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American Beauty at ExCel

20.7.06. The British International Motor Show opened its doors to the public today, Thursday 20th July, at the ExCel exhibition centre in London’s docklands.   This marks a significant move for the UK’s premier motor show, as it is the first time in a number of years that it has not been held at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre.  Before that, of course, the event was regularly based in London.  

For those who haven’t visited, ExCel is a modern, air-conditioned facility, which is easy to navigate and well suited to this kind of event.  The show appears to be smaller than what one would normally expect at the NEC, however, and key exhibitors, such as Volkswagen, Porsche and Ferrari – some of the big names the public want to see – were missing.  Having said that, there were plenty of world premieres, including new models like BMW’s M6 Convertible, the new Vauxhall Corsa, the Land Rover Freelander, Jaguar XKR, Mazda MX-5 Roadster, and best of all from an American-interest point of view, the new Dodge Nitro and Caliber, plus Chrysler’s fresh-faced Sebring.

The new Dodge Caliber

The front-wheel drive Dodge Caliber comes to the UK this month, and is a new slant on a C-segment vehicle, with unusual yet bold styling.  UK buyers will get a choice of two petrol engines, 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre, both with dual variable valve timing (VVT), and a 2.0-litre turbo diesel. The Caliber features a second-generation, continuously variable transaxle (CVT) mated to the 2.0-litre petrol engine – an interesting development, as it seemed this type of transmission had gone out of fashion some while ago.  Nonetheless, this is the first application of CVT for the Chrysler Group.  

First impressions of the car are favourable for a modern design, and show that Dodge is prepared to give its designers the opportunity to be a little bit extrovert when it comes to styling.  The Caliber convincingly combines sporty coupe styling with the rugged looks of a SUV and full seating for five adults.  One touch on the display vehicle that we particularly liked was the coordination of the colours used for the seat panel inserts and the bright exterior paintwork.

Dodge Nitro arrives in the UK next year

As for the Nitro, Dodge is clearly attempting to spice up the mid-size SUV market with this all-new model.  Shown in the UK for the first time, there is no doubt that Nitro has real presence.  This is due to its tough, “Tonka-Toy” styling, emphasised by small side windows that give the appearance of a slightly chopped roof, and the fitment of 20-inch diameter wheels and tyres. Right-hand drive versions of Nitro arrive in the UK mid-2007.


Opposite the Dodge stand, parent group Chrysler was not to be outdone with its reveal of the new D-segment, Sebring saloon, slotting in below the recently announced 300C.  In comparison with the new Dodge models, however, it appeared rather bland to our eyes.  That said, Sebring is fitted with much in the way of new technology and general features.  At one extreme there’s a cutting-edge, information, entertainment and communication navigation audio system, while on a more simplistic level there’s a heated/cooled front cup holder.  A long list of safety systems includes Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), side-curtain airbags and optional front-seat-mounted side airbags.  Top engine specification is a 2.7-litre V6.

Chrysler's Sebring

The new Sebring is available outside North America in two models, Chrysler Sebring Touring and Chrysler Sebring Limited, and will arrive in European dealerships during the first half of 2007. 

Corvette Z06 looks a winner from any angle

Corvette is well represented at the show with three models, including the highly acclaimed Z06, which has done much to elevate the status of Corvette in Europe, with a chassis reported to rival those of the best super cars.  Chevrolet is also present, but in truth, the only “proper” Chevy on display is a lovely 1936 Suburban, which was obviously the grandaddy of the people-carrier concept, with its three rows of seats fitted inside (in this case) a beautifully restored exterior.

Beautifully restored 1936 Chevy Suburban

We visited the show on Press Day, and overall, it was surprisingly quiet.  With the air conditioning turned up, it was also a comfortable experience walking up and down the aisles, but should the old “plates” get a bit tired, there’s plenty of seating where you can take a break between touring both halls.

Cadillac's STS saloon 

One personal grumble is that it took longer to get to the ExCel by car (two hours) than it normally does to get to the NEC – and that despite the fact we only had to travel about 40 miles to get to ExCel.  From a public transport point of view, there is only the Docklands Light Railway to rely on, and it will be interesting to see how the attendance figures stack up with those for the NEC-based show when the event closes on July 30.  We at DRC Review hope it is a success for all concerned, as this is a huge undertaking. 

Mega-stretched Chrysler 300 with gullwing doors

As a final observation, this marked the first time in a number of years that we had attended a motor show, and it was very much like a step back in time.  We couldn’t help but think that it is still a very static experience when it could be made so much more inviting for the public. Granted, there were some attractions outside the facility, but there was very little inside for the family to do, other than ogling exotic super cars and dreaming.  We’ve always thought that a motor show based on an American theme park, with rides and special attractions – and, of course, a motoring twist – would be one way forward.  Then again, perhaps health and safety bosses would have something to say about that!

Story & photos: Andy Kirk

Ford celebrated the success of the Ford Focus, currently the UK's most popular car, with the unveiling of a unique new model certain to melt the hearts of show goers – a full-size, six-and-a-half-ton sculpture of the new Ford Focus Coupé-Cabriolet, made entirely of ice.  

The ice sculpture, already dubbed the coolest car at the show, was crafted by a team of sculptors in a giant freezer – set at a chilly minus 10 deg C.  The work took a total of 160 hours to complete, with each shift limited to just 40 minutes because of the severe cold. The car was built from over 100 blocks of ice, which were carefully disassembled and transported to the show, where they were reassembled.

Beautifully detailed Harley chop on the Carole Nash insurance stand

Classic Auburn - arguably the most beautiful car on display  

Top Gear's sea-worthy Toyota Hi Lux on display, complete with mighty outboard motor 

Ok it's not American, but Mazda's new sportscar concept is so nice. 

Replica Shelby Daytona Coupe - a snip at £85,000

Santa Pod's top Fuel exhibition car resplendent in red


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