History of the LA Auto Show: VW, Lincoln, Mini-me?

James Raia

Product Specialists for Buick at the 2012 LA Auto Show.

Product specialists at the LA Auto Show and other auto shows around the globe enjoy their work on serious and not-so serious occasions. Two women product specialists who had just met worked for Buick at the LA Auto Show in 2012. They looked liked twin sisters despite a substantial height different.

“Doesn’t she look like my personal “mini-me?,” one of the women said during the first media day and in a reference to the character in the Austin Powers movies. And when asked if she was prepared for the first public day of the show, she said: “This is my first show; Is there a difference?”

The product specialist concept dates nearly 90 years and it’s detailed in the 2008 book called “Sirens of Chrome: The Enduring Allure of Auto Show Models” written by Margery Krevsky, the long-time owner of a talent agency near Detroit. It began when eight women wearing what were then considered skimpy bathing suits advertised the 1927 Packard 343 Series. They were called the Damsels of the Dance.

The newly designed 2013 VW Beetle at the 2012 LA Auto
The newly designed 2013 VW Beetle at the 2012 LA Auto Show Images © James Raia/2012

Forty years later, the once provocative idea had become commonplace in the auto industry. Even National Public Radio produced a story about auto show models called “Want To Chat Up An Auto Show Model? Talk Cars.”

How carmakers choose to present their vehicles at auto shows varies and much as the cars presented. Hyundai is representative of many manufacturers that hire outside agencies to suggest themes and then construct sets and displays.

Vintage Lincoln, 2012 LA Auto Show.
Vintage Lincoln, 2012 LA Auto Show.

“The goal is to introduce new models and technologies,” said Hyundai’s Johnson. “We create a theme for the show and then use the reveal moment to reinforce that theme. Los Angeles usually has an environmental theme.”

But not all manufacturers showcase their vehicles in traditional ways. Lincoln and Volkswagen have little in common. But the two diverse carmakers had the most unique presentations at last year’s LA Auto Show.

Product Specialists for Buick at the 2012 LA Auto Show.
Product Specialists for Buick at the 2012 LA Auto Show.

Lincoln, founded in 1915, decided last year to showcase its past before unveiling its future. It was only for the first of two media days (prior to the public opening), but Lincoln displayed seven vintage models, including in 80-year-old towncar.

Along with a 1937 Lincoln Zephyr and a 1932 Lincoln KB Lebaron, the centerpiece of the makeshift Lincoln museum was a 1956 Continental Mark II once owned by Elizabeth Taylor. Custom ordered by the actress, the Continental Mark II, perched on a circular display, shimmered in its one-of-a-kind blue exterior paint. On the second media day and for the rest of the show, new Lincoln MKZ models replaced the vintages Lincolns.

“Lincoln has always been an individualistic car,” said Lincoln spokesman Tom Kowaleski. “Since we were introducing the MKZ, we wanted to show the long the long history of simple elegance in Lincoln. It’s rooted into the history of the car.”

Volkswagen hasn’t been around as long as Lincoln, but the VW bug (now beetle) was first available in the United States in 1949. It’s among the biggest-selling cars in history, which is one reason VW decided to introduce its retro lineup at last year’s LA Auto Show.

When the manufacturer debuted the new Beetle Cabriolet, three special editions of the convertible were also unveiled. With themes from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, VW moved forward but with reverence to its classic design years. The retro models feature bespoke body designs, interior colors inspired from each era, and whitewall tires.

But VW officials just didn’t unveil the decade-themed cars with proclamations. Each car warranted an act in an elaborate stage show. Accompanied by music from each decade, a group of nearly a dozen cheerleaders performed the corresponding decade’s dance moves.

Lincoln and Volkswagen or other manufacturers may have unique plans for this year’s LA Auto Show, but they’re not about to share.

“The classic Lincoln display exceeded our expectations,” said Kowaleski. “It was a great idea and concept, but it wouldn’t work more than once since we were debuting the MKZ, a whole new approach for Lincoln. We have plans for this year’s show, too, I can tell you that.”

For more information about this year’s LA Auto Show, visit: www.laautoshow.com.

Article Last Updated: November 18, 2013.

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