BELOIT—Burgess Watts has driven his ’56 Chevrolet to the Beloit Autorama for 15 years.
The 77-year-old makes the jaunt from Chicago each September to visit fellow car fanatics. He said the show is jam-packed with camaraderie and replete with rare vehicles.
“It’s one of the best shows around anywhere,” he said.
This year, Watts plans to once again ply the roads from Chicago for the 42nd Beloit Autorama, which takes place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, at Preservation Park in the town of Beloit.
About 1,200 cars from across the country are expected to be on display this year, Co-chairman Todd Nelson said. Categories range from pre-1949 street rods to Corvettes to 1955-64 full-sized Chevrolets. Winners in 10 categories will receive the show’s famed trophies, which are hand-built by members of local car clubs.
This year’s trophies feature the tail fin of a ’57 Chevrolet, the grill of a ’34 Ford and a clock—a typical garnish of Autorama’s trophies.
“All of our trophies are handmade. They’re unique,” said Laverne Hays, president of the Blue Ribbon Classic Chevy Club. “They’ve always been that way. People love to come look at the trophies, even if they don’t win one.”
Hays said judges try to be selective when picking winners in each category, and he said the show will go on no matter the weather.
Most of the money raised from Autorama is put back into the community. On average, Nelson said the car show raises $35,000 for the Beloit Lions Club, one of the show’s sponsors. He said it’s the largest single-day fundraiser for a Lions Club in the state of Wisconsin.
Other Autorama sponsors include the Coachman Street Rod Club, Blue Ribbon Classic Chevy Club, XLR8 Car Club and the Rock Valley Mustang Club.
Aside from the massive car show, Autorama features a $5,000 50/50 raffle (with half benefiting the Lions Club), cars for sale, an area designated for buying and selling car parts, plus arts and crafts.
During past shows, Nelson said he has seen bountiful gems parked at the show, including a 1932 Cord, a Duesenberg, a brass Ford Model T and a brand-new Dodge Challenger.
“I’ve seen it all. I really never know what’s going to show up,” he said.
Beloit Autorama is the largest car show in the Midwest, attracting patrons from Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan, Nelson said.
For Watts, the show is always a worthwhile trek—and he said he’s eager to flaunt his ’56 Chevy again. He finished refurbishing the wagon in 1996, and he said there isn’t enough money in the world to buy it.
The car is a member of his family, he said.
But showing cars isn’t new for Watts. He’s been parading his treasured jalopies in shows across the Midwest for years. He joined the Greater Chicago Classic Chevy Club in 1987, and he’s driven to clubs in Minneapolis, Green Bay and Rochester, Minnesota.
Still, Beloit Autorama is one of the finest around, he said.
“I can’t say enough. It’s a well-run club,” Watts said. “I just enjoy it immensely.”