A Look Back at the 1963 San Mateo, San Jose and Oakland Shows

he year was 1963. Stranger on the Shore and Telstar become the first singles by British groups to reach No.1 on the U.S. charts, predating the first No.1 by the Beatles by 13 months.

The Beatles recorded their debut album, Please Please Me, in a single day at the AMI Abbey Road Studios in London.

U.S. spacecraft Mariner 2 passes by Venus, becoming the first probe to transmit data successfully from another planet.

Wally Parks shocked the sport by adding an invitational, “experimental” Top Fuel Eliminator, to the Winternationals in Pomona, California. He also outlawed jet propulsion. While aircraft power plants had been banned from actual competition since 1960, but allowed to make exhibition runs, these new “weenie roasters” were strictly forbidden, despite a solid safety record to date.

The northern California car show season for 1963 began on the weekend after New Year’s Day, at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. Harry Costa’s San Mateo Custom, Rod and Sports Car Show saw the debut of the latest projects that had been languishing in garages during the prior winter months (Remember this is California!).

The San Mateo Custom, Rod and Sports Car Show began in 1956 by Bay Area hot rodders Harry Costa, Jr, Andy Brizio and Richard Costa. The show was billed as ‘The California Auto Fair’. San Mateo is located on the San Francisco peninsula, about 20 miles south of the city of San Francisco. In the years that followed, San Mateo was the place to debut your latest build. Many cars came from outside of California, hoping to win awards at California’s top car shows during the months of January and February, and for many a chance to get out of the snow and cold weather.

Two weeks after San Mateo, the venue changed and moved down the San Francisco peninsula to the San Jose Fairgrounds. Paul and Vicki Bender usually assembled a fresh group of rods, customs and race cars, with emphasis on Bay Area car clubs.

The San Jose Autorama was started in 1952 by Paul’s dad. Paul’s dad sold advertising for the programs at the National Roadster Show in Oakland. Paul helped out by pedaling the programs during the show’s 10-day run over the Washington’s Birthday holiday.

Paul took over the San Jose show from his dad in 1959, with help from partner and race promoter Bob Barkhimer. The last San Jose Autorama was 1987. During this 35-year run of the San Jose show, Paul also was the NASCAR flag man for races at California short tracks like San Jose Speedway, Watsonville, Fresno, Madera, and Clovis.

The next venue was a short ride north on Highway 17 from San Jose to the East Bay community of Oakland, and the Oakland Exposition Building. This had been the home of the National Roadster Show since its inception in 1950, as well as the home of Bay Area midget racing. The show actually began as the International Auto Show in 1949. Al and Mary Slonaker billed that first show to include new domestic and foreign automobile makes. A group of Bay Area hot rodders asked Al if they could display their “hot rods” in one far corner of the building, and he agreed. Needless to say, the 10 hot rod roadsters stole the show, and in 1950 the show became the National Roadster Show.

The NRS became known in the media as Oakland, mainly because it was easier than saying National Roadster Show. In 1963 the show became the Grand National Roadster Show, a title which was even longer. Hence, though the show has since moved to the Pomona Fairplex in Pomona, California, many of us still refer to the show as Oakland.

The Oakland Exposition Building had its own brand of character and ambiance. Since the large doors at each were constantly opened and closed for ventilation, and for midget races, some birds found themselves a comfortable home in the tall steel roof trusses. Naturally this caused some car owners, wary of the birds leaving their marks, to add an extra coat of wax to the exposed horizontal surfaces of their rides.

So here we present a cross section of images from the San Mateo, San Jose and Oakland shows in 1963. Some of the images are a little focus fuzzy and have deteriorated over the past 54 years. For that I apologize. In 1963 I was just out of high school and still learning how to shoot indoor car shows.

(Editor’s Note: A big thank you goes out to Greg Sharp, Rod Powell, Paul Bender, Rik Hoving and Rudy Perez for their help.)