The stage shows of the past evolved into manufacturer-led extravaganzas, with dancers, magicians, ventriloquists, sports celebrities and even live animals appearing in their displays. Some introductions in 1981 include the Ford EXP, a two-passenger offshoot of the Escort, the Dodge Aries, the Plymouth Reliant, and the turbocharged Datsun 280ZX. Ford also displayed the two-seat Super Gnat, the Mustang RSK, and subcompact Montana Lobo 4x4 concept vehicles. Outdoor sign at Soldier Field promotes the Chicago Auto Show and an Afro-Blue Musical at the Field Museum.
Outdoor sign along the bridge that leads to McCormick Place, at the end of 23rd Street, promotes the auto show. One car is visible, passing beneath the bridge, which crosses Lake Shore Drive. Several auto-show visitors are walking along the bridge's sidewalk, as a CTA bus (Jackson route 126) passes by. In the background is R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, a gigantic printing firm at the end of 22nd Street.
A long shot down the main aisle of the lower level of McCormick Place. In the foreground, the year "1981" in large digits is crafted into the red carpeting. Glimpses of a few trucks can be seen on either side of the aisle, including Fords at left.
One woman is speaking into a hand microphone while her colleague holds a drivetrain component, at a special exhibit within the Buick display. Called "Fuel Efficiency," the exhibit promoted the car's aerodynamic shape, low-drag disc brakes, low rolling-resistance tires, and computer command control.
A woman and a man are addressing a large assembled crowd at a special exhibit within the Buick display space. The exhibit features the Buick Regal that was scheduled to pace the Indianapolis 500 Race in 1981.
A compact two-toned Citation hatchback sedan is in the foreground of this scene at the Chevrolet exhibit space on the main floor. "Let's Get America Rolling!" says the sign atop the Citation, which promises a $500 bonus for the buyer. A red 2-door Citation is to the rear of the 4-door, and other Chevrolet models can be seen farther toward the rear.
Scene at Chevrolet's display space, which features two Camaros in the foreground: one red and one yellow. Other Chevrolet models, including a station wagon, can be seen farther toward the rear. Signs atop the Camaros promise a $700 Bonus to buyers. The Rally Sport Camaro disappeared this year, leaving only base Sport Coupe, Berlinetta, and Z28 Camaros on sale. This would be the final year for the Camaro's second-generation design, which lasted from 1970-81.
Two automobiles are onstage at Chevrolet's display space, while the Tom Cashen "urban cowboy" dancers perform.
Bold hood graphics are among the noticeable touches on the Turbo Trans Am coupe in the foreground of this scene at Pontiac's display space. The Turbo coupe is identified as Official Pace Car for the Daytona 500 race. A more conventional Firebird, painted red, sits directly behind the Pace Car. Other Pontiac models can be seen toward the rear.
New for 1981, Chrysler's new Imperial coupe dominates the foreground of this scene at the company's display space. Striking in design, the "bustleback" Imperial was unusually well-equipped and expensive, with an $18,311 sticker price. A power moon roof was the sole option. Note the concealed headlamps and protruding grille. Another Imperial is on a raised platform, toward the rear.
Chrysler Corporation launched its front-drive K-car for 1981. Featured in this scene at the Plymouth display space is a Reliant K station wagon. A large sign promotes the Reliant K as "America's Highest-Mileage Six-Passenger Car," with a 25/41-mpg EPA mileage rating. Additional Reliants can be seen toward the rear. Dodge called its version of the K-car the Aries.
A yellow subcompact 024 Miser sport coupe sits on a raised round platform at the Dodge display space. No other cars are nearby in this scene. A sign at the rear calls the 024 Miser the "highest-highway mileage front-wheel-drive sport coupe," with a 50-mpg EPA highway rating. A large Dodge sign at right advises that "America's not going to be pushed around anymore."
A new Ford Escort-based EXP sport coupe, first seen at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1981 but introduced later as an '82 model, occupies a raised round platform in this scene. EXP was the first two-passenger automobile offered by Ford since the 1955-57 Thunderbird. Longer, lower and narrower than an Escort, the EXP coupe used the same 97.6 cubic inch four-cylinder engine.
A racing Porsche 924 coupe, sitting on a slightly raised platform, is the only vehicle in this scene at the Porsche-Audi display booth on the lower level. Wearing number 14, the Porsche has been painted dark blue and orange
A Strada 4-door hatchback occupies the right foreground of this scene at the main-floor display space for Italian-built Fiats. Other Fiat models can only be seen toward the rear, including a blue 2-door Brava at right, next to a red X1/9 mid-engined sports car. Stradas had front-wheel drive, whereas Bravas were rear-drive.
Three sports cars are visible in this scene at the enclosed main-floor display space for Italian-built Ferraris. A silver-colored 308GTSi Targa Spider is in the center, to the rear of a red example. Both have their roof panels removed. Far to the rear is a red 308GTBi Berlinetta closed coupe. All 308i models used a 205-horsepower V-8 engine. A large Ferrari sign with "prancing horse" emblem is at left.
A stylish, top-down 380SL roadster on a raised platform dominates this scene at the main-floor display space for German-built Mercedes-Benz cars. Beneath its hood is a 3.8-liter V-8 engine, rated at 155 horsepower. At the rear, along the wall, is a 300TD station wagon, with turbocharged five-cylinder diesel engine.
A yellow Dasher hatchback sedan,with sunroof open, occupies the foreground of this scene at Volkswagen's main-floor display space. Glimpses of other VW models can be seen toward the rear. A sign promotes "The Dasher Collection." Dashers used diesel engines for 1981, their final season on the market.
A sign in front of this Dodge Ram Prospector pickup truck, positioned on a raised platform on the lower level of McCormick Place, promises savings of up to $725. Behind the pickup, also on a raised platform, is a wildly-painted Dodge van. A sign at the rear reads: "Ram Tough...Built Tougher Than Ever."
At the Ford Truck display space on the lower level, visitors could climb a set of stairs to get a close look inside this 9000-series cab-over tractor. No people are in the scene at the moment, however. to the rear is a Ford pickup with a snowplow mounted up front, seemingly ready for action in the Chicago winter.
Flames decorate the hood of a white Caballero car/pickup at GMC's truck display space on the lower level. Caballero was GMC's version of the Chevrolet El Camino. A specially-built GMC passenger van at right has tall, narrow windows at the rear, and "GT164-S" lettering on its lower bodyside.
Three classic automobiles appear to be lined up in a row on the lower level of McCormick Place. Actually, each is a replica: an Auburn Speedster (left), Duesenberg II (center), and 815 SE Cord. Note the exposed exhaust pipes on all three cars, which resembled the originals but were not exact duplicates.
A huge crowd is passing the small display space for the Zimmer automobile, on the lower level of McCormick Place. Introduced in 1980, the "neo-classic" Golden Spirit luxury coupe was based on a stretched Ford Mustang chassis. Zimmer Motor Cars Corp. was located in Pompano Beach, Florida. Note the external, strapped trunk.
At a glance, this white/blue sports car might have looked like an ordinary Corvette on display in the Chevrolet exhibit at the 1981 Chicago Auto Show. Actually it's the Turbo Vette 3 design study vehicle, one of many Corvette prototype to emerge over the years.
This beauty came with an experimental exhaust-driven turbocharged 350 cubic inch V-8 engine. It featured a throttle body fuel injection system and Garrett Air Research turbocharger, with a claimed 30 percent increase in boost output. Painted pearlescent white, the Turbo Vette III exterior was accented with multi-hued blue striping. A stock red ’81 Corvette can be seen to its rear, along with several other Chevrolet models. and a huge sign to remind you that Chevy was “America's Favorite,”
One of the concept cars Ford displayed in 1981 was the Mustang RSX. The initials stood for Rallye Sport Experimental. This two-seat sport coupe was designed by Ford's Ghia studio in Turin, Italy.
Finished in orange metallic, the body featured simulated all glass doors, and a rear airfoil was used to improve directional stability and lessen wind resistance. With a wheelbase nearly 6-inches shorter than the production Mustang, the lighter RSX came powered by a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that was teamed with a four-speed manual gearbox.
Volkswagen’s ARVW (Aerodynamic Research Volkswagen) was nicked-named the “Silver Cigar,” and it set world records, and seven class records for diesel vehicles. The fastest lap was completed at a speed of 362.07 km/h. It was created to evaluate the effects of aerodynamics on fuel consumption at high speeds.