MotorCities National Heritage Area

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of various web sites
Published 1.23.2019

Detroit Auto Show Cobo Hall 1960 Detroit News 1The Detroit Auto Show at Cobo Hall in 1960 (Detroit News)


As everyone focuses on the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center, this will be the last show during the month of January in Detroit. Our convention center has a long history of hosting great auto show events, dating back to Saturday October 15, 1960 when the brand new $54 million Cobo Hall opened its doors for the first time with the new automotive designs for the 1961 model year. It was called the “Forty-Third National Automobile Show,” staged by the Automobile Manufacturers Association and featuring 300.000 square feet of displays. The theme of the show was “Wheels of Freedom.”

Crowd inside the 1960 Detroit Auto Show 2Crowds inside the 1960 Detroit Auto Show


At the beginning, it took hundreds of the nation’s leading manufacturers to help stage this spectacular “Auto Wonderland” event which most people thoroughly enjoyed. Many people from around the world traveled to Detroit to participate in this historic automotive event. The Auto Wonderland was a spectacular added attraction to the Auto Show which featured automobiles and truck models on stage together for the first time.

Rambler display inside 1960 Detroit Auto Show AutoWeek RESIZED 3Rambler display inside 1960 Detroit Auto Show (AutoWeek) 

On a historical note, President Eisenhower was the honored guest and speaker at the opening dinner for the 43rd National Automobile Show in Detroit. Many visitors also had a chance to see the complete story about motor vehicle manufacturing and production. More than one million visitors took part in the show, and they were dazzled by the great sounds of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which featured a special commissioned overture saluting the automotive industry.

1965 Detroit Auto Show program Tate Collection 41965 Detroit Auto Show program (Robert Tate Collection) 

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and continuing to 2018, more auto shows in Detroit would highlight some of the greatest vehicles in the world and continue dazzling audiences. Special days were added to draw the visitors, including “City County Employees Day,” “Sports Celebrities Day,” “Ladies Day,” and “International Day.” This story features a series of really great images of past Auto Show displays, a reflection of our times and ideas that made Detroit’s show number one in the country.

1969 Plymouth Road Runner Sox and Martin display 51969 Plymouth Road Runner Sox and Martin display ( 

Since the world is changing and new automotive technologies are creating new ways of operating vehicles, the automakers and their suppliers have recognized the future. On June 8, 2020, the Auto Show will open its doors for a reimagined event that will take place both inside and outside Cobo Center. This move comes with the decision to include more information on autonomous vehicles, advanced systems and technology.

1960s Ford Mustang show car RESIZED 61960s Ford Mustang show car


Rod Alberts, executive director of the show and president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, said “Detroit will play a much larger role in the North American International Auto Show in 2020. Organizers confirmed the show will move from January to June 8 that year, a move that will transform the look and feel of the Auto Show as we take portions of the show out of Cobo Center and into the city.”

Ford GT display 7Ford GT display ( 

In conclusion, Cobo Center has a rich heritage of showcasing Detroit’s historic automotive legacy for generations and will continue to be part of our future. 


43rd National Automobile Show Program, 1960.


Walsh, Dustin. “Detroit Auto Show Looks to Cast New Light in Move to June in 2020.” Crain’s Detroit Business, July 23, 2018.