I have been attending the St. Louis Auto Show for probably twenty years now. I can recall back when the Caprice-based Impala was a concept. The Viper and Sunfire as well. The Acura NSX. And I saw them all, live and in person. Over acres and acres of jam-packed floor space. Every manufacturer and nearly every model was represented.
Oh, how times have changed.
Walking around the floor of this year's St. Louis Auto Show, I first noticed the seemingly sparse spacing of the vehicles on display. It appeared on first blush that there were more show spaces than there were participants to fill them.
The second and far more glaring issue was the lack of participation of some of the big names in luxury. Audi was there as were Cadillac and Lexus. Even Bentley of St. Louis had some representation along the "Million Dollar Mile." But no BMW. No Infiniti. No Jaguar. No Mercedes. No Porsche. No Rover. I cannot recall a St. Louis Auto Show in recent memory where BMW was not in attendance. And the only Ferrari I saw was in the parking garage. Interestingly, while Nissan was there with a relatively large spread, its luxury brand -- Infinity -- was conspicuously absent.
Moreover, there was a single -- meaning one -- concept car: the Ford (Fusion) Talledega. That was it. No flashy turntable-concepts and fewer models and midway vendors than I can recall ever. And there were virtually no high-end manufacturers. It was both peculiar and disheartening. One might be quick to blame the economy, except that last year's show was larger, while the economy was worse.
Moreover, while overall auto sales are not blisteringly hot, they have improved as well, year over year. I was told some of the issues with the moderate size and lack of participation in this year's show had to do with funding constraints due to the Detroit North American Auto Show being the same weekend. Let's hope that is, in fact, the crux of the matter and things improve for next year.
On the flip side, Ford and Lincoln's displays just seem to grow and grow year-over-year. This year they took over parts of two different display halls. And there were a great number of other really cool interest areas, most notably the outdoor "drift" exhibition. Anyone willing to drift their race car in the rain with spectators packed in tight is worthy of some kind of award for sheer moxie. The display of electric cars was a nifty twist, too, as was the ability -- albeit at a blistering 3-5 mph -- to take one around an enclosed track area. And then there was the Tesla Model S. It was high on my list of the "Top 10 Coolest (and Craziest) Vehicles of the 2013 St. Louis Auto Show."
The others? Here they are in descending order. 10. A Tie to My Youth: 2013 SRT Viper
I saw the original Viper concept way back at the 1991 St. Louis International Auto Show. It was bold. It was bad. It was the meanest piece of machinery either Carroll Shelby or Detroit ever conceived. The supercar universe had its ass handed to it with a car dreamed up by a chicken farmer and stuffed with a V-10 truck engine.
It's arguably better, and closer now to those 21-year-old roots than it has been in years. It makes an astonishing 640 hp, and does so with a sort of back-alley air of brutality that just makes you stand up and take notice even when the car is parked, locked and behind ropes. Mr. Shelby passed away last year. When he did, a part of my youth died with him. This car stands in testament to his dreams and skills as an engineer. And the Viper always brings me back to that first concept. I looked at my dad, eyes wide, and told him, "Dad, they will build this. They have to build this." They did. And now, two decades later, the Viper still stands as testament to the raw brutality one man's dreams can create.
9. The Testarossa of a New Generation: 2013 Audi R8 V-10
The Audi R8 V-10 is quite possibly the most underrated of super-cars. It can go toe-to-toe with the Viper, is within a half second of the 0-60 times of the Lamborghini Aventador and the Koenigsegg Agera. Part of the problem is...it's an Audi, a.k.a. the luxury badge engineering section of VW. So, as supremely capable as it is, as lauded as it is in the automotive press, and as relatively inexpensive as it is (less than half the price of the aforementioned Lambo), it just gets over-looked.
Which is a shame, really. Because it is quirky and kitschy and funky in all the same ways that the Ferrari Testarossa and the Lamborghini Diablo were when I was a kid. Some boy somewhere has a poster of this car hanging on the back of his closet door. And that brings me back. The ten-year-old me just loves this car.
8. The Return of Bang for the Buck: 2013 Mustang Boss 302
The Boss is simply bad-ass. There is no other way to describe the "mid-level" performance Mustang. It does not have the Cobra badge, nor does it have the Cobra's 600+hp. However, the Boss also comes in at a "moderate" $41K. And it still comes with 440 hp, and a few go-fast goodies that do not come on the $68K Shelby such as strut braces and manually adjustable strut valving. That's right. Pull a rubber boot off the tip of the strut, and with a small screw driver, you can change your morning commute from mild to wild in two minutes flat.
Yes, $41K is a lot of change. But if you have the choice of the Camaro, the Mustang or the Challenger in that price range, the 'Stang is the only one that allows you to play with the suspension. (By design. From the factory. Under warranty.)
That, friends, is called bang for the buck.
7. "They want how much?": 2013 Toyota Sequoia Platinum
I chose this one as a statement. Auto industry: Do you want to know why you are in trouble? Because you are pricing yourself out of existence.
To answer the question: $64,255. That is how much this competitor to the GMC Yukon Denali will set you back. For a Toyota. And believe it or not, the Toyota Land Cruiser will set you back $15-$20K more. I asked a Toyota product specialist to justify the $65K price tag for the Sequoia Platinum over, say, the comparably equipped and comparably capable Denali which priced in at approximately $44K. "It has a lot of technology," he told me. A lot of which he just didn't know if I had the time for him to get into. People buy this as a statement, he said. A statement of what, I am still not sure.
Don't get me wrong. It's a nice truck. But the Denali was -- in every way I could see -- just as nice. And for the same cost, you could by a Denali, and a Malibu. I sat and gauged people's reaction when they read the sticker price. The only place where the facial expressions were more perplexed was at the Hyundai display, where they were asking a similar price for the Equus. Sixty-five large in your pocket? Forget Range Rover or Mercedes, Jaguar or Cadillac or Lincoln. Buy a Toyota. Or perhaps a Hyundai. Um...or not.
Still to come: The new 'Vette, Ford Fusion and, yes, a truly bitchin' Camaro.
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