By Mark G. McLaughlin
The 2017 Chicago Auto Show has over a million square feet of exhibit space, and most of that is taken up by three dozen automakers. Fiat-Chrysler has the largest display area, and is a car show all to itself. While the show is about cars, it’s not just about car makers. There are artists, mechanics, techs, race car drivers and other car enthusiasts eager to talk and show off their stuff, and booths to look at and buy the latest bits and pieces to upgrade and ease the driving experience. There are a lot of other things to do besides just gawk longingly at new cars; here are just some of the best exhibits to visit at the 2017 Chicago Auto Show.
2017 Chicago Auto Show
2301 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60616
Date: February 11—20, 2017
Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles – Size (of Display Area) Matters
The 2017 Chicago Auto Show has 36 automakers and more than 1,000 vehicles, including 40 debut models. Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota have three of the larger displays in terms of square footage, but Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles has the largest; its nearly 140,000 square feet is almost as large as any two of those other three combined. FCA needs that space, because the display is a massive showroom for the corporation’s multiple lines and models. Fiat itself is showing four production vehicles: The 500L, 124 Spider, 500 and 500X. Chrysler has on display its 200 and 300 series, and the highly anticipated and very well-regarded Pacifica. Dodge has a big corner of the exhibit, and is likely to be the most visited in the FCA area, for it has the Challenger, Charger, Durango, Journey and last ever Viper. Jeep also gets a piece of this action, with the 2017 Compass as its debut vehicle (along with the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Patriot, Renegade and Wrangler).
State Farm Garage and Road House – A Place to Recharge and Play
State Farm is canny enough to understand that if they want drivers to take time out of the flashy auto show to talk to insurance agents, then they need to have something special to attract them to their corner of the hall. State Farm does just that with its State Farm Garage and State Farm Road House. The “augmented driving experience” at the garage is historically one of the most popular exhibits, as it lets visitors actually do something rather than just look at and drool over new cars. In addition to the driving simulators – which are open to drivers of all ages (and thus a big hit with kids) – there is a lounge, a place to recharge phones and a lot of nice people to talk to, even if they are there primarily to talk about insurance.
Autobahn Country Club – “America‘s Premier Autosports Club” Offers a Look into “Living the Dream”
The Autobahn Country Club is anything but a typical country club. This club is not about golf and tennis, but about driving – and driving race cars. Their exhibit at the 2017 Chicago Auto Show is one of the largest of the non-automaker exhibits, and one of the most popular. They are always looking for new members, and the displays they show about driving on their track outside of Chicago are the automotive equivalent of those dream camps for would-be ballplayers. They offer racing and defensive driving courses, and even kart racing for the younger set. For this club, as their website proclaims, it is all about “living the dream.”
LEGO Batmobile – Something for the Kids and Other Superhero-wannabes
Building a life-size Batmobile out of LEGOs was not easy, but the good people at LEGO in Enfield, Connecticut did just that – and with the help of sponsor Chevrolet sent it to the Windy City in February as the centerpiece for the 2017 Chicago Auto Show. Constructed of nearly 350,000 actual LEGO bricks and bits, the car is priced at $48 million – although the fine print says it is not for sale. The design is based on the Chevy Speedwagon version that roars across the screen in the new LEGO Batman movie, whose opening was timed to coincide with the 2017 Chicago Auto Show.