2007 Washington Auto Show
Jan. 24-28
Washington Convention Center

The Industry: Motor vehicles

The Attendees: Thousands who consider driving a biological need ranking somewhere between sex and food

The Issues:

Racy Nude Model: As far as auto shows go, exhibitors deemed D.C.’s mild and Detroit’s wild. Motor City memories included last year’s attendee who climbed atop a display car, disrobed, and demonstrated an impressive degree of agility. A National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) executive attributed the woman’s exhibition to inebriation, but a GM sales representative disagreed, noting that the maverick model had brought her own photographer. In D.C., said the sales veteran, misbehavior is limited to ducking into vehicles to apply makeup.

Primp My Ride: On view at the “Urban Restylin’ Salon”: this year’s “Flip My Whip” contest winner—a 1998 Ford F-150, plus $10,000 worth of customizing. A whip can be any vehicle, explained an Automotive Rhythms rep. Even a bicycle? “No.”

Ride of Your Life Savings: At the show, Harley-Davidson certified technicians transformed a stock bike into a totally tricked-out machine. With 40,000 parts and accessories to choose from, could a motorcycle get too gaudy? “I haven’t seen it yet,” said Brian Griffin, whose custom jobs have run as high as $40,000.

Kickass Class: A 1948 Anglia English Ford built and raced by Frank Privitera Sr. has a 496-cubic-inch big-block injected-alcohol Chevrolet engine, runs a quarter-mile track in eight-and-a-half seconds, and hits a quarter-mile top speed of 150 mph. The Fort Washington, Md., drag racer and his son Frank Jr.—a rocket scientist by day—also showed off their 1940 midnight-cranberry Willys coupe sporting a 565-cubic-inch injected-alcohol engine and a rear wing that provides downforce and stability when the car races down the track.

Torque’d Tongue? Auto-company executives and government officials touted the industry’s accelerated commitment to environmental stewardship. Meanwhile, ads in the convention program extolled less socially redeeming virtues: heated 20-way powered leather seats, more powerful engines, polished 17-inch wheels, and, for the Hummer H2 Luxury SUV, the ability to cruise through 20 inches of water and climb 16-inch walls.

Poseur Exposure: Aspiring rough-riders were chauffeured on Jeep’s compact indoor track studded with rugged terrain, a 30-degree sideways incline, a 35-degree hill, and a water trap. One rollover-fearing passenger, a demo driver said, demanded to be let out midride. The driver obliged.

Power Shift: At the Chevy Engine Dynamometer Test Lab, the ground rumbled during demonstrations of the Active Fuel Management system, whose sophisticated controller senses when to shift between four- and eight-cylinder modes. Boosting fuel efficiency by up to 8 percent, the system is a revved-up electronic adaptation of a mechanical process that stalled in the ‘70s. Allaying fears, a lab-coated technician assured: “You’ll always have that full V-8 power whenever you want!” For example, when towing a trailer, ascending a steep grade—or, added a bystander, “when you’re running from the cops.”

Savings Without Sacrifice: The EPA and NADA announced a partnership to help reduce energy use at auto dealerships by at least 10 percent. Energy-saving suggestions included cool roofing, low-E windows, low-flow faucets in lavatories, and replacing high-wattage lighting with compact fluorescent bulbs. Not mentioned: driving less.