DREAMS YOU CAN RIDE IN 9-day auto show opens tomorrow

It's a car shopper's delight.

Potential buyers will have the opportunity this weekend to check out Detroit's latest offerings, as well as those from manufacturers overseas, without driving all over town and running the risk of frostbite to their toes and fingers.


The 10th International Auto Show -- an extravaganza comparable to cramming all of the new-car dealerships along York Road, Ritchie Highway and U.S. 40 under one roof -- opens tomorrow at the Baltimore Convention Center and Festival Hall.

The nine-day show will feature more than 300 cars and light-duty trucks from 39 manufacturers.


A small army of workers rushed yesterday to prepare the Convention Center for the show -- spreading carpet, erecting displays and connecting light fixtures --expected to draw 300,000 people.

There was a small traffic jam as propane-powered forklifts scampered about, some carrying huge plywood crates containing electric displays, others with pallets piled high with promotion literature. Stepladders were everywhere and much of the floor was covered in brown paper to protect the carpet.

Video systems, set on automatic repeat, endlessly promoted a car's features even though no one was watching or listening.

Keith Benton, a security guard with Travis Organization in Aberdeen, stood sentry over a hot-pink Pontiac Protosport 4 just in case someone tried to get too close to the concept vehicle, which offers a hint of what the four-passenger sports car may look like in the future.

And Robert Manning wiped the dust from a dark green Hummer, a $48,000-plus civilian version of the military's Humvee, successor to the trusty jeep.

"There's something for everybody at this year's show," said Melanie Panos Ortel, a show spokeswoman. "It's not just for people thinking about buying a new car this year."

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the domestic auto industry, the show will feature a sprinkling of models that captured the fancy of motorists of past generations. The display of vintage cars will include a 1938 Cadillac Roadster with a gas-guzzling V-16 engine under its long hood, a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country convertible and the 1955 Mercedes-Benz Gulluring.

There will be a sneak preview of what the family buggy may look like in the years ahead in the form of concept cars such as Buick's Sceptre, Chrysler's Cirrus and Pontiac's Protosport.


The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. will be there with a vehicle powered by electricity and another that runs on natural gas.

And for better or worse, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration will have a booth where motorists can request free computer printouts of their driving records.

"It gives the public a great opportunity to look at what's new in the market and the chance to talk to the manufacturing representatives in a nonthreatening atmosphere," Ms. Ortel said the auto exhibit.

Richard Petty, the race car driver, is scheduled to appear at the Pontiac display between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22. John Davis, host of the Motorweek television show, is scheduled to be at the MVA booth between noon and 3 p.m. tomorrow to answer your car questions.

David Solomon, host of the Nutz n' Boltz radio show, will hold seminars on things motorists can do to make their cars last 150,000 miles.

But the real stars of this year's show, as in the past, will be bright colored and shiny sedans, compacts, convertibles, vans, minivans, pickup trucks, sports cars and off-the-road vehicles from just about every manufacturer selling in the United States.


Car buyers will be offered a variety of new models this year by manufacturers who are drawing encouragement from industry sales figuresshowing that a growing number of motorists appear FTC to feel better about the nation's economic health and are moving to replace their aging vehicles.

A sampling of new vehicles from domestic and import producers include: Chrysler's Neon, a small sedan priced at less than $9,000; Ford's restyled Mustang, which began showing up in dealer showrooms last month, and its new minivan called Windstar. Chevrolet and Audiare offering ragtop models of the Camaro and Cabriolet.

Cadillac is introducing a new Sedan de Ville; and GMC is adding a Sonoma pickup truck, which is the manufacturer's version of the Chevrolet S-10.

Mercedes-Benz is offering a new C-Class sedan with a base price starting at $29,900 in hopes of tapping into a group of buyers who couldn't afford the German luxury car in the past.


Where: Baltimore Convention Center and Festival Hall, Pratt and Charles streets


Dates: Saturday through Jan. 23

Admission: $6 for adults, $3 for children under 12

Times: Saturdays and Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. holiday), noon to 10 p.m.; other weekdays, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 7 p.m.