Handmade Roadster rolls into car show
The most notable cars at the annual Forest Grove Concours d'Elegance are traditionally rare vintage models painstakingly restored to their original conditions. For example, last year's Best in Show winner was a 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K Sports Tourer that looked brand new. An even older car, a 1903 Ford A, also was honored.
But this year, many eyes will be on a one-of-a-kind handmade car designed by two Portland hot rodders, Chris Ito and Steve Frisbie. The Renaissance Roadster looks like a heavily customized 1933 Ford painted in shiny kandy apple red and glossy black with embedded glass crystals. But it was actually built from the ground up during a 10-year-long project that was on the verge of collapsing several times before finally being completed in Frisbie's internationally renowned Southeast Portland shop, Steve's Auto Restorations.
"The original plan was to build 24 of them as 'kit cars' that would be finished by the owners. Chris sketched it and we built a steel prototype, then contracted with a manufacturer in Poland to build the rest in aluminum. But after I flew the prototype over there, they only finished one and then admitted they didn't have the capacity to fulfill the contract," Frisbie explained while walking through his cavernous shop in mid-June.
Not only that, but the sole aluminum version wasn't up to Frisbie's standards. After he brought them both back to Portland, Frisbie eventually sold the aluminum version to a car collector in Texas, who paid him to complete it after more than four years of painstaking work. A lawsuit against the Polish manufacturer is still in the courts.
"Lawyers in Poland cost just as much as lawyers here," Frisbie says.
That doesn't mean the Renaissance Roadster isn't worth honoring. The prototype is now in the prestigious Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. And the completed aluminum version won the prestigious Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama custom car show in late February.
Named after early Detroit show promoter Don Ridler, the best-in-show award honors one never-before-seen show car every year. The focus is on a unique and creative concept, with clever engineering and refined craftsmanship. The Renaissance Roadster clearly fits the bill. It has only a handful of off-the-shelf parts, including an aluminum-block GM Performance Anniversary Edition 427 crate motor mated to a GM 4L60 transmission.
As dazzling as it is, the Renaissance Roadster is only one of hundreds of custom cars that Frisbie has designed and built over the years. The son of a service station owner who grew up immersed in cars, he learned fabrication skills while working for Boeing. To earn more money to support his young family, Frisbie began working on cars for friends in his back yard.
As his reputation grew and business increased, Frisbie quit his job and opened his own shop, moving to his current location at 4440 S.E. 174th Ave. around 17 years ago. Fifteen employees currently work in the 12,666-square-foot building, which is perhaps best known for the yellow 1932 Ford Coupe on the roof.
"My wife was more nervous about it than me," says Frisbie, minimizing the financial risk he took starting his business.
Today, Frisbie's shop caters to car collectors for whom money is no object. The cost for one of his vehicles ranges from $200,000 to seven figures. They include both meticulous restorations and custom cars with bodies, fenders and other parts shipped in from specialty manufacturers throughout the country. Some are designed by him and his employees.
"My customers come from all over the world. They are very competitive and want the kind of cars that win awards at prestigious shows," says Frisbie, who spends much of his time these days traveling to shows where his cars are entered and meeting with clients.
Frequent award winner
Cars currently under construction include a 1962 Chevy Corvette, a 1939 Ford Convertible, a 1955 Chevy crew cab pickup conversion, a 1970 Mercedes 280SL, a 1939 Lincoln Zephyr being converted to an electric vehicle, and even a 1938 GMC "Shorty" school bus. Owners live in Arizona, North Carolina, Southern California and Brazil. The bus is owned by an Oregon State University fan in Corvallis who plans to bring it to Beaver tailgating parties.
Since winning the Ridler Award, the Renaissance Roadster has appeared at only a few other car shows in the country, including the 2017 Portland Roadster Show. It will be competing for top honors in both the Modified and Best of Show categories at Pacific University in Forest Grove on July 16.
Frisbie is no stranger at the Forest Grove shows. Cars he has restored have won numerous awards, including being named Best in Show multiple times. His modified cars almost always win that category.
Beats selling roses
The Concours d'Elegance is an all-volunteer event, organized by the Forest Grove Rotary Club as their largest annual fundraiser. The title translates to Competition of Elegance, which reinforces the impression it is focused on vintage luxury cars. But in fact, modified cars have competed for around 20 years alongside much more modest vehicles, from early Volkswagen Beetles to race cars.
Allen Stephens, a member of the show's steering committee, admits that fans of vintage and modified cars tend to be different kinds of people.
"Vintage fans like to see a car restored to its original specifications as close as possible. Modified-car fans want to see how far the builder can push the design," says Stephens, whose father Al helped start the annual show 45 years ago. "But they are both car people and part of the car community that participates in the Concours show."
Stephens says that when his dad joined the Rotary Club, its biggest fundraiser was selling roses door-to-door.
"But that didn't really raise much money. My dad was one of a few car guys in the club who proposed a car show instead. Today it is the oldest concours in the Pacific Northwest," says Stephens, an Intel human resources program manager and Mercedes collector.
Hundreds of cars will be on display and compete in dozens of categories at this year's show. It will also honor 100 years of Lincoln automobiles, the luxury cars made by one of America's oldest manufacturers. Also celebrated will be wood-body station wagons from 1930 to 1953 and the original iconic Mini subcompacts from Britain.
Presenters this year are Keith Martin, founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and American Car Collector magazines, and collector consultant Donald Osborne, a host on the TV show "Jay Leno's Garage." Osborne is also the author of the new book on Italian car designs, "Stile Transatlantico/Transatlantic Style — A Romance of Fins and Chrome." He will sign copies of it at the show.
If you go
What: 45th annual Forest Grove Concours d'Elegance
When: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sunday, July 16
Where: Pacific University, Forest Grove
More info: forestgroveconcours.org