorama was started by Sacramento businessman Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian. In 1950, while serving as president of the Capitol City Auto Club Thunderbolts, he talked the members into having a show to settle friendly arguments over the outstanding merits of their personal customized cars. The Capitol Chevrolet Company dealership at 13th and K Streets in downtown Sacramento was the site of the first gathering, which attracted 22 entries and 500 spectators. “We took in $262 in two days at 74 cents a head,” Baggy recalled. “We didn’t charge 75 cents because we would have gotten involved in the Federal Amusement Tax.” The first Best Custom Car trophy went to Leroy Semas for his 1937 Chevrolet coupe, and Burton Davis was the winner for Best Rod with his 1931 Ford Roadster.

Though income did not quite meet expenses in 1950, Bagdasarian persuaded the Thunderbolt members to try it again. The date was rescheduled for April 19 and 20, 1952, but the location changed to the Newton Cope Buick Company showroom at 15th and J Streets. There were 32 local car entries, along with a few cars from the San Francisco/Oakland Bay area. The spectator count grew to more than 1,000 and the Best Custom trophy was awarded to a beautiful 1941 Chevrolet built by the legendary Joe Bailon, then of San Leandro.

Following the second Autorama, the Thunderbolts were hesitant to continue due to expenses. But an optimistic Bagdasarian, encouraged by the increased attendance, was convinced that the event had the potential for being a real winner. Baggy promoted the show without the Thunderbolts’ backing. It became apparent that a more suitable location was needed for expansion so he rented the Memorial Auditorium and teamed with the late John Gliebe, a motorsports publicist to increase public awareness.

The Third Autorama was a three-day show in late January 1953. This was the first time the name “Autorama” was used, since the exhibits expanded to include all types of hot rods, customs, motorcycles, race cars, boats and specialty vehicles. A theater area for the showing of various racing events, such as the Indianapolis 500 was introduced as well. The event drew 70 entries and nearly 8,000 spectators, including famed sportsman J.C. Agajanian, whose Number 98 Indianapolis car was one of the specialty entries.

The 1954 Sacramento Autorama and Motor Sports Review utilized both the main floor and basement of the Memorial Auditorium, and attendance of nearly 9,000. In 1955, the Autorama was shifted to the 33,000 square foot Merchandise Mart Building at the old California State Fairgrounds on Stockton Boulevard. By 1958, the large crowds and success made a five-day Autorama a reality. After the 1963 show saw nearly 30,000 attendees it was moved to the larger Women’s Building on the fairgrounds for 1964. Vehicle entries were up to 150 and in 1966 the adjacent Governor’s Hall was used to increase floor space.

In 1970, Bagdasarian moved the Autorama into three buildings at the Cal Expo. Entries increased to about 175 and two of the buildings were used for displays. The third was converted to a 1,500 seat movie theater. The Sacramento Autorama has expanded to more buildings to accommodate its present day exhibition of nearly 300 of the most spectacular vehicles in the world.

Bagdasarian carried on with the show through the 70’s and 80’s. In the late 80’s he teamed with Sacramento’s Don Tognotti, who produced the Sacramento Autorama until Feb 1999. the show is currently produced by John Buck Enterprises, Inc and the volunteers.




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 thought on “RIP Harold Bagdasarian

  • I was at the Thunderbolts rod run in Grass Valley, CA in 1994. I ran across a black ’40 Olds that looked similar to my old one. I looked to see if it had the same style ’47 Ford heater as mine had. It did. I asked around as to who owned it and found that Howard Bagdsarian, the promoter of the Sacramento Autorama, owned it. He and his fellow car club members seemed skeptical that it had been my car. He and I went to look at it. As we walked up to it I said “the VIN stamped in the door frame is 69NV108”. He opened the door and confirmed it.

    Evidently it had been owned by someone in the Sacramento area (Jim Johnson?) who had bought it from the person I sold it to and claimed to have built it. He was surprised that had been in the 1973 Autorama in a different color and interior. I pointed out the details to him such as the plastic parts I reproduced that he thought were originals. At the time a Nova front clip had been installed and a Chev motor motivated it, with a black paint job and interior. I think heater was one of the few items unchanged. I told him I would send him my old pictures and history on the car, which I did.

    A few years later I ran across his son and asked him about whether his dad still had it. He said yes, he kept everything and probably still had his lunch money from grade school!

Leave a Reply