Chicago Car Culture – Year in Review
For those of you who don’t know me, I am somewhat of a fan of all things automotive. This is both a massive understatement, and probably a bit obvious at this point. Last year, I made the decision to move from my hometown in upstate New York to Chicago. The first year in a great new city has been everything I was hoping for, with something going on just about every free day I had. I made it somewhat of a mission to dig deep into the Midwestern car show scene from the minute I got out here. I was absolutely not disappointed with what I found.
As you might expect, being located in the heart of one of America’s greatest cities means I’m smack in the middle of some pretty financially well-endowed areas. And sure, you get a few who enjoy the smell of their own exhaust fumes just a little too much. For the most part though, Midwestern friendliness permeates the already-pretty-welcoming hobby. From the most basic of classic cars, through multi-million dollar vintage Ferraris, I’ve heard all kinds of amazing stories from owners who are just excited somebody has even heard of the vehicle they own.
Given the huge number of people in the area, collectors can have some pretty unique specialties. One quick example of this occurred on my commute home from work several months ago, when a trio of flawlessly restored Russian Volgas sputtered their way through the intersection I was waiting at. If you know what these are, you are a special breed of nerd, and I congratulate you.
Opportunities in Chicago to get out and see some amazing rides are as frequent as they are varied. On any given weekend, you’re spoiled with the option of cars & coffee events, concours shows, cruise nights, dealership visits, and the occasional major auction or international auto show.
I’ve always heard stories about Cars & Coffee events, but never really had the opportunity to see them myself until moving to Chicago. I always thought the stories of ultra-rare and ultra-expensive cars showing up may be somewhat exaggerated, but it turns out… yeah, not so much.
I’ve seen everything from gorgeous Ferraris from the 60’s and 70’s (250 Testa Rossa anybody?), to Ghia-bodied Chrysler concept cars, to oddball modern exotics like Spykers. If you’re not familiar with the 250 TR, it is one of the most valuable cars in the world, and has eclipsed $16 million at auction in recent years. Despite their street-legal status, they were among the quickest race cars of their time. And yes, I am a HUGE sucker for classic Ferraris.
One local garage, which bills itself as a country club for collectors, hosts a monthly C&C meet on Sunday mornings. What makes this special is seeing every gearhead’s dream garage.
Spotless white floors clean enough to eat off of, work stations complete with lifts and every tool you could imagine, and a collection of some spectacularly rare and beautiful cars complete the picture. If that isn’t sufficient career motivation, I don’t know what is.
Let’s say you really would like to check out some cars, but are incredibly lazy and would like to sleep your morning entirely away! Worry not, lazy person, for collector car dealerships are here to satisfy your needs. Chicago is packed with any number of exotic and collector car dealerships, ranging from the newest and fastest toys many can buy to a specialist dealer of classic British sports cars.
This is a great way to kick some winter boredom, along with the local museums. I have yet to get out to any of the auto museums in the Midwest, but that is pretty high up on my list of priorities for the winter. In keeping with the theme of there being everything here, there is even a museum in the suburbs which doubles as a muscle car and hot rod dealership! Irresponsible decision-making has never been so tempting.
Speaking of muscle cars, a big part of what keeps life interesting during what is traditionally the car show offseason is the Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals. Taking place at the end of November, it’s easily the best display of American muscle I’ve ever seen. I would estimate something in the range of 500-600 cars were in attendance last year, including a 27-car reunion of Hemi-powered Mopar E-body convertibles. To provide some perspective into that hideously jargon-filled statement, there were just 42 of these cars built in 1970 and 1971, and each is now valued comfortably over $1 million these days.
This show really has it all for fans of American muscle, and is stuffed with prototypes, one-offs, and highly desirable limited-edition rarities.
To further help in eliminating any traces of an off-season, Chicago also hosts an international auto show, giving us an up-close look at what’s coming down the line from all the major manufacturers.
While it may not have the same degree of attention-grabbing premiers that Detroit showcases, you still get to see most of the same concepts and new models that were unveiled there. And if you really get the itch, Detroit is not an impossibly long drive away for a day trip.
So let’s say you’ve seen all these great things over the last few months, and are ready to go all-in on a collector car of your own. Good news! There is also a major auction for those in town courtesy of Mecum. What’s great about buying through an auction is hearing the story of each and every car before committing, and having a chance at getting a great deal. Celebrity-owned cars were a popular choice, ranging from a limo used by Queen Elizabeth in her convoys, to a Chrysler given to the Pope during an American visit in the 60’s, to Scottie Pippen’s 1988 Porsche. Hey, we are in Chicago after all. Rare muscle was also showcased all over the place, from factory-built lightweight drag cars to COPO Chevies and Boss 429 Mustangs. Be sure to grab a pedal car for the kids while you’re at it!
So to wrap things up, I’ve been lucky to experience just about every facet of the car hobby since I’ve moved out here. Boredom is not a thing, beautiful cars are everywhere, and I could not be happier. The biggest difference between Chicago and my quiet suburban hometown is the glut of supercars, which just aren’t around the smaller towns.
As if to prove this point, I visited one of the local dealerships in between writing sessions for this article, and was stunned to find the only Koenigsegg One:1 in the United States lounging in the service bays. This very same car has been displayed all over the country, and was recently on an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage. It is quite possibly the most impressive car I’ve been lucky enough to stumble across so far.
This car chaser is going to be staying busy for a long time to come.
Photos by Chris Barner