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Chicago Auto Show gets into gear

Observer Scene | Wednesday, February 16, 2005

CHICAGO – With almost 1,000 cars spread over 1.2 million square feet of land, this year’s 97th Chicago Auto Show held at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago became the largest in North America.

After entering McCormick Place and the main Auto Show level, one was immediately struck by the dazzle and shine of all the cars parked in seemingly haphazard arrangements, the strong flashes and streaks of color from the walls and the huge projection screen that all make up the various surrounding exhibits.

Upon entering the show, it seemed as if the Ford Motor Company had received the luckiest location. With its placement right at the entry of the show, no one can help but be wowed by the line of 2005 Mustangs. Exhibiting five different Mustang models including the Cobra, the Saleen and the GT, the line of low, sporty coupes that seem ready to race at any minute provided a perfect beginning to a day full of automobiles.

Leaving the Ford exhibit behind, a natural path to the right leads through some nice but not very interesting exhibits provided by Subaru, Saturn and the Explorer van division of Ford. Next came one of the best exhibits at the show – provided by Buick. While it’s true Buick is not exactly the most interesting of cars, the exhibit was one of the classiest with a fountain of dancing water, free coffee and hot chocolate, and some very well displayed Lucerne CXS models. These sporty family cars are making their world debut in Chicago, and the setup certainly seems to befit such an honor.

Unless a person is interested in everyday cars, it is easy to go quickly through the majority of the exhibits set up by Chevy, Pontiac, GMC and Dodge, stopping only to look at some of their sportier models such as the Corvette and Viper. The Vipers are displayed on the regular show floor so it is possible to get in and see what it feels like to sit in a nearly $90,000 car. Seeing the new Corvette Z06 is also a great experience, and the thought of the new, most powerful Corvette engine ever (500 horsepower) really does have a magical effect.

The Chryslers, Jeeps, Mitsubishis, Nissans, Hondas and Toyotas also provide little in the way of entertainment with the exception of a few new models like the Nissan Z Roadster that caught my eye. One exciting thing Jeep and Chrysler do provide, however, is a test track. The track provides an opportunity to ride in the new model cars as they are driven over a terrain that has imitated potholes, noise zones, huge puddles, steep inclines and heavy rain so one can experience the handling of the car under all those conditions.

The second large room of the show consisted of more upper-level cars such as Porsche, Mercedes, VW, Audi, BMW, Bentley, Ferrari and Maserati, as well as more specialty vehicles such as International Truck, Mini Coopers, Scions and Smart cars. While it is impossible to talk about all of the cars in this room, some of the most significant are the International MXT Concept Truck, which was basically a $100,000 pickup truck capable of towing 14,000 pounds, the 5axis Scion tC, which was a basic Scion tC model that had been upgraded by 5axis.com to include six TV monitors, a 48-inch flat screen TV in the rear and a huge, powerful stereo system by Pioneer, a convertible Mini Cooper, a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti and two Bentley Arnage models affordably priced at around $250,000.

A return to the center of the main room allows a stop at the highlight of the Auto Show, the Shell Exotic Cars. Within the carefully roped off and guarded Shell exhibit sit some of the nicest cars ever made, including two Lotus Models, a Lamborghini Galardo and the greatest car in the entire show, the brand new Lamborghini Murcielago. Priced at just more than $319,000, the Murcielago may not be the most practical of cars, but one look at it and any person, car enthusiast or not, is sure to fall in love. The only sad thing about this display is it must be viewed from such a distance – a distance that cannot even be crossed despite begging and trying to bribe the guards. But just being even that close to those cars is well worth it.

A final trip around reveals one of the most unique exhibits in the entire show sitting directly across from the Shell cars. This exhibit features a Volvo XC90 made entirely out of LEGOs. Weighing 2,930 pounds and containing 201,425 LEGOs, the car took three LEGO designers three weeks to design and five builders two months to build working fulltime.

The Auto Show runs through the 20th and is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Sunday when it will close early at 8 p.m. Regular price tickets are a relatively high $10 a person given that parking is an additional $14 a car, but discount tickets can be bought at most new car dealers. Even the regular price tickets are well worth it, however, as the show is sure to provide a full day’s worth of entertainment.