If you're even mildly into cars, for getting to work in an eco-friendly way or just cruising the boulevard in style, the Detroit auto show is a vast and dizzying array of automotive sights, sounds, steel, glass, and rubber.
But I didn't come to gawk at cars, at least not to the same degree as the gearheads, bumper-sniffers and cup holder-counters. There are about 5,000 members of the media inside Cobo Center this week for previews -- the cream of the globe's automotive media -- to tell you about vehicles, so brace yourself for a typhoon of elegant filigree in the form of auto show belles-lettres.
Me, I'm mainly interested in the odd, offbeat and unusual about the show itself. The trends and quirks and cool stuff that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with horsepower and torque.
Here's what I filled my notebook with Monday:
- There are crews all over Cobo fixing carpet that's bubbled and buckled for some reason. They're knifing up swatches and taping it back down or replacing it.
- On display is a 1918 Crane-Simplex Model No. 5 that was bought new by oil baron John D. Rockefeller for his father as a birthday gift. He paid $9,500 for it in a year when the average household income was $1,500. Considered an ultra-luxury car, it churned out 46 horsepower and could reach 90 mph. The version at Cobo is one of only a handful built. It is owned by the LeMay-America's Car Museum in Tacoma, Wash. It's part of a touring event.
- A clerk inside the Detroit Shoppe at Cobo told me that they are selling T-shirts and hoodies mainly to visiting overseas journalists, especially from Germany and Japan.
- When I was a kid, I recall auto shows having a neat selection of funky concept cars that were a lot closer to Spacely Space Sprockets and the Jetsons than to General Motors and Ford. But those days have been gone for awhile, and the futuristic, creative concepts now are little wood and clay models created by students from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. They're on display in the Cobo lobby. I wish they were production vehicles, because I'd totally buy one.
- Also in the lobby are a trio of Michigan State Police cars as part of the agency's 100th anniversary celebration. One is the workhorse of the current MSP fleet, a 370-horsepower V-8 2016 Dodge Charger equipped with state-of-the-art computer electronics, and what Elwood Blues would say are "a cop motor, a 345 cubic inch plant, it's got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks." Top speed is 149 mph. The iconic red bubble light, I learned, is from Chicago-based Unity Manufacturing Co. The other two cars are a 1937 Ford Model 74, with a V-8 engine that produced 85 horsepower, and a 1995 Chevy Caprice that topped out at 141 mph.
- Shinola/Detroit LLC has a watch bar set up in the Cobo lobby, but it's there only for the media and industry preview this week -- it won't be there for the public show. I was told it has sold a couple of watches so far since Sunday. Shinola is also running a shuttle to its Midtown store from Cobo.
- Participatory experiences are big at the show this year. Ford has a butch-looking three-seat GT Le Mans race simulator that requires you to sign a liability waiver beforehand. The Dodge pavilion has a Challenger Hellcat racing simulator that's a full car that shimmies and shakes as you drive it around a track displayed on screens outside the windshield. I didn't see anyone get it much above 50 mph without losing control. Hyundai has a race game that, oddly, uses PlayStation 3 technology a couple of years out of date. Denso has a virtual reality experience that shows users how its automotive technology works.
- Perhaps the highlight of the show for anyone with kids, or for adults who love Pixar movies, is the full-sized Lightning McQueen on display. It was rolled out Sunday as part of Pixar's tease event for "Cars 3" that comes out in June. It may be the best autonomous vehicle on display at the entire show.
- Ford has more than 20 displays in which you swipe a card on a reader for souvenirs, brochures and test drives. The "product specialists" hand out the cards.