Auto Shows: A Timeline

The Detroit Auto Show has just kicked off the auto show season and now’s a great time to look back and remember why these events are such a big deal in the world of cars. Check out these industry facts, milestones and some history-making firsts in the world of the auto show.


1898: The world’s first auto show, the Paris Motor Show, was founded after the French Automobile Club created an event called “Le Salon de l’automobile du cycle et des sports,” an international, outdoor motor show that required exhibitors to prove their “seriousity” by driving their cars from Versailles to Paris.


1900: America’s first “horseless carriage show” was held in Madison Square Garden and drew roughly 10,000 spectators. Among the highlights was the appearance of Ransom Eli Olds’ prototype for a new body style known as the “runabout.”


1901: The Chicago Auto Show opened for eight days in the Coliseum Exposition Hall. Over 4,000 spectators attended. Prices for exhibit space on the main floor ranged from $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot.

1905: Benzene- and steam-powered cars were the highlights of the first-ever International Geneva Motor Show, a.k.a. the Salon International de l’Auto.

1907: The Detroit Auto Show, renamed the North American International Auto Show in 1989, was first held at Beller’s Beer Garden in Riverside Park.

1912-1913: The first detachable steering wheel and electric headlights drew a curious crowd at the Detroit Auto Show.

1933: The Pierce Silver Arrow, a concept car designed by James R. Hughes, was introduced at the New York Auto Show.

1938: The Peugeot 202, Renault Suprastella, Bugatti T52 and Citroen 15 Six were introduced to the public at the Paris Motor Show.

1939: The “KdF-Wagen” (later known as the VW Beetle) was shown for the first time at the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany.

1942-1944: Auto shows across the country went on forced hiatus after WWII prompted the U.S. government to ban the production and sale of cars for private use.


1950: The Chicago Auto Show became the first major automobile show to return to America after the war. Major news stories on the show highlighted independent auto manufacturer Kaiser-Frazer’s debut of their 1951 models. Chevrolet and Pontiac introduced hardtop models, while Nash premiered its compact Rambler.


1961: The Jaguar E-Type made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show.

1962: To celebrate the 100,000th MGA built (the vast majority of which went to North America) at the New York Auto Show, MG displayed a special gold-painted version of the MGA 1600 Mk II roadster.

1965: The Aston Martin DB5 used by James Bond in the film Goldfinger (which included everything from a passenger ejector seat to a rifle in the front bumper) took center stage at the New York Auto Show.

1971: The Lamborghini Countach made its public debut at the Geneva Motor Show.


1976: Oil crisis woes had car makers singing songs of “Economy” at the Chicago Auto Show. Subaru billed its four-wheel-drive wagon as “The Economy Car for Today’s Economy,” and Volkswagen’s Rabbit was advertised as “The Best Car in the World for under $3500.” Even Rolls-Royce was calling itself “The Unexpected Economy Car in 1976.”

1984: More than 700 vehicles were exhibited at the New York Auto Show, including the new sporty Pontiac Fiero, the Honda CRX, the Nissan 300 ZX and the Ford Mustang SVO.

1985: The Detroit Auto Show set an attendance record with roughly 820,000 attendees and spectators.

Can you remember a car debut or auto show event that really blew you away? Take a moment to comment below or head on over to the HVA’s Facebook page to share and see what other members are saying.