Car Show History: 113 Years Of The Chicago Auto Show, Decade By Decade

Chicago 1970 DodgeCustomChallenger@70Web221970 Dodge Challenger with custom interior

The Chicago Auto Show has been held continuously since 1901, except during the WW2 years. And the show has a history website with pictures from every one of those events. It’s quite the time capsule, and if you’ve got a few hours you want to while away, check it out. If not, I picked one shot for each decade to give you a taste of what’s there.

Chicago 1901 MotoretteExhibit_web22

Here’s a shot of some “Motorettes”, an American license-built DeDion-Bouton, which at the time was the world’s largest automobile manufacturer, building some 400 cars and over 300 engines for other manufacturers.  Whereas the French DeDion-Boutons were known for high quality, this American licensee instantly developed a rep for being unreliable, and lasted only one year.

Chicago 1910 AtlasExhibitWeb22

Among other cars at the 1910 show were these 60hp Atlas tourers. Price: $2500 (over $60k inflation adjusted, although in terms of relative purchasing power, that price would probably represent closer to $100-200k today).

Chicago 1920 FranklinMotorAgeWeb22

The 1920 show featured this air-cooled Franklin, with its sleek hood thanks to the lack of a radiator.

Chicago 1930 StudeErskineWeb33

Studebaker’s last Erskine model is on display here at the 1930 show. The Erskine started out in 1926 as a rather adventurous attempt to build a compact European-sized six cylinder compact car (sound familiar?), but with the goal of selling them on the continent. It was first shown at the 1926 Paris show. But when the new 1928 Ford Model A undercut its price by a huge margin, the Erskine quickly morphed into just another full-sized Studebaker, and the brand disappeared after 1930.

Chicago 1940 Ply_ChevyWeb22

Unlike today, trucks were relegated to the basement. Here’s a Plymouth PT105, with some Chevy trucks across the isle.

Chicago 1950 PackardOnStageWeb22

The 1950 show was the first big post-war auto show in the country. I assume that’s because there was no point in spending money during the great “Seller’s Market” of the immediate post-war years. This was an extravaganza, with the live “Wheels of Freedom” show, starring a number of new 1950 models. Here’s the plump Packard convertible next to a sleek performer.

Toyota Toyopet 1960 Chicago show

The 1960 Toyota Toyopet Crown Custom is getting some close looks, but probably not a lot of buyers. The Toyopet Crown just didn’t connect with the market at the time, and Toyota had to essentially re-launch their efforts with the smaller and less expensive Corona some years later.

Chicago 1970_9

This Porsche 914-6, with steel wheels no less, is getting some love. It would take a pretty fat wallet to follow through with the admiration and bring one home.

Chicago 1980 GuanciExhibitWeb22

Obviously, I’ve been selecting shots of the more obscure makes at the show. But the Guanci SSJ1 undoubtedly takes the cake, as only two were ever built. Chicago businessman John Guanci shared the dream of so many others back then, to build a mid-engined GT with his name on it. Needless to say, it didn’t pan out, like almost all of the others of the genre. Here’s a write-up of the Guanci, in case you missed it at the 1980 show. I did.

Chicago 1990 LaForza

The LaForza was an Italian SUV, which was briefly sold in the US during 1988-1990. It used a Ford Windsor V8, was designed by Tom Tjaarda, and built by Rayton Fissore. I caught one once on the go in Eugene, so there are still a few out there. It needs a full CC here sometime.

Chicago 2000 Daewoo Leganza CDX_Web22

At the 2000 show, Daewoo was out in full force. Here’s a Leganza, the top of the line up. My younger son had one of these for a while, which he picked up for a song because of electrical gremlins in the window lifts. It ran fine otherwise.

Chicago 2010 2011Fiat500Twins@2010Web22

At the 2010 show, the Fiat 500 was one of the more important new cars on display. The 2014 Chicago show is less than a month away; what will we remember from it 113 years from now?

Hat tip to Timothy T. for the link to the Chicago Show site. There’s also a whole section with just concept cars.