Only one hot rod show in each state can have the “best hot rods in the state,” because best means best. A lot of rodders would agree that the Cheaterama held on Aug. 22 gets the nod for Wisconsin. This “traditional” hot rod show filled a drinkery called The Terminal with 606 of the coolest hot rods and custom cars in the Badger State.
The idea of a traditional hot rod show is to capture the 1962 flashback you saw in the movie “American Graffiti” in person in 2015. In other words, the cars in the show look pretty much like those you would have seen on the streets back in 1962 (if every car on the street was modified). Hot rods with shiny aluminum billet accessories are not considered a part of that scene. Neither are “rat rods.”
There are several such shows in Wisconsin and new ones are being planned everyday, but the Cheaterama has a couple of things going for it when it comes to attracting high-quality cars. For one thing, Milwaukee was a hot bed of hot rodding activity in the early ’60s. There were many machine shops and speed shops in the city back then. In addition to that, the Cheaterama is not far from other big cities such as Chicago, Ill. and Madison, Wis. And the legendary Great Lakes Dragaway (hot rod heaven) is not very far from Brewtown, either.
The name of the show comes from a Milwaukee Hot Rod Club called the Cheaters. They sell T-shirts with old-fashioned cartoon characters and slogans like “My boyfriend is a Cheater.” This year’s hot T was one with a tachometer on it. That design sold out before we could get one. Members of the Cheaters are into traditional hot rods and associated trends such as flat black paint and non-Chevy-small-block engines. There is another Milwaukee club called The Losers. Its members have the shiny billet rods. The Losers are not really losers and the Cheaters don’t cheat anyone. It’s all just part of the fun.
For traditional hot rodders, the fun stuff also includes rockabilly music, pinup girls, black fedoras and dark sunglasses like the Blues Brothers wore. At Cheaterama you are also likely to see sideburns, poddle skirts, saddle shoes and kids being pushed around in custom made hot rod strollers. One vendor — or was she a venders? — was selling ’50s style clothes, shoes and pocketbooks out of a vintage travel trailer. In other words, Cheaterama is a Blast from the Past.