By Marc Lachapelle
Automotive history is rich with fabulously striking and original designs, but there have also seen some strange creations along the way. Separate exhibits at this year’s Montreal International Auto Show displayed a lot of the former but there was also an unusual and nonetheless interesting sample of the latter.
Straight to Seventh Heaven
Visitors at the MIAS went right up to Seventh Heaven, where a few dozen of the most gorgeous, fast, luxurious and exclusive cars were again gathered this year. In this grand hall they were first met with a collection of convertibles from the Fifties, all glorious fins, chrome and bright colours as if lined up for a cool evening at the drive-in theatre or the town’s curb-service restaurant. The guest list read as follows: 1954 and 1957 Mercury Monarch Lucerne, 1953 Cadillac 62 Series, 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, 1954 and 1957 Corvette, 1956 Mercury Montclair , 1958 Ford Fairlane 600 Skyliner and 1957 Pontiac Star Chief.
In the same space were some of Europe’s finest exotics and sports cars; six Lamborghinis, five Lotus models, a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren roadster making its curtain call, a Porsche exhibit in which starred a track-bound GT3 Cup car, four Aston Martins, a trio of Bentleys, two Maseratis and a brace of Ferraris, from the $318,000 F430 Spider to the $418,000 F599 Fiorano GTB.
Icons and oddities
Further along, visitors came to a very different collection of vehicles under the theme ‘Innovation, Evolution’. They were first met by a 1971 version of the Citroën DS 21, one of the most technically brilliant and forward-thinking cars ever designed, paired with a gorgeous 1953 Studebaker Regal Commander styled by the legendary Raymond Loewy, often referred to as the ‘father of industrial design’.
A few paces further were three cars from defunct American Motors that are famous in their own quirky way: a 1973 AMC Gremlin, a 1973 Javelin and a 1976 AMC Pacer that had baby-boomer dads recalling its nickname – the Aquarium – to befuddled kids. Teens found the Pacer quite cool. Right next to these were two cars with a rich popular history of their own. While the stainless steel-bodied 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 recalls at once the industrial fiasco of its brief production and the subsequent fame it acquired as a time-travel machine in the Back to the Future films, the 1979 Ford Pinto is mostly infamous for a fuel tank too prone to explode in case of a rear impact.
Swiss imagination and wizardry
Aligned in their own section of the same hall were three of the perfectly unique creations of automotive wizard Frank Rinderknecht, the soul and brains behind Rinspeed. This small tuning firm based in Switzerland has amazed and fascinated visitors and journalists at the Geneva Auto Show with a new creation annually for the past 15 years. As a special guest of the 2009 MIAS, Mr. Rinderknecht brought three of his designs: the eXasis, with its transparent plastic body; the Senso, a car that reacts to its driver’s moods and emotions and the Splash in which he set a Guinness World Record for hydrofoil cars by crossing the English Channel in 2006. The Splash is powered by a turbocharged, 750 cc twin-cylinder engine that develops 140-horsepower on natural gas, enough for a top speed of 80 km/h on water and 200 km/h on dry land.