I’ve been to just two motor shows and I found nothing glamorous about the aching feet and expanses of leased carpet.
[It’s a coincidence that we posted an essay on this topic only yesterday. Simon Kearne, the editor, asked for more articles on this theme so I feel I must oblige even if it means a repeat. That said, Sean took a different tack and if you don’t like his dry, elegant style you can sample my self-consciously writerly gimmicks and see if you prefer that approach].
As a regular paying customer to the pompously named Automobile Salons you don’t see a great deal of the same visual excitement as the press do on the opening days. The models have usually gone away and the folks stalking the stands only want to harden the sell. They don’t even want to give away brochures let alone allow you into the car (if it’s a fancy one). They can see your bulging plastic bag full of souvenirs and the welts on your hands. Real buyers might have one brochure tucked under their suited elbow.
A proper Automobile Salon would feature luminaries perched on dainty chairs encircling a new concept car. They would exchange catty witticisms and propound their theories in chapter length sentences. We, the proletariat, could look on and feel intellectually enriched.
That’s not where we are. We are at car shows, blunt and simple. Quite a huge amount of effort is expended on motor show launches and stands nonetheless. Teams of architects who specialize in such things put in as much effort per square centimeter as they would for a real building, perhaps more. I can’t imagine what sort of screening the models undergo before being permitted to put on their uniforms and stand in the way of the cars. It’s about visual impact and creating impressions that are supposed to underline whatever it is the car company wants you to notice (never anything different is it? “new” “young” “prestige” always crop up).
For some firms these firework displays of colour, light and pretty skin fit into their profile. For others it doesn’t ring true. How glamorous need Dacia, Porsche or Peugeot be? For all of them it is superficial and ephemeral. Even the people who are at the very front of the queue, on the first hour of the first evening, among the important ones, still end up standing about and chatting. If they are lucky the fizzy wine will be served in glass flutes and not plastic ones. We showed a photo last week of the launch of the Lincoln Continental. I noticed the people in the background stood around in groups as if at an office coffee break. Can’t they do that somewhere else less noisy and stuffy? And they are among the select.
The lesson here is that the most unglamorous thing is to stand by while someone else does glamour. Even being in the same room as glamour is a demeaning and reducing experience. Motor shows would be a lot less horrible if nobody big had ever been near the place, to remind you of the tiny smallness of your existence. There are lots of reminders of how inconsequential one is: alps, the sunrise over the smouldering rubbish tips of Cairo, seeing the streaming crowds at the Embankment Tube station.
You are a casual by-stander for those whereas the motor shows are something one pays to experience. I would guess that the allure (the marketed allure) is not only about a chance to press your oily nose onto the DLO of an Aston Martin. It is also about tottering on the same stands where the consequential, influential and lip-glossed have trod as if you will gain some of their status by gathering the molecules sloughed off their hand-made footwear.
Evidently glamour is intransitive. Car shows are only a place to look at a lot of cars at one time. Maybe you might get to take home some glossy pamphlets. And maybe the footsoreness will pass quickly. Everything else is an illusion shimmering on a quickly evaporating puddle of cheap champagne.