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Chicago Auto Show: Unique Cars Attracted Attention

Claiming rights as the largest auto show in the country in display area and attendance, Chicago had something for everyone this year and, for once, that included automotive historians.

Chicago, Ill. – Being the first worldwide show to reach the 100-show mark, the Chicago Auto Show celebrated in fitting fashion Feb. 8-17 at McCormick Place South and the North Hall on Chicago’s south side.

Claiming rights as the largest auto show in the country in display area and attendance, Chicago had something for everyone this year and, for once, that included automotive historians.

The first Chicago Auto Show was held in 1901 and has continued with a break during and after World War II from 1942-1949. To commemorate the 100th event, a large display in the North Hall held 11 vintage cars ranging from 1900 to 1909 and a large selection of historical photos from the files of show sponsor, the Chicago Automobile Trade Association.

1903 Stevens-Duryea

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Though publicity mentioned that the 100 shows took place over 107 years, it has actually been 108.

In the latest display were eight cars from the Gilmore Car Museum in Kalamazoo, Mich., and three from the historical collection of General Motors.

Gilmore’s contributions included a 1900 Locomobile runabout, 1903 Columbia Electric runabout, 1903 Ford Model A, 1903 Stevens Duryea, 1904 Autocar runabout, 1905 Franklin gentleman’s runabout; 1906 Waltham Buckboard and 1909 Holsman.

From GM came a 1902 Cadillac, 1903 curved dash Oldsmobile and 1905 Buick Model C touring car.

1900 Locomobile

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The biggest news of the show was not vintage — but with strong connections to the past — when Dodge unveiled the production 2008 Challenger SRT coupe. While it varied little from the two-year-old concept car with a new, more 1970-looking grille the most obvious change, the fact it was really ready to be sold in the coming months was enough.

The biggest news of the 2008 Chicago Auto show was the first public introduction of the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 production model. Looking very much like the popular concept car, the new version, which pays tribute to the original 1970 Challenger, offers 425 hp and a 170-mph top speed for just under $38,000. The new machine will go on sale in limited numbers this spring.

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With the first production copy being auctioned at Barrett-Jackson for $400,000, muscle car enthusiasts and investors are eagerly awaiting the limited number of 2008 Challenger SRT 8’s that will be produced this model year with numbered dash plaques. Plainer models will follow for 2009.

Power will come from a 425-hp, 6.l-liter Hemi V-8, which will live under a twin-scooped hood. Three colors will be offered: Hemi Orange, Bright Silver Metallic and Brilliant Black Crystal Clear Coat. Manufacturer’s suggested retail is $37,995 (including shipping), but don’t expect any to go out the door anywhere near that.

Jim Press, vice-chairman and president of Chrysler LLC, noted that there were 4,300 orders on the first day the production Challenger was announced.

“We are proud of its history and know how to connect the driver to the machine,” Press said.

The car should move quickly — estimated 0-60 in 4.9 seconds with a top speed of 170 mph.

In personal observations, an illustration of the 1970 and 2008 Challengers nose-to-nose showed the latest incarnation to be a bit chunkier than the original. This is not surprising since the new version is based on the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger platform, but with a 116-inch wheelbase compared to 120 for the sedans. Also, the new Challenger has a hefty B-pillar concealed behind the hardtop-styled windows.

While the Challenger intro was probably the biggest event, it did not bring the biggest reaction from the normally jaded media at the press previews. Actual cheers broke out for Navistar International’s new Lone Star tractor design with a spectacularly styled grille and great overall lines.

Hauling a 1960 Chevrolet Impala four-door hardtop was certainly a worthy job for a new Chevrolet 5500 flatbed truck in General
Motors’ Commercial Vehicles display.

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There was also a 1939 International D-Series pickup, updated with a new 390-cid MaxxForce diesel to show the heritage of International, which claims its roots to go back 175 years to the McCormick tractors and implements. Showing a bit less of a firm grasp on history was Daniel Ustian, Navistar chairman, president and chief executive officer, who noted that International invented the first pickup truck in 1937, several years ahead of Ford and Chevrolet.

Another introduction with historical connotations and a bit of confusion was Volkswagen’s new Routan minivan, which will be built by Chrysler LLC in Windsor, Ontario. It is the third version of the new Chrysler/Dodge minivan and has a unique VW front clip and styling touches.

It is somewhat ironic that VW, which popularized the small van in the U.S. at the start of the 1950s, has sourced its latest product from Chrysler. It was with the 1984 introduction of its new mini-vans that Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca noted “we invented the minivan.”

Mercedes-Benz is proud of its heritage and used a 300 SEL 6.3 sedan to draw attention to its Classic Center USA, which sells parts and restores older models.

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Even more ironic was the statement by the VW spokesman that the minivan was “a new market segment for us,” despite a visual presentation before the conference showing older VW vans.

With a more accurate historical reference, BMW started its conference showing a perfect 1972 2002 tii owned by Bobby Rahal. It was used to introduce a new 135 tii concept that gave a preview of a sporting model that may be coming of its new 1-Series coupe.

Rahal’s ownership was no accident, as he was there to show the BMW M3 race car that Rahal Letterman Racing will use to compete in the 2009 American Le Mans Series with BMW of North America backing. Two next-generation M3 coupes will be entered for the full season. It was noted that a BMW CSL won the 12 Hours of Sebring (Fla.) in March 1975 just two weeks after BMW of North America LLC was incorporated.

Mitsubishi also called attention to its history, noting the 20th anniversary of production at its Normal, Ill., plant, which started out as Diamond-Star Motors, co-owned with Chrysler Corp. Chrysler departed in a few years and these days only new Mitsubishis roll from it.

Older Mitsubishis were on display, but since the brand is celebrating its 25th anniversary in the U.S., the 1980s were as old as they got. New 2009 Eclipse, Eclipse Spyder and Galant sedans were unveiled.

General Motors’ introductions at the show didn’t look back to its 100th anniversary, instead focusing attention to its green trucks now and in the future.

Debuting were the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse Crossover SUV, 2009 Sierra Hybrid pickup and GMC Denali XT concept, which combined Two Mode Hybrid and E85 capable features in its drive train.

The four-door pickup rides on a unibody chassis and uses a Midgate to increase capacity.

Trucks were the theme of Ford’s new offerings. Most unique was the Transit Connect small van that will be imported next year from Kocaeli, Turkey. Ford has had a spotty record of success with importing vehicles over the years, especially trucks, but this one should sell well with the ever-rising cost of gasoline.

A few older models could be found in the new vehicle displays. Notable was a 1960 Chevrolet Impala four-door hardtop atop a Chevrolet 5500 flatbed in the General Motors’ Commercial Vehicles area. Mercedes-Benz called attention to its Classic Center USA with a 300 SEL 6.3 sedan, which was available here from 1967-72.

Displays of history were not limited to the 100-Year or new vehicle show areas. Volo Auto Museum, which has had a display at the show since 1978, went all out and featured cars from 11 decades.

Visitors got to see a 1904 Cadillac, 1910 Brush Model D runabout with wooden chassis, 1925 Ford Model T, 1932 Duesenberg dual cowl phaeton, 1942 Packard Army staff car, 1959 Chevrolet Impala, 1968 Dodge Dart Hemi owned by Mr. Norm, 1970 Ford Shelby Mustang convertible, 1989 Lotus Espirit SE, 1996 Rolls Royce limousine used by Princess Diana and 2004 Ferrari Spyder, among others.

Volo also announced that, beginning March 1, it will roll back admission prices to its Volo, Ill museum from $9 to $7.

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