A Brief History of Auto Shows: How It All Started

A Brief History of Auto Shows: How It All Started

Auto shows as the name suggests are annual and bi-annual events conduct all across the globe to provide a platform for automakers, car enthusiasts and industry peers to showcase and learn about the latest offering by leading manufacturers. There are usually a series of events that are held at the auto show ranging from car reveals, auctions to test drives. While auto shows today are widely popular, let’s have a look at how they started.

Paris Motor Show: First Auto Show

In 1898, the French automobile club organized “Le Salon de l’automobile du cycle et des sports” which was an international outdoor motor show. The event required the exhibitors to drive their vehicles from Versailles to Paris. This was certainly a unique format of the auto shows that is not found today, but this was the initiation of the long-standing tradition that is being followed to date.

Horseless Carriage Show

The trend caught on and soon other countries hopped on the bandwagon to conduct their version of auto shows. One peculiarly interesting event was the Horseless Carriage show that was conducted in 1900. The event took place in the US at the Madison Square Garden and drew in around 10,000 spectators. The highlight of the event was the showcasing of Ransom Eli Olds’ prototype for a new body style known as the “runabout.”

Chicago Auto Show

The auto show organizers soon realized that they could capitalize on such events, so they started charging the exhibitors for the floor space. In 1901, exhibitors had to pay $1 to $1.5 per square foot to exhibit on the main floor. The concept was relatively new so, the event drew in around 4000 visitors.

Salon International de l’Auto

Better known as the Geneva Auto Show, the event started in 1905 headlining steamed powered vehicles. The first of its kind, this auto show left a mark, and it is still one of the most popular shows to be held.

The Detroit Auto Show

Renamed as the North American International Auto Show (in 1989), the Detroit Auto Show was held at the Beller’s Beer Garden in Riverside Park. For years this show is one of the first few to be held, however, the organizers decided to try a change in the format before the pandemic hit.

Detroit Auto Show became the preferred platform for many manufacturers to reveal their latest inventions. In 1912-1913, the event welcomed the first detachable steering wheels followed by the electric headlights.

Concept Cars and Car Reveals

The process of innovation continued, and the car manufacturers also began drawing inspiration. This time around a concept car became the highlight at the New York Auto Show. The vehicle was showcased in 1933 and it was the Pierce Silver Arrow designed by James R. Hughes.

Major car brands joined the league by making major car reveals in the years that followed. Some notable mentions are the Bugatti T52, The Peugeot 202, Citroen 15 Six and Renault Suprastella that made their first appearance in the 1938 Paris Motor Show.

World War Hiatus

The following year, the KdF-Wagen (which was later renamed VW Beetle) made its first appearance at the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany. Just like many other aspects of life, the 1942-1944 period was a dark phase for the automotive industry. WWII led to the forced closure of such events and the US even ban the production of motors for private use.

The hiatus was long but in 1950 the Chicago Auto Show made a comeback after the war. Many new vehicles were introduced with Chevrolet and Pontiac introducing the hardtop models, Kaizen-Frazer debuting in 1951 and Nash premiering the compact Rambler.

Notable Mentions

There have been some legendary vehicles that have made their debut at popular auto shows over the years. In 1961, Jaguar E-Type left the audience startled, whereas in 1962 MG introduced its gold-painted version of the MGA 1600 Mk II roadster. The vehicle was showcased as a celebration for the 100,000th unit that was built was the brand. The display was done at the New York Auto Show.

In 1965, the famous Bond car Aston Martin DB5 made an appearance at the New York Auto Show. The vehicle included all the modifications that were done for the movie including the passenger ejector seat and rifle in the front bumper. The vehicle caught the attention of the crowd and is remembered to date. The scale of auto shows increased over the years and in 1984 the New York Auto Show showcased more than 700 vehicles from famous car brand vehicles such as Pontiac Fiero, Ford Mustang SVO, Honda CRX and Nissan 300 ZX.

Auto Shows Today

This was not the only show to witness a surge, in fact, the Detroit Auto Show also had 820,000 in 1985. The growing popularity of auto shows has attracted millions of attendees every year. The financial crisis during 2007- 2008 did damage to this surge. Moreover, the changing times and increased cost are also some of the reasons that some car manufacturers have pulled out of some major shows. The ongoing pandemic has put a halt on the festivities but 2021 can expect some socially distanced car shows.

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