Home » I Rediscovered The Magic Of An Auto Show In Chicago

I Rediscovered The Magic Of An Auto Show In Chicago


Back in 2009, I started a tradition. I would round up a group of my friends, board a train, and visit the Chicago Auto Show. I’ve been doing this for 14 years now and often I’d go twice, once for the media show and once for the public show. Through it, I feel like I’ve watched the slow death of the auto show. Chicago became such an afterthought that I missed the 2022 show without even noticing. This year, I came back and dragged my wife along with me. In doing so, I rediscovered the joy of an auto show.

I still remember my first time at the Chicago Auto Show. I only discovered that the show existed because a car dealership gave me a free ticket while my parents were trying to buy a car. It was 2009 and I was 16 years old. In the year prior, I had fallen deeply in love with the Smart Fortwo. I learned the brochure front to back and could tell you the specs right off the top of my head. Heck, I drew Smarts while bored in my high school classes. In 2009, I kicked off a tradition by rounding up my friends, boarding a Metra train bound for Chicago, and visiting the show. I still have pictures of the cars that I took back in 2009.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Mini Dodge

A Tradition

In the years since I returned to each show and got to watch Chicago evolve with the times. Thanks to my own personal car blog (which no longer exists, sadly) I was eventually able to score media passes to the show. I still brought my friends to the public show and even though we couldn’t afford any of the cars, we still had an unforgettable time.

We’d do silly stuff like make our way over to Scion-where there was always some EDM thumping-and try to cram everyone into a Scion iQ. Then each of us would go to our favorite brands, sit in a car and just dream. I did a lot of sitting in Smart Fortwos years before I bought my first and I’ll never forget those days.




Sure, the Chicago show didn’t have the fame or importance of Detroit, but automakers still put in a great effort. There were plenty of concept cars to see. Displays would sometimes be so tall that you could see them before you even entered the show floor. There was lots of fun that you could have at various displays. Sometimes you could have some fun at Hot Wheels at Chevrolet and walk away with a limited edition Hot Wheels Camaro, or find a Lego booth at another automaker where you could assemble your own car. At one point, Scion liked giving out papercraft models of its cars.

The Chicago Auto Show peaked for me in 2015, when I got the rare opportunity to meet Tanner Foust at the Volkswagen display.

584e6d10 B8a4 4b58 B42a Ad64f15bb1db
Amy Grimley

Then, I competed with Foust and Scott Speed at setting hot laps in iRacing. I didn’t beat Foust, but I beat Speed! Foust is an awesome guy, by the way, and despite the jokes, he’s not short. I’m 5 feet, 6 inches tall and wore 4-inch heels when meeting him and he was still taller than me.


Sadly, it seems a lot of this has been lost in recent years. Nowadays, when you go to Chicago you’ll encounter lots of empty space and countless automakers just don’t show up.

20230211 181757

This year, the list of missing automakers includes Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Genesis, Porsche, Mini, Land Rover, Audi, Lincoln, Jaguar, Mitsubishi, Volvo, and probably a few others that I’m missing. Cadillac technically wasn’t there, either, but you could ride in a Lyriq on one of the many test tracks. Chicago has long been known as a truck show and you would usually find conversion vans, dump trucks, shuttle buses, and ambulances, but aside from the same dump truck Chevy has been hauling out to every show, almost none of those showed up.

Chicago is so light this year that the dead space is filled up with massive test tracks.

20230209 111534


This area is where you’d normally find the likes of Kia, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Mini, and some other brands. Kia moved to another hall and Subaru moved to the space that would normally be occupied by Land Rover and Mini.

Yet, despite all of this, Chicago was actually really fun this year.

Rediscovering The Fun Of An Auto Show

20230209 084354

What changed this time around is that I brought my wife, Sheryl, with me. Sheryl told me that she had never been to an auto show of any kind, so I had to change that. For years, I’ve been driving to the show. I don’t really know why I stopped taking the train, but I decided to relive some of the past.

We left Sheryl’s Prius in a parking lot and boarded a Metra commuter train pushed by this beautiful EMD F40PH-3.


20230211 103537

We took that to Chicago Union Station, where we transferred over to an articulated bus that scooted us to the show. Ah, the memories that trip brought back.

At the show, Sheryl found herself amazed, much like I did 14 years ago. Sure, this show wasn’t nearly as grand as the 2009 show that I started my show at, but she was like a kid and playing with all of the cars that she had only seen in traffic or in videos before. It wasn’t long until she found her favorite new truck, the Ford Maverick.

20230211 134255

Even better is the fact that it was painted in the one color that her eyes are capable of seeing, yellow.


Prior to this show, she’s only seen Mavericks on the road and on YouTube. Now, she got to play around with one with me. We marveled at the low bed height and the fact that this truck is actually pretty compact. For her, the truck was even better than she imagined. I captured this picture showing her pure glee about this little truck.

20230213 110352


Next, we made our way over to Toyota, where the car on the turntable was the Prius. As a third-generation Prius owner, Sheryl found herself disappointed with the new one. It’s the most normal that a Prius has ever been and she found herself disappointed with that.

20230211 133409


Personally, I’m still blown away by how good the Prius looks nowadays. The Prius becoming a hot car might be the biggest upset of 2022 in the car world.

My favorite part of the Toyota display was a set of customized Land Cruiser overlanders from Australia’s Patriot Campers.

20230211 133809

Sadly, these SEMA Show builds aren’t vehicles that you can buy here in America, but you can buy the company’s camper trailers. More on those in a separate piece!

Later, we found ourselves at Volkswagen, where both of us were saddened that cars like the soon-to-be discontinued Arteon aren’t more popular in America. This is a really neat car and it has the kind of attention-grabbing design that something like the Volkswagen Phaeton should have had.


Alas, Americans have voted with their wallets, crossovers and SUVs are in, sedans are out.

20230211 145931

The Magic Of An Auto Show

The real fun happened downstairs, where I decided to get Sheryl into some electric cars. The closest thing to an EV she’s driven is her Pri’s EV mode, and that doesn’t really count. Volkswagen had an ID.4 on hand while Kia brought an EV6 GT-Line, an EV6 GT, and a Niro EV.

For whatever reason, I thought Sheryl got exterior pictures of the vehicles from her EV quest, so I didn’t take any. Apparently, she didn’t, either. Just picture the dark underbelly of McCormick Place behind this ID.4:



She first took a ride in the ID.4. Sheryl expected the ID.4 to drive like the Prius in EV mode, and she was blown away that EVs have their own completely different driving dynamics. Watching her discover how EVs drive in real time was a treat. She spent her whole drive in the ID.4 saying words like “wow” and “this is so different.”

After driving the ID.4, she was excited to try other EVs. Sheryl felt that driving the VW was addictive, but the controls weren’t intuitive. So, she began a quest to try a bunch of EVs.

She later took the wheel of the Kia EV6 GT-Line. Immediately upon taking the wheel, she made a comment that this car made a ton of sense. The Kia, to her, maintained the futuristic interior look but without moving controls to weird places. Indeed, she hopped right in and got the car going without the Kia rep telling her what to do.

The drive did something else to her, too. My wife is a woman who dreams about Subaru B9 Tribecas, Mazdaspeed3s, turbo Subarus, and once bought an Oldsmobile LSS in Alabama and brought it home to Illinois. Thanks to me, she’s driven a lot of other cars. None of them, she says, can hold a candle to how the EV6 drove.

Kia Ev6


The Kia rep let her open the taps on the test course and that 225 horsepower motor let the electric little crossover rip. At least from my point of view in the roomy back seat, the EV6 kept its composure as Sheryl pushed it around the pothole-ridden circuit. She came out smiling from ear to ear and Sheryl loved the drive so much that she now calls the $48,700 EV her new dream car.

That right there made me remember the value of auto shows, even if they aren’t as grand as they used to be. Someone has a new dream car and a newfound respect for a brand because of a fun visit to a show.

All of this was great fun, and together, Sheryl and I saw cars that we could only otherwise see by driving all over northern Illinois and visiting dealerships. Since we aren’t that weird, it’s something that we don’t ever plan on doing. Thus, an auto show remains great for this. You can experience tons of cars at once without a salesperson breathing over you and without staring at press photos on a computer screen.

20230211 142946

Granted, it seems that seeing cars online is still the future, but I still see some value in being able to see cars in person outside of a sales environment.


So, the next time you see an auto show in town, round up your friends or your significant other and go. These shows aren’t what they used to be, but they’re still worth a visit.

Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.


Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Like a lot of you I grew up going to auto shows as a kid (Atlanta, in my case) and I enjoyed the NAIAS (Detroit) for most all the years I lived there, until the late 2000s. But for me, I think the magic of new-car auto shows is permanently gone. I don’t bother with the Chicago show any more, not even for work. But where the magic *does* still lie, for me, is Detroit’s Autorama.

Pisco Sour
Pisco Sour
1 year ago

Oh man this takes me back…I remember going in the late 80s and hauling those bags around with enough posters and flyers of cool cars to paper my entire bedroom!

If memory serves, wasn’t Chevy giving away life-size Michael Jordan posters one year?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x