They say you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. My first impression of the Philadelphia Auto Show was poor, considering the Ford Motor Company-sponsored breakfast had run out of coffee and was only serving decaf. This was at 8:30 a.m., minutes after registration had opened. Most of the automotive bigwigs had yet to file in, and the coffee supply was already depleted.
It was a bad sign.
Media Day was crammed with the only the biggest names, like The Guy Who Owns The Bucks County Ford Dealership, The Intern From Car and Driver, The Guy Who Narrates The Kars4Kids Commercial, and The Guy Who Sometimes Drives a Maserati Through Campus But I Think He Goes To the University of Pennsylvania. Only the best and brightest were allowed to attend this exclusive event, and I felt extraordinarily privileged to be there.
Ford’s press conference was up first, and a regional executive came up to talk at us about the new cars.
The new F-150’s gimmick (which was unveiled at the New York Auto Show already, the Ford guy explained) was its recent change to an aluminum body, “just like” the Ford guy said, “the Bradley Fighting Vehicle,” which was “proven to be tough by combat conditions.” (The Bradley has been retrofitted with steel skirts because the aluminum armor has been proven to be ineffective.)
The new 2015 Mustang’s gimmick (“which we already unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show,” the Ford guy was quick to add) was that this model would include independent rear suspension, which was an amazing modern innovation.
The 2015 Ford Transit Connect is now being marketed to families as “a more fuel efficient alternative to the traditional minivan.” It is yet another attempt to fill the gap left by the departure of the station wagon, one that automakers have been trying to fill with crossovers, compact SUVs and Pontiac Azteks for decades now. Features of the Transit Connect include less seating capacity, worse fuel economy and uglier aesthetics as compared to a station wagon. This ended the Ford press conference.
Jeep, of course, came to the show with their traditional “take a ride in a circle over extreme terrain in a Jeep” gimmick. And so I did, in what the driver explained was the Jeep Wrangler “Willys” edition. Once he mentioned that it was the “Willys” edition, I naturally asked if it had a place to mount a machine gun. He did not understand and just looked at me like I was some kind of terrorist.
This ride, of course, had a catch: You had to fill out a survey at the end. I tried to answer as vaguely as possible, but the photographer who went with me actually put down his phone number. He was immediately contacted over the phone by a local Jeep dealership.
Jeep held its press conference shortly after our ride ended. Dozens of journalists showed up, and the Jeep people shoved them all into two cars and took them around the off-road track. I decided to abstain from what was now essentially a clown car ride and went to look at the rest of the floor.
To keep it short, BMW had a new compact electric car they had elected not to call the eSetta and had exhibited a car marked “U.S. Olympic Team,” which, presumably, they had forgotten to send to Sochi. Mazda had put up a billboard stating, “On any given weekend, more Mazdas and Mazda-powered cars are road raced than any other brand,” neglecting to mention that most of those races were being held at 2:00 a.m. on the Delaware waterfront near Olde Kensington. Volvo, in a last-minute fit of panic, had brought a 240 from the late eighties. BMW and Mercedes-Benz were the only companies with enough balls to bring station wagons. And while we were looking at all these, my photographer was receiving incessant phone calls from local Jeep dealerships.
Media Day, on the whole, was a bore, and I left early to go to my rescheduled geology exam. The real story, I reasoned, would unfold during an actual open-to-the-public day.
The Philadelphia Auto Show attracts people from all over southeastern Pennsylvania. Suburban families and university students rub shoulders with bizarre quasi-rednecks with more money and Duck Dynasty merchandise than brains. Or clothing. Beer bellies hung out from under stained polo shirts. Inappropriate sandals and cargo shorts combos were worn. Cigarette-smoking older women showed more skin than was strictly necessary. I watched a 300-pound man laboriously squeeze himself into a Corvette C7, reducing the vehicle’s power-to-weight ratio by perhaps half in the process, and thought, “I paid $12 to see this.”
The human zoo could be avoided, of course, if you stayed away from the Ford and Chevy exhibits, as my friends and I did. We instead looked at BMWs. We looked at Cadillacs. We looked at people looking at Maseratis and Lamborghinis, because it was impossible to get through the crowd to look at the actual cars.
We looked at the classic cars. They were beautiful. The owners … not so much.
That, of course, led us to Dub.
What is Dub?
Dub is an event that will change your outlook on the automotive world. Dub is beautiful, and Dub is awful. Dub is in the basement of the auto show. Dub is an experience not to be missed or to be repeated.
It is, in short, a Thing.
The first thing that hits you when you walk into the Dub show is the bass. The second and third things that hit you are also the bass.
The fourth thing that hits you is that everyone there is wearing baseball hats backward.
Then, you see the cars.
On red carpets and behind velvet ropes sat garishly modified cars in gaudy colors. Their owners, in wife beaters and gold chains, dared you to say anything negative about them. Everything was represented, from Camrys to Camaros, decked out to look much faster than they actually were. That flame decal? Adds five horsepower. Those sponsorship stickers? Ten horsepower each. That fake hood scoop? That adds, like, fifty horsepower, man.
Many of the cars were what the Dub industry calls “hella flush.” These cars had aftermarket rims so large that the tire was little more than a smear of rubber. They were also lowered enough that hitting a decent-sized squirrel would do a number on the front bumper, especially if said bumper was part of a cheap plastic body kit.
Vendors sold automotive vinyl with skulls and tribal patterns, aftermarket window tinting, fake V-TEC stickers, and, inexplicably, Girl Scout cookies. A paint shop exhibited a car they had made look and feel like it was made out of nasty, cheap plastic. Michael Vick’s Bentley Continental rubbed shoulders with a Toyota Camry with a plastic body kit and a fake carbon fiber spoiler. Anything not bolted down vibrated across the floor from the incessant bass. It was not a pretty sight, and I was glad to leave. Thus ended the auto show trip.
To get to the important points, the best car on the floor was the Subaru Impreza WRX. The worst car was the Smart Fortwo. Figuring out what’s in between is left as an exercise to the reader. The Auto Show runs until Feb. 16 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.