Show and Tell…

Bruno Vijverman takes us on a guided tour through motor shows past. 

All images by the author

With current restrictions affecting millions of us worldwide, the change of circumstance has presented other opportunities – the rediscovery of the value of closer and more frequent interaction with our loved ones, as well as the time to make progress in sorting out and cleaning up the clutter one amasses over the years.

By consequence, I decided to delve into a large carton box with old photographs and negatives that has resided in a spare room for longer than I would care to admit. My aim was to check the contents of every folder, mark everything correctly and rearrange it into something approaching a logical, chronological system.

The contents of the box can mainly be divided into two categories: holiday photos and car show photos. It was while going through the latter that the idea for the text you are now reading was born. The first ever motor show press day I visited was Geneva 1987; realising that was over thirty years ago not only confronted me with the fact that time flies (I was 21 at the time), but also how much I had forgotten, and how some things have changed over the years.

Most of the photos in the envelopes depict the usual new vehicles of interest at any given show and will not add anything of value by being published here. Some however are of concept cars, presentations, moments and vehicles that have faded from (at least my) mental archive. If only to jog memories or offer a few moments of amusement to the DTW readership – I offer you part one: the (late) eighties.

Geneva 1987

As with most firsts in life, you never forget the experience of your first motor show press day – especially if you are a collector of automobilia as I am. It spoils you forever after; by comparison visiting a car show on a public day is a busy, thirsty, sweaty and at times uncivilised experience where the cars that you really want to inspect up close are usually cordoned off and only with much grovelling (if you’re lucky) will you be let onto the stand.

Getting a brochure can be like pulling teeth as well. Not so on the press days. You can closely examine almost any car you like and are offered refreshments to boot. Press kits are readily available, as are brochures in many cases. Lovely ladies are happy to pose with the vehicle in question if you so choose – although that has recently changed. This was one of the last shows where I used black and white film; I did the year after as well but have unfortunately not located that envelope.

Two photos caught my eye: the naked Lamborghini LM002 showing off its internals, and one of the world premieres that year: the Mercedes-Benz W124 Coupe. Not so much for the car itself – nice though it still is – but to demonstrate how modestly low the stand builds still were in those days: the bare walls of the Palexpo hall are clearly visible. There were also much fewer lamps and ceiling-mounted spotlights, and there were not many people about. Especially from 2000 onwards, this would change.

Paris 1988

Over the years, Fiat often had elaborate presentations showing the construction and deconstruction of one of their new models. This one for the occasion of the Tipo is one of the last I can remember. Unfortunately, these fascinating setups seem to be a thing of the past. And when was the last time you saw a sectioned car? There used to be a time where every self-respecting make had one on their stand. The Mégane concept with its four sliding doors was a lot more interesting than the production car that would eventually carry the name. The rear window which could slide back to transform the notchback shape into a hatchback was especially ingenious.

Geneva 1989

Long since defunct, the ASC (American Sunroof Corporation) had this nicely done, but perhaps slightly staid, SAAB 9000 Coupé gracing their stand.

Staid is an adjective one would certainly never associate with the products of local hero Franco Sbarro. He could often be depended on to bring something unusual to the table and Geneva 1989 was no exception. Sbarro had literally reinvented the wheel; essentially doing away with the axle and turning the rims into giant bearings. There was also a motorcycle version with this system on the stand which I unfortunately did not photograph. Apparently, this eye-catching invention must have developed unassailable technical difficulties in further testing because it quickly disappeared from view after this presentation, never to be seen again.

The last photo is technically not very good, granted, but it depicts the interesting moment where the Alfa Romeo SZ – being fashionably late – is being driven to the stand right through the motor show walkways. What a great growl that V6 emitted!

Frankfurt 1989

If only they knew: our (t)rusty Renault 4 GTL stood out like a sore thumb in the Frankfurt press parking lot, but it got us there – slowly but surely. The Opel Calibra enjoyed a positive reception and had an impressive presentation with lots of light and water features.

Germany was and is the main base of the tuning companies, and a photo of the Koenig Specials stand with its 1000 Bhp Ferrari Testarossa is shown here to demonstrate that companies such as Mansory are nothing new. Tasteless excess was the same then as now.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

11 thoughts on “Show and Tell…”

  1. Good morning Bruno. Great memories, thank you. Unlike you, I was one of the sweaty masses, not that I attended many motor shows back in the day.

    I’m intrigued by that rotating driver’s seat. As I get older and stiffer, the idea holds a lot of appeal. (Getting out of my Boxster when parked, roof up, next to a high kerb is an undignified scramble these days.) I think an American production car had such a feature, but I can’t recall which one.

    1. Hello Daniel,
      These “swivel seats” as they were called by Chrysler Corporation who first (I believe) offered them as an option for the 1959 model year Plymouth/DeSoto/Dodge/Chrysler/Imperial. They operated mechanically in those days of course; the door hinge linkage turned the seat as the door opened.
      I have wondered the same thing- now that they can be produced with a simpler and more reliable electric mechanism, and with the general ageing of the world’s population, they should make a comeback.

  2. The Megane has many features of the latest Renault concept cars – no centre pillar, lounge-like interior, extending passenger compartment, etc. and, of course, it’s gold. Plus ça change.

    The last time I saw a sectioned car? Funnily enough, quite recently, with the ‘x-ray’ Volkswagen I.D.3. A panel slides in front of the car, showing what’s underneath – an interesting way of doing it, I thought.

    https://www.volke-kd.de/en/project/id-insight-x-ray-viewer/

  3. Thats´s an Alfa Romeo SZ at the top. I miss those kinds of cars and the Lancia Hyena is another. I like the analogue quality of the images as well. They are a bit darker and less sharp though richer too.

  4. Bruno, I like your comment about the modesty of the 1980’s stands, with reference to the MB stand as the devil is certainly in their detail; your lovely black and white print film is sharp enough to show that the floor of their stand is made from either marble or polished limestone tiles (Discreet) dictator chic!

  5. Hi Bruno, thanks for sharing these memories! Like Daniel, I have never enjoyed press days, but remember crowded public days in Geneva (with some of the worst food I’ve ever eaten). My dad was a frequent visitor, and as a bit older boys, we went with him some times. I remember train rides across the whole of Switzerland (it’s not much, one can say, but there were days when Geneva attracted such a lot of people that we had to spend good parts of that 4-hour journey standing or with three people sharing two seats). I don’t remember which was my first show, but I remember that I was there in 1986 when the Citroën Eole was shown. I was 12 at the time.
    There must be a similar box as Bruno’s with photos I took on later shows. Of course, all blurry and poorly lit, and usually with at least one person photobombing. My guess is that the collection is also massively Citroën-biased.

  6. I have fond memories of attending motor shows in the 1980s and early 1990s with my father. I used to love the sectioned displays and also collecting the brochures and merchandise you used to get. That was back when manufacturers really used to make an effort with their stands.

    I remember L.J.K Setright raving about the Sbarro hub less wheel concept in CAR Magazine at the time. I seem to recall it was scuppered by the bearings.

  7. Hi,

    I had never seen that Saab 9000 coupé before. I remember very well the Alfa SZ as it impressed me so much at the time. The Calibra is also a favourite of mine, I still love its exterior and I think it aged very well. Most Calibras were red weren’t they ? I don’t think it came in many colours, I can recall white, black, red and perhap yellow but I might have imagined that one.

    1. Hi NRJ. No, you didn’t imagine it:

      Isn’t it sad that coupés non-premium manufacturers are no longer offered? The Calibra was nice, but this was even nicer:

      Shame Peugeot really messed up with the 407 coupé. That said, a coupé version of the latest 508 could be amazing. Time for some photoshopping…

  8. Someone else beat me to it:

    I like the RCZ influences, as long as I don’t have to sit in the back.

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