SF Auto Show Celebrates Six Sensational Decades
The SF Auto Show is a Thanksgiving week tradition and has been for six decades now. But it wasn’t always a diverse showcase of the latest Detroit offerings. Far from it. Started in 1958, the original show was staged by bay area import car dealers as their counter punch to American auto manufacturers who wouldn’t let the foreign marques play in their sandbox. Thus, the San Francisco International Auto Show was born.
When the car buying public figured out the import manufacturers were more adept at gas mileage after the bottom fell out of the US Oil market in 1973, the automotive world became globalized. Everyone got along better when the playing field was equalized. This SF auto show mirrors that union and has since 1982 when it moved to its permanent location – the Moscone Center at 4th and Mission streets in the heart of Frisco.
We had a chance to walk the halls of the 60th annual shindig and came away with the impression that some manufacturers take auto shows more seriously than others. We also cringed when booger-fingered 5-year-olds put these new 2018 models through their paces, climbing over seats, banging knobs, slamming doors and climbing through sunroofs. We wonder what these cars will look like after 10 months on the show circuit.
The Chevy booth was fun. From the Tahoe’s and Suburban’s, to the Volt to the new ZLI Camaro and Z06 Corvettes, the booth was a big draw. As you might imagine the 650 horsepower 2018 Camaro ZL1 was the most popular car in the entire center hall. We barely managed a clean picture of it and we went on a Wednesday!
The unquestioned star of the Honda booth was the new 2018 Honda Civic Type R. To be honest, it had the biggest crowds around it of all the vehicles on the floor. Aggressive, powerful and technologically advanced, the 300 horsepower turbocharged hot hatch/sedan will clearly take sales away from Subaru’s WRX crowd.
A few booths down, Volkswagen had their eye-pleasing lineup sprawled out. It was clear by the families piling in and out of the convertible Beetle that iconic round fenders are still a big draw. But the new full-size Atlas SUV made a statement. It’s as big as a Tahoe, handsome, powerful and stakes a well-priced claim to the escalating soccer mom wars. Next to that was the Golf Alltrack which drew us in for a closer look. The 180hp, turbocharged hatchback felt like a serious threat to the Subaru Outback. Lastly, the ’18 Golf GTI was just as handsome as ever with its Scottish plaid interior, crisp lines and 220 horsepower.
Moving to the South Hall, we were blown away by the Audi, Jaguar, and Acura booths. All three were interactive with vehicles, tech displays, and beautiful models smiling and showing off the new whips. Dodge and BMW were fairly predictable with their signature lineups and to be honest – they had too many vehicles on display. The 2018 Hellcat Charger in a deep blue was nice but there was no widebody Hellcat Challenger on hand which bummed us out. The Bimmers looked exactly like the 2015-2017 models. Meh.
Mercedes had a slew of cars to ogle over including the Grinch-colored GT-R. The G63 AMG remains our favorite SUV of all time and looked wonderful in white.
With the vast sea family sedans and SUV’s on display, the “Performance Salon” in South Hall was a welcome oasis. The Academy of Art University had an incredible array of vintage vehicles running the gamut from Duesenberg’s, to Chrysler Woodies to Muscle Car offerings. The Mercedes SL 300s weren’t bad either! The exotics section was a top draw with Ferrari’s, Lambo’s and more on display. It was also the spot for the spiciest models, as in blondes in leather pants.
We saw some street machines and the Rauh-Welt 911 in the main lobby brought us to our knees. Who would have ever thought Japanese stylists are the best in the world at modding bad ass Porsche’s?
Lastly – a trip outside to witness the multitude of Ride & Drives was cool. With a factory rep riding shotgun, potential buyers got to leg out muscle cars, sports cars and SUV’s up Howard Street. The way the starter’s box was staged, drivers waited for a red light at the intersection of Howard and 4th Street. They would slide out ahead of the cars stopped at the traffic light to get a clean three-block run west. The 6-cylinder Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport Coupe was particularly pleasing to the senses with its distinctive exhaust notes.
Events like the SF Auto Show are fun. The ability to sit in the new models, feel them, check out the sightlines and daydream is what it’s all about. But the organizers here have always been adept at blending in performance salons and interactive displays to keep gearheads of all generations engaged.
With old man winter bearing down, auto shows are ramping up. From San Francisco, the tour moves south for the 11-day run of the LA Auto Show. The granddaddy of them all – the 2018 North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in Detroit runs January 13-28. If you’re in the market for a new ride, there are plenty of options to get a feel for the new wheels without dealership pressure. Get out there!
SF Auto Show Photo Extra!