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Chicago Auto Show kicks off special summer event with outdoor space

Show veterans and newcomers arrived at McCormick Place’s West Building on Thursday for a special summer edition that lasts until Monday night. The show also introduced an outdoor space for test driving, vehicle demonstrations and a street festival in the evening.

Crowds of people walk the floor checking out different vehicles at the Chicago Auto Show at the McCormick Place West Building in South Loop, Thursday, July 15, 2021.
A postponed and downsized Chicago Auto Show opened Thursday at McCormick Place.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Clarissa Hinton and her husband had attended the Chicago Auto Show together for over 20 years.

So she was determined to be there Thursday when an altered auto show opened — postponed from its usual February date — and Hinton made sure her husband was there, too, in a way.

Robert Jay Stone was 66 when he died on St. Patrick’s Day, but Hinton brought his ashes to McCormick Place, wheeling him around in a wire basket.

“His spirit continues on. I feel that this urn has his spirit, and I wanted him to experience this with me again. We used to come together and pick out the cars we wanted, since cars were always our thing” said Hinton, 70, recalling how the couple had met at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Clarissa Hinton takes a photo of her husband’s urn at the Chicago Auto Show at the McCormick Place West Building in South Loop, Thursday, July 15, 2021.
Clarissa Hinton takes a photo of her husband’s urn at the Chicago Auto Show at the McCormick Place West Building on Thursday.
Nichole Shaw/Sun-Times

For this year’s one-time move to July, the show was downsized, staged in the West Building as well as outdoors on Indiana Avenue. It runs through Monday night.

Roy and Nancy Durbin from Oakwood came down to the summer show for a look at the new Ford electric car models and to celebrate Mr. Durbin’s 76th birthday.

“We’ve been coming here for 25 years,” Mr. Durbin, a Vietnam War veteran, said. “We’re so used to being in the other building that we actually had a hard time finding where this was at. But I’m excited to be here because every year the cars get so much cooler and the designs are awesome.”

For many, the show’s return was a symbol of hope and normalcy; it’s the largest event at McCormick Place since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Many attendees were maskless, snapping pictures of their favorite car models, sliding into rich leather seats and checking out trunk space.

“It feels good to get back out again and just dive into the world, because I can share this with my son for the first time,” said Chris Hall, a 10-year patron of the show and father to 7-year-old Caleb. “I think that the whole homeschooling thing and working from home gave me and my son pandemic fatigue, so it feels really good to get out here and be active.”

The new venue is about half the size of the show’s usual indoor space in McCormick’s North and South buildings, which totaled 1.2 million square feet, according to show spokesman Mark Bilek.

The biggest indoor attraction was Jeep’s all-terrain obstacle course; waits in line were about half an hour Thursday morning.

“I can finally check this off the bucket list,” Penny Fuller, a first time visitor from Oakwood, said. “You don’t realize how fortunate you are to be here after the worst of the pandemic until you come in.”

A Ford Bronco is test driven the Chicago Auto Show outside the McCormick West Building on Indiana Avenue in South Loop, Thursday, July 15, 2021.
A Ford Bronco is test-driven the Chicago Auto Show outside McCormick Place on Thursday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The new interactive space outdoors included a rival to that Jeep course — guests also could go through six-part obstacle course in a new Ford Bronco.

“This looks a lot smaller in comparison to past shows, but I like the outdoor experience,” said Jonny Lopez, 27, who traveled from Indiana to attend. “‘I’ve been a Ford Bronco fan since back in the old days when they came out in 1966. So when I saw the new one come out, I had to get inside and really see what the all-terrain capabilities were like.”

The show, produced by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, is expected to draw about 30,000 visitors a day, Bilek said.

Tickets are sold only online and with preferred attendance time options to maintain limited capacity for guest safety. Evenings include an outdoor street festival from 6:30 to 10 p.m. with live entertainment.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct information about the 2020 Chicago Auto Show.