The 1969 New York Auto Show

The New York Auto Show is the longest continually-running automobile show in the United States. New York was the first city in the country to host such a show, which it did in 1900. The show has been an annual tradition ever since, the only exception being the 2020 pandemic cancellation.

During the first half of the 20th century, the show was held within various exhibition halls throughout Manhattan. When the New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle (W 59th St.) opened in 1956, the show was moved there and remained until 1987 when the brand new Jacob Javits Convention Center took over host duties. The Javits Center continues to be the show’s location.

In 1969, as a car-crazed teen, my father took me to the Coliseum to see the show for the first time. He wanted to see the show too, but it wasn’t his first visit, as he had brought home show programs from previous years (which I wish I still had). I grabbed my camera and off we went. It’s likely we drove into the city; both of us at that time were commuting into Manhattan from our Staten Island home, he for work, and I for high school, so perhaps we wanted a break from the subway.

The exact day of our attendance is lost to history, but it must have been a weekend. The internet informs me that the 1969 show was held from Saturday April 5 through Sunday April 13. Easter was Sunday April 6 that year, and amazingly, this plan of holding the public show during Easter week is still the plan today.

Here’s a brief video overview of that 1969 show, and you can see a few of the vehicles that are among the photos below.

I took 12 photographs at the show, which means I shot an entire roll of film with my Kodak 127 Brownie. My photographic skills in 1969 needed a lot of work, and to be fair, the photos document how crowded it was, so getting a clear line of sight to any vehicle was a challenge. Looking at these pictures 51 years later provides some insight into my young automotive mind. In general, the production cars I chose to snap are still of interest today. The concept cars I chose are quite humorous in retrospect, and maybe not surprisingly what a young boy would find funny.

Here are the 12, with a brief blurb under each.

PRODUCTION CARS
Chevrolet Corvette

I liked all of the C2 Corvettes (of course, we didn’t call them that in the ‘60s), and liked the new-for-’68 C3 Corvette even more (not an opinion I still hold). The Mako Shark-inspired styling, with its incredibly low front end, peaked front fenders, pinched waist, and flying buttress rear pillars on the coupe was so racy to me. There was a crowd around this car all day, and I felt lucky to capture the left front fender and hood.

Dodge Super Bee

I don’t recall being a big fan of this styling (and am still not), but it was probably  the blacked-out hood, hood scoop, factory ‘mags’, and redline tires that appealed to me.

Oldsmobile Toronado

By 1969, the big front-driver from Olds was in its 4th model year, and although the overall body shape hadn’t changed, the front and rear ends had a heavier look, losing some of initial lightness of the ’66. I’m struck by this typical late ‘60s color combo: a dark metallic hue with white vinyl roof, white pinstripe, white wall tires, and white interior! Note the F-85 sign in the background, which seems odd now because I would have expected Olds to more likely market the Cutlass nameplate.

Cadillac Eldorado

General Motors’ other FWD luxury car was in its 3rd year, with exposed headlights (after two years of concealed ones) as one of the few styling changes. This paint color looks identical to the Olds! Note the Mercury/Lincoln sign and the very low ceiling.

Avanti II

It’s interesting to me that I would even be aware of this car. I doubt I saw any on the streets of Staten Island. In case you don’t know it, the brief backstory is that the original Avanti was a model produced by Studebaker for only two years, 1963 and 1964. When Studebaker ended production, the car’s tooling was purchased by two men who ran Studebaker dealerships. They reintroduced the car as the “Avanti II” in 1965, so this little-changed 1969 version was in its 5th model year. I wish my photo had captured more of the sign to the right.

Jeep Wagoneer

My father, who rarely expressed his opinion about anything out loud, let it be known to me that he liked the Jeep Wagoneer. There’s no doubt that his admiration for it extended back to the Jeep Station Wagon he owned when he first married my mom. Something this large and truck-like held no interest for me, although this photo reveals that Jeep did its best to market this to the masses, with chrome bumpers, a full-width bright grille, roof rack, full wheel covers, white wall tires, and exterior wood-grain applique. Yet you can see the front leaf springs (!) peeking out below the bumper.

Pontiac Firebird

I loved the ’69 Firebirds when they were introduced, and I still find them among the best-looking Firebirds ever. I’m including this under “Production Cars” even though this one appears to be slightly customized. The yellow-and-white seats and door panels, along with the yellow color-keyed wheels, don’t look factory, yet on the other hand, are probably slight cosmetic changes, possibly done by a local dealer. And can someone tell me why the three people behind the passenger-side A-pillar are all wearing sunglasses?

CONCEPT CARS
The Pink Panther mobile

There’s nothing I can say in my defense, except, I wasn’t alone in wanting to see this car – look at the crowd behind it! Also note the sign in the lower right, which reads “Petersen Publishing”. What was their involvement? Where is this car today?

Plymouth Road Runner X-1

With help from the Internet, I identified this car as the X-1. The euro headlights, hood pins, cut-down windshield, and rear roll hoop were undoubtedly attractive to me. Look at the mob behind it, as well as the Pirelli sign.

Model T-Bucket Outhouse

Bathroom humor was still funny to me. Just watch out for that hot exhaust when entering and exiting.

The Bob Reisner Bathtub

Speaking of bathroom humor, it doesn’t get crazier than this (or if it does, I don’t want to see it). Like the X-1, I only know this builder’s name thanks to Google.

Buick Century Cruiser Concept

This is one of the vehicles featured in the short video clip; yet in the movie, the car is blue, and here it’s white. An internet search for photos shows the car in both colors, as well as gold. Perhaps Buick was trying out different colors to gauge audience reaction, or borrowing a trick from ol’ Shelby, they wanted to give the impression that there was more than one Cruiser Concept. Note the Ford Cortina sign and British flag in the background.

 

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 33: 2011 Brings Out the Car for Two Invitation-only Shows

APRIL 2011: THE PETITE CONCOURS AT THE NY AUTO SHOW

Sometime early in 2011, I received an email from an outfit billing itself as “Teeny Tiny Productions”. Almost deleting it on the presumption that it was spam, I opened the email to discover that Teeny Tiny Productions was actually associated with microcars. Reading further, I learned that they planned to host a special exhibit at the upcoming New York International Auto Show (NYIAS), and this email was my personal invitation to participate.

I called the provided number and spoke to a gentleman named Burt Richmond who assured me that this was legit. He and his business/personal partner Diane Fitzgerald had hosted a number of microcar-themed events in and around the Chicago area, where they resided. The email targeted me as an Isetta owner who lived in the NY Metro area. There were no costs to me outside of the need to transport the vehicle in and out of the city. He asked “are you game?” to which I replied “sure”, thinking that adding a display at the NYIAS to my Isetta’s résumé could only be a good thing.

According to the schedule I was provided, the “Petite Concours”, as the special display was named, would run only for the first five days of the show, including press days, and not its entirety. We owners would load our vehicles into the Jacob Javits Center before the show opened, and would get them out on a Sunday, after that day’s show had ended. This made it easier for me, as traffic in the area would be (relatively) minimized. Burt and Diane were on hand when I loaded in, and Burt was in charge of the floor arrangement. My car was chosen as one of four Isettas to be arranged in an “X”, with the cars’ tail ends inward. Thankfully, the vehicles were stanchioned off, and there was 24-hour security provided by the Javits crew.

My car is the red one on the right

Because we were in a room on the lower level, and not part of the main exhibit, I won’t pretend that the Petite Concours was a major spectator draw. Certainly, the other vehicles on display, which included Messerschmitts, Crosleys, Citroen 2CVs, old and new Hondas, Fiats, and NSUs, attracted some of the crowd that just happened to be meandering past, not necessarily aware of the special showing. As I’ve observed when an assortment of miniature cars is at a show, the Isetta becomes viewed as something that’s almost ‘normal’ when surrounded by some of its more abnormal contemporaries.

A view of some of the other microcars on display

The five days went quickly enough; the probable highlight of the entire affair was being behind the wheel of my car and piloting it through the dungeon known as the Javits’s basement. I’ve walked the show enough times, and had the pleasure of attending so often on a press pass, yet never imagined there would be a day when my little bubble car and I would be in that locale together.

A balcony shot showing some of the audience
OCTOBER 2011: THE MONMOUTH COUNTY CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE

Later in the year, my good friend Dennis Nash called me up. He explained that he was very involved with an acquaintance of his who would be hosting a car show called the Monmouth County Concours d’Elegance, and 2011 was to be its 2nd running. Dennis said that they were quite short of judges, and asked me if I would judge for the day (no special training needed!). He also threw in the fact that the show vehicles were admitted as invitation-only, and he was extending such an invitation to my Isetta.

The show was scheduled for October 1, and checking my calendar, I noted that I had no conflicts, so I told Dennis I was in. Dennis’s only other request was that I arrive early that day for a judges’ meeting, and to be assigned to a team.

The day turned out to be cool and overcast, but we were thankfully spared the wet stuff, which counted for a lot, given that I was dressed in the de rigueur judge’s outfit of navy blazer, white shirt, chinos, and loafers (boater’s hats were optional). Dennis was running the judges’ meeting, and we were all put into teams of two. My judging partner was…. Dennis’s wife Ann Marie! I was happy to be with someone I knew, and the judging was quite informal anyway. There was a wonderful and eclectic selection of vehicles on the lawn, but to be blunt, the caliber of vehicles didn’t strike me as what I would expect to find at an “invitation only” concours. I did enjoy myself, in large part because the Nashes are a wonderful couple, and as dedicated to the old car hobby as any married pair I’ve ever met.

An elegant Rolls-Royce in some unusual colors

 

A decidedly non-original ’40 Ford

 

A personal favorite, the Lancia Fulvia coupe

 

Jaguar XKE Series III roadster

 

Award-winning Pontiac Grand Prix (even w/misaligned headlight doors)

 

I don’t believe that the Monmouth Concours continued much past 2012, if it even made it that far. As well-intentioned as the show organizers were, they learned how difficult it is to put on a top-notch fling, especially with the calendar becoming more and more crowded with collector car type events every weekend from April through October.

 

POSTSCRIPT: FALL HERSHEY

The following weekend was Hershey, and of course I was there. Wandering the aisles during the Saturday car show, I spotted this forlorn BMW out for judging:

This was the germination of an idea – could I, would I, consider putting my Isetta on display at Hershey? Stay tuned for the answer!

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.