Five Favorites from Auto Show Seasons Past

2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 1
Ralph Gilles and his baby – the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8. Photo by Randy Stern

Next year will mark ten years since I covered my first auto show. No, seriously

It is a momentous occasion since working press at an auto show has evolved from covering what's new on the scene as a place to truly get the feel of what is out on the marketplace. However, covering the industry has definitely changed over time. Traditional media has been threatened by the likes of myself…and we're being threatened by outlets that can distill the news even quicker.

Still, there is room at the table for all of us – and we're networking with each other all the time. In fact, the industry and the press are interconnected in ways unimaginable when it was strictly the traditional media covering the industry. I still believe that we need a day to meet with our industry counterparts, enjoy the excitement of vehicle launches and provide varying perspectives on the industry back to you – the readership.

Since the first major USA show is coming up this week at the Los Angeles Convention Center; this actually calls for a Five Faves post! This posting revolves a single question: What five vehicles made my auto show press coverage experience worth the effort?

That would mean logging back top the 2002 Chicago Auto Show – the one I covered with Midwest Ursine/Tillery Publications along with current Windy City Banner publisher Tom Wray.

I did come up with five vehicles over the past ten years. Here they are…

2002 MERCEDES-BENZ C-CLASS COUPE: I was missing my 1991 Acura Integra very badly. Yet, the market seemed to have abandoned small sports coupes altogether. The Toyota Celica and the Acura RSX soldiered on while other pretended to be their competition. Fir a couple of years, Mercedes-Benz sold a small coupe off of their C-Class sedan. The hatchback was rear-wheel drive and offered a choice of hyped-up four cylinder motors under the hood. In our case, it was a 2.3litre four with a supercharger slapped onto it ()later swapped for a smaller 1.8litre supercharged mill). The drawback of offering this coupe was the lack of Mercedes-Benz luxury inside of it. Cloth seats, along with lower quality plastics, detracted from three-pointed star owners to embrace this fun machine. For the Integra crowd, this was a step-up…as was the price. At least that was my summation when I saw it at the 2002 Chicago Auto Show. I never drove the C-Class Coupe…and I wished I did. Think of the fun I would have had…

2002 MINI COOPER: Here's a picture: I'm a big guy and the MINI Cooper is a small car. In my article for Midwest Ursine, I felt compelled to try BMW’s British baby for size. Of course, I left off all of the drama leading up to the retention of the brand and the Oxford plant after the Bavarians spat out Rover Cars like a bad meal at a roadside restaurant. However, a lot of credit was due to the engineering of the enlarged interpretation of Sir Alec Issigonis' contribution to automotive history. I proved that a six-foot-one, 300-pound, Bear-identified man could fit behind the wheel of a MINI. No contortion, no pain, no side effects…just absolute comfort in knowing I could swing this extraordinary car into the bends. A few years later, I had my chance to do so. It remains one of the best vehicles I ever driven in my life. I'm glad I demonstrated that I could fit in a MINI Cooper.

2005 MERCURY MONTEGO: The occasion was my first ever presser I sat though. All morning, I was going around McCormick Place at the 2004 Chicago Auto Show checking things out. If I followed the crowd, I would not have been able to learn about the industry and take decent photos. The presser featured Chairman Bill Ford making a significant announcement to bolster the company’s Torrence Avenue plant with Mayor Richard Daley on hand. Additional jobs were added to the city's Southeast Side, as the Ford Five Hundred and Freestyle were soon joined by the Montego on the line. The Montego seemed more handsome and luxurious than its Ford siblings. I even had the chance to drive a couple Montegos in the subsequent two years to know how different this new big Mercury was going to be. Perhaps underpowered for its size, but who knew that would be the case during the presser. Sadly, the brand would become no longer relevant as we kissed Mercury off to the sunset this year.

2012 DODGE CHARGER SRT8: The press conference at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show foretold a future for Chrysler. At the time, Ralph Gilles was brand CEO for Dodge, along with being the head of design for the company. As soon as Gilles kissed the newly christened Charger SRT8, his future was unlocked. Sometime afterwards, Chrysler formed the Sport and Racing Technology brand as a fully operation entity within the company. Concurrently, Gilles moved from Dodge to become SRT's CEO. The two were essentially made for each other – a perfect fit, if you would. More so, the Charger SRT8 epitomized both brand Dodge's and SRT's messages. It was a showcase of the dreams of Chrysler enthusiasts as well as an open door towards a lineup of high performance machinery across three out of the four core Chrysler brands. If there was any car I've seen that could be sealed with a kiss – the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 was it.

2012 BUICK VERANO: Recent press on the Buick's Delta II-based entry-level sedan had been extremely positive. I read only a few discouraging words about the Verano, but they seemed more minor points than most. My first view of the Verano at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show with a guided and tactile tour of the Chinese-built prototype. No one knew it would become a big topic of conversation these days, but I could tell this would have a great impact on the brand's resurgence. The question I had at the time was the kind of consumer this would attract. My argument back then (and still is) is that the Verano would not only welcome upwardly mobile families looking for a domestic alternative to European and Japanese premium models of its size – it would welcome traditional Buick owners back into the fold. Some of them have found the LaCrosse to their liking. Because of the larger Buick's price tag, traditional buyers would save more than a few coin on a capable and right-sized Verano. Hopefully, V&R will have a Verano for review in 2012 to test this theory out.

2012 Buick Verano 1

On a side note: This actually marks 40 years since I attended my first auto show (that I am aware of): The 1971 Los Angeles International Auto Expo held at the old Sports Arena. How could I have remembered that? Since then, I've attended (and worked) eight different auto shows across the country – in four different states and the District of Columbia. Who knew this would become part of a professional journey?

For those attending the Los Angeles Auto Show, enjoy your time at the Convention Center. Someday, I'll join you there – but I'll have a recap of some of the most significant debuts from L.A. (a Five Favorites, again) later this week – from afar, of course.

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