Any recognition from Gene Winfield (genewinfield.org) , the legendary custom car builder, is indeed an honor and worthy of further mention. Such is the case with the hot rod, Gearheads, owned by local car builder, Bob Spilos.
For the record, Gearheads, an extremely modified ’27 Buick Opera Coupe, was the first rod that met you after you descended down the escalator to the lower level at Autorama.
As the Gene Winfield, 58th Detroit Autorama Extreme Award was handed out on stage personally by Gene Winfield, Spilos admitted later he was shocked. After all, he told me Buicks seldom win much at these shows.
He’s right, too. Most show winners are Ford’s with Chevy engines and Chrysler Hemis.
It literally took Bob another day, though, before he realized he hadn’t asked why. So he caught up with Winfield the next day.
Winfield told him that Gearheads had “the right stance,” and that it was “awesome from the rear.”
There is that word again, folks: stance. That’s the very same word I used to describe last week’s Tech Hot Rod of the Week. And the same word that Bob Lutz often emphasized when he first came back to GM.
Unfortunately, I missed the Winfield ceremony, because I was upstairs covering the Ridler Award; but managed to get a private showing and interview with Bob Spilos later at his home, thanks to my friend, Ray Talley. And was I surprised. This Spilos is a rod builder from way back, starting at age 14.
After I pulled up to his house, Gearheads was already waiting for me in the driveway. All I wanted was a pic of Bob, the rod and the award. Then Bob opened the garage door, and there were two more cars waiting to be admired, a black ‘50 Olds 88 and a bright yellow ‘38 Olds reworked by Bob. More on those two next week; too much for a single article.
In case you missed it, though, Gearheads already made it into Hot Rod magazine’s December 2009 issue. And, if you recall, I first shot this car whizzing by at the Harper Avenue Charity Cruise last August 2009.
Regardless, the feature in Hot Rod was well deserved attention for the ‘27 Buick Opera Coupe. If you’re more into the on-line viewing, though, you can simply click the link in the related articles (see above) to get all the close-up pics by Wes Allison along with the complete feature article by Henry Platts on the Gearheads rod. I managed to get even closer, though.
In my opinion, Spilos the man is what represents the true spirit of hot rods and building cars in Detroit. After talking with him and viewing his cars, you come away with a deep respect for his knowledge, his innovations, his attention to detail and his skill as a craftsman. Point: As a former design engineer, I am impressed.
He has obviously grown over the years to become an innovator as well. Word to the wise: Be sure to always look closely at his cars, because you may miss the obvious and the subtle features that only a builder would know. The yellow ’38 Olds called Rocket 38 in his garage has a one-piece windshield, not two. And the Gearheads doors are still framed in the original wood, where the outer skin is literally tacked to the wood.
When I asked him what his goal was, since he usually avoids entering into the big shows, he replied that he simply did not want to be ashamed if and when he pulled up next to other cars at any outdoor event. That made me ask why he had to be asked to bring his car to Autorama in the first place. Fact is he might not have entered the car if it had to be upstairs. I couldn’t imagine why.
He seems to eschew those kinds of shows, because he feels he knows too much about his own cars, and that his cars still have flaws. Where? Not in my book. I couldn’t see it, but he did. And that’s part of his character – his attention to detail and innovation.
When I asked him his favorite for this year’s Ridler Award, he told me the ’34 Packard; my very own choice as well. He especially liked the innovation, boat-tail style, the clean hand-crafted look that only a builder like him would notice.
Examiner Final Comments
Technology and innovation go together. That is why I will also cover Bob’s ‘38 Olds next week, because it is both a work of art and innovation. In fact, do not be surprised if I name it the next Tech Rod of the Week simply for its innovations and adptations. Other cars were in the running for next week, but that has all changed.
Moreover, Bob Spilos deserves far more recognition than he gets. After all, he is more than just another local, hot-rod driver or cruiser. Anyone with the bucks can buy a rod and cruise Woodward. The last time I met anyone with his kind of building talent was at the GM Tech Center, where teams of craftmen build the show cars.
Bob Spilos is indeed a sole builder who stands in a class all by himself. Winfield sees it. And if there are any magazines out there looking for a feature, then I personally recommend any of Spilos’ machines. Moreover, I especially recommend meeting and talking to Bob directly. He is a true car builder, and the Detroit area is especially proud he won the Winfield Award.
[Correction: Original article reported Spilos’ third car in error as a ’53 Olds instead of a ’50 era car]