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By: Robert Tate
Photos courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 01.08.2016

file 20160108163428 1965to2016 Detroit Auto Show HistoryOldsmobile's Toronado exhibit was one of the more anticipated sights for the 1965 Detroit Auto Show.The year was 1965 and the Detroit Auto Show was in full swing to highlight the best and the brightest cars for the upcoming 1966 and beyond.

The new line of cars for 1966 was spectacular and offered many great designs and innovations for the public to see. By 1966, the Auto Show was already celebrating its Golden anniversary of 50 years. The Detroit Auto Dealers Association had put together the biggest production in its history in observance of 50 years. The event was held Saturday, Nov. 27 through Sunday, Dec. 5,1965.

Approximately 250,000 visitors were expected to walk through Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit and witness the grand display.

file 20160108164149 1965to2016 Detroit Auto Show HistoryIn 1965, local leaders celebrated the 50th anniversary of Detroit's grand Auto Show.Mr. Harry Tennyson, who was the Show Committee Chairman talked about the massive scale of work that went into making the Auto Show a reality.

“Of course a show of this magnitude is the culmination of dealers and factory personnel working in unison. For many weeks ahead, the displays and exhibit departments of the various car and truck manufactures have been exercising their creativeness and imaginative know-how to build displays that will accent and glamorize the appeal of 1966 offerings, and in addition, make this anniversary show tops in the industry,” said Tennyson.

A total of 375 vehicles were on display across the 300,000 square feet of exhibit space that made up the main floor of the huge convention center. The show featured 85 imported models ranging from many new models that were offered by Volkswagen to the great looking designs of Rolls Royce.

file 20160108164310 1965to2016 Detroit Auto Show History

The admission at the time was $1 for adults, 50 cents for children younger than 12 and 25 cents for students through high school on weekdays. The 50th anniversary of the DADA Auto Show was emphasized by a number of older classic vehicles from the Henry Ford Museum. These included 50-year old vehicles and some were even older.

One of the main attractions at that year’s show was the Oldsmobile Toronado. It was the first full-size U.S. automobile with front-wheel drive since the 1937 Cord model was introduced.

An invitational preview was held that Friday night with Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh helping to kick off the show.

file 20160108163806 1965to2016 Detroit Auto Show History
Without exception, industry leaders were predicting that the 1966 model run would be as good as or better than the 1965 model year, which was based on economist surveys that had indicated the public was in a buying mood.

Some other highlights from the show included the Ford division that had followed on its theme of “The Lively Ones” displaying the Lotus Ford that Jimmy Clark had driven to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500 along with a special total performance vehicle called the GT Mark I.
file 20160108164436 1965to2016 Detroit Auto Show History
General Motors offered several great displays one of which featuring a 1966 Buick Wildcat convertible that had expandable and moving body parts exposing the inner workings of the car. The “exploding” car had its outside surface peeled away, then the sheet metal would split in the middle like a drawbridge to show the engine and other parts. The entire chassis then would revolve for people to see and then a narrator would point out Buick's great features for 1966.

Chrysler introduced many great looking show cars that included the popular Plymouth XP-VIP experimental model along with the Chrysler 300 convertible model with experimental trim. Visitors at the time received a bird's-eye view of the car by traveling over twin arches above it.
file 20160108164517 1965to2016 Detroit Auto Show History
In conclusion, some automotive historians have said that the first automobile and sportsman's show in Detroit started on Feb. 26, 1902, however the real start and the beginning of the Detroit Auto Show goes back to the creativity and enthusiasm of one man, William E. Metzger. Metzger was an important figure in the development of the auto industry throughout the 1890s.

From 1965 to 2016, the Detroit Auto Show, now known as the North American International Auto Show, will always be a major part of Detroit’s vast automotive history.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for contributing this story to the MotorCities Story of the Week Program. (Bibliography: Detroit Auto Dealers Association, “Golden Anniversary Official Program” Nov. 27-Dec. 5,1965; Szudarek, Robert. “The First Century of the Detroit Auto Show” Society of Automotive Engineers Inc. 2000)

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