Photo First: Roadster Show

From tangerine-flake streamline babies to dystopian, Mad-Max rat rods, a high-design Portland tradition on wheels revs up for its 63rd year

Story and photographs by K.B. Dixon

The Portland Roadster Show is one of the oldest and largest roadster shows in the country. Begun in 1956, it has evolved slowly over the years from its rebel roots in horsepower and chutzpah to its present incarnation as a showcase for expensive, high-concept hallucinations—the fantasies not of grease-monkeys, but of designers and financiers. It went from hard-nosed hot rods to what Tom Wolfe famously described as “tangerine-flake streamline babies,” cars dipped in Tootsie Pop-colored lacquer, klieg-lit, and liberally encrusted in chrome—the Faberge Eggs of an affluent, mechanically minded, mostly male demographic.

This evolution from jalopies to jewelry boxes spawned a counter-movement a few years ago—the “Rat Rod.” No fenders, no paint, no bumpers, no upholstery. Rust a must. It championed a dystopian, Mad-Max aesthetic. Heaps festooned with skulls, Iron Crosses, and spiky things—it was a reaction to economic inequity and to hot rods that were only decorative. Remarkably inventive and sharing with its up-market brethren a primal penchant for exaggeration, the movement found accommodation quickly and is now very much a part of the larger custom-car culture.

The 63rd annual Roadster Show—some 400 custom hot rods, muscle cars, trucks, motorcycles, rat rods, and whatnots—is put on, as always, by the Multnomah Hot Rod Council, a consortium of Oregon and Washington car clubs. It is one of the best in the country, according to Ur-Customizer George Barris, the eminence grise behind the Batmobile, the General Lee, the Munster Koach, and others. Proceeds from the event go to support a wide variety of charities including Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.

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Portland Roadster Show

March 15-17

Portland Expo Center

Ticket and schedule information here

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Roadster Show, 2013

Dagmar Bumper, 2013

On Blocks, 2017

Duo with Trophies, 2015

Sombrero, 2015

Young Ladies, 2017

1931 Elegance, 2015

Flames, 2017

Chop, 2017

Coca-Cola, 2015

P-50, 2015

Kustom, 2016

’50 Chevy Pickup, 2013

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