Mike Alexander, famed car customizer and Ridler winner, dies at age 80



Photo credit: AUTOWEEK
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Mike Alexander, a famed Detroit custom-car builder, died of cancer at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., on July 18. He was 80.

Alexander and his brother, Larry, frequently showcased custom car and truck designs at Detroit’s Autorama. Between them, they were finalists and winners of multiple Autorama honors, including the Ridler award for best of show.

Mike won a Ridler with a modified 1966 Dodge pickup called the “Deora.” It was included in the first Hot Wheels line in 1968.

Mike Alexander was born on Aug. 29, 1933, in Detroit.

Mike and Larry, who died in 2010, attended the Wolverine Trade School in Detroit in the 1950s, and Mike studied bodywork and paint theory.

In 1957, the two opened the Alexander Brothers Custom Shop in the Motor City, where they famously modified a 1931 Ford Model A featuring a four-cylinder engine. It was dubbed the “Grasshopper” for its green metallic paint job.

Mike Alexander later served as vice president of American Sunroof Corp.’s Custom Craft Division under Heinz Pretcher, who founded the company. Alexander started there in 1970 and worked in the Custom Craft Division for more than 30 years.

Mike, middle, and Larry Alexander, right, with one of their many awards for customizing.

Photo credit: AUTOWEEK

Before joining American Sunroof Corp., now American Specialty Cars, Alexander was hired by Larry Shinoda, director of Ford’s special design office, to run the Kar Kraft Design Center, a special vehicle development group that folded in the late 1960s.

Chris Dowdey, a senior designer who also moved from Ford to American Specialty Cars, worked with Alexander for 27 years and remembers him as “the consummate car guy.”

“He was an ingenious inventor and fabricator,” Dowdey said. “The one thing you always knew when you worked with Mike is that you had to bring your A-game.”

Mark Trostle, former president of creative services at ASC, remembers Alexander as a problem-solver.

“He had a good sense of aesthetics and what looked good, but he also knew what it takes to make it work,” Trostle said.

Alexander is survived by his wife, Elaine Alexander, and their three children.

You can reach Nora Naughton at nnaughton@crain.com.


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