Here’s the thing: Manhattan men don’t like cars. I know because they say so loudly in bars accompanied by an effete salute. ‘I know NOTHING about cars’ they chime, as if just breaking sexual stereotypes instantly elevates you above your peers. Women here say the same about cooking. ‘I wouldn’t know HOW to turn it on!’ they proudly chortle in a display of inverted arrogance. So, to hold an international motor show in a city that largely despises the car may seem somewhat odd until you get a grip on its significance. The New York Auto Show is not just a petrol-head convention for out-of-towners, it is the annual visit when America comes to Manhattan.
This show has become a kind of annual barometer that measures how America feels about itself. Obviously, it was never a market for selling practical modes of transportation. The Auto Show is a brazen display of fuel-injected testosterone: who this year has the fastest, biggest, most daring etc. The romantic view of the driver as adventurer on the open road has never really waned in the US, partly because the country still has an awful lot of open road. In Europe our cars have huddled down and ‘hybridded’ up in an admirable attempt look discreet, unassuming and eminently sensible. Not here. The rocket-ship aesthetics of the 60s and 70s may have been tamed over time but the stars of the show in New York still have plenty of mirrored chrome, provocative bulges and yards of leather piping.
The American Automobile carries a weight and significance in its homeland unlike anywhere else and it has retained an openly glorified status that has yet to be quashed by those that know better. The retro-roadsters are not, as in Europe, a tongue-in-cheek design quirk, rich in urban irony. Here they are steeped in meaning. Just uttering the names Corvette, Mustang, Shelby, Buick, Dodge, Cadillac, Lincoln and Chevrolet has a tangible, reverberating resonance that rumbles the gut of America like a Chrysler 8 litre V10 with 640hp at the back wheel.
And just as hem lines rise when the economy perks up, so the dropheads step into the limelight like forgotten Hollywood starlets, and there are plenty to choose from in 2015 with the Ford GT 50th Anniversary edition (yes, 50!) as Queen Bee.
But I like to watch the crowds, the families failing to control their hyper-active children and the old men reminiscing loudly over distant four-wheeled love affairs. For this show gives us a glimpse into the soul of America where, despite a myriad of failings and broken dreams, there still purrs an engine of optimism, primed and ready to hit the open road.