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My First Show

Old dudes and young dudes, dudes who wore hats, and other dudes who strutted. I might have been the only single gal there.

By Novella Carpenter

What kind of a loser goes to an auto show using public transportation? Well, that would be me. It was my first auto show ever, too, even though I've been a car columnist for over two years. 2005, I've decided, is the year I get my stuff together and do all those things I keep meaning to do. Go to Paris, build one of those sod houses (for my chickens!), get chickens, go to auto show.

When I arrived, the San Jose Auto Show was in full swing: the replica highway signs were hung, the carpet that looks like a two-lane blacktop had been rolled out, the loud music was thumping. The cars were clustered strategically, and a team of detailers armed with chamois and wax patrolled the place for nongleaming surfaces. (In the fancy exotic section, one young man buffed a Bentley Continental GT--0-60 in 4.4 seconds--so lovingly that it bordered on erotic, and I had to look away.) According to the press kit I had haphazardly read on the train, 62 percent of attendees buy a new car within a year. As promised, it looked like a lot of couples car shopping, but more than that, it was a lot of dudes. Old dudes and young dudes, dudes who wore hats, and other dudes who strutted. I might have been the only single gal there.

After three hours and interviewing various exhibitors, it dawned on me that the important things at the auto show are both the very big and the very small. Take the concept cars, for example. They are the big new ideas. I really liked the Copperhead, a concept put out by Chrysler. It's orange and curvy with dual air scoops on the hood, 20-inch rear tires to the 18-inch front tires so it looks like it's about to pounce. Have I mentioned the interior is purple leather? Or the very cool, retro muscle car Ford Forty-Nine concept, which is a simple, clean black little number that also somehow resembles a Corvair. The slightly eco Model U, put out by Ford, was a disappointment--frankly, it looks like a giant tofu container. Just as boxy but way cooler was the Jeep Willy 2. It looks like one of those toasters from the '50s polished a strange gray-blue color, and with wheels. It has a chrome-finished rack up top for all your inner tubes and snowboards, and looks like it could wade out of any sand pit.

These concepts haven't been built for the mass market, and it's unlikely they'll ever roll off the assembly line. According to the Ford exhibitor, few of the concept cars are ever mass-produced. But a couple years ago Ford's retro Thunderbird was merely a concept, but due to customer demand (the Ford guy said Ford's website is the medium for conveying such messages), it was mandated that Ford make the car available to the masses. It is at this conceptual edge that the big ideas in terms of shape, all-over look and the eventual lines of cars are decided.

But for the slovenly media person, it's the extras that excite. I was whisked into a BMW for a display of their iPod-friendly feature. Basically, there's a connection that comes out of the glove box for your iPod, then all your music goes into the car's stereo, which can be controlled on the steering wheel. This is a vast improvement on the tape deck iPod adaptors that cause risk of accident or injury trying to navigate your iPod while driving. One car-maker that has bet its livelihood on extras is Toyota with its Scion. The company offers 40 Toyota Racing Development (TRD) "youth oriented accessories" that can be added onto the xA, xB or tC and include things like sport pedal covers, illuminated cup holders and sport mufflers. VW offered a small change with the bicolor Beetle, and I must admit the carmine and black combination is beautiful.

Right before I left, I was talking to one of the Dodge Magnum girls and she mentioned Detroit. Yep, that show, the ultimate auto show, would be next weekend. "It's a zoo, it's packed. So many people you don't even get the chance to sit in the cars." Maybe I'll go to that one next year.

Email Novella at [email protected]

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From the January 12-19, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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