In a world where getting around no longer requires owning a car — think Uber, Lyft, and car-sharing services — what's to become of the ritual of buying a set of wheels and everything that comes with it, from bragging rights on the block to the joy of the new-car smell?
Such weighty questions were not on the minds of the thousands who converged on the Convention Center on Saturday to attend the kickoff of the 117th annual Philadelphia Auto Show, which runs until Feb. 4.
Inside the cavernous exhibit hall, throngs of car buffs flocked to climb in and out of, and see and selfie with, more than 700 cars from more than 40 manufacturers. There were rare, high-end cars to ogle, including two French-made Bugattis, each costing about $4 million. And there were dozens of classic cars to kick your memory — or imagination — into overdrive, including a 1903 Pierce Stanhope; and an entire room of customized cars, trucks, motorcycles, and SUVs featuring modified paint jobs, rims, tints, performance mods, and elaborate sound systems.
Bob Dember, who recently moved from Northeast Philadelphia to Lawrence, N.J., brought sons Jack, 8, and Benjamin, 6, to the show because they love cars. "I love them too, but seeing the smiles on the kids' faces makes it," said Dember, a Dodge Charger owner who runs an insurance company.
Benjamin had his eye on the blue Chiron Bugatti, with 1,500 horsepower and a top speed of 270 mph. Jack was partial to the Mosler Raptor GTR, with a top speed of 240 mph and 840 horsepower. Only one was ever built, making it priceless, an auto show official said. Said Jack: "I like the way the red lights look in the back and the spoiler, and I really like the wheels, and the shape. I want one."
"Hopefully, they never lose those dreams," Dember said.
Bob Waniak, 62, and his son, Kevin, 33, drove two hours from Lincoln, Del., to see the show, which also featured appearances from the 76ers cheerleaders and Eagles great Brian Dawkins. "We're tired of looking at chickens and cows, so we come up here to check out the new cars," said Waniak, a Pepsi vending-machine repairman and owner of a GT Mustang and Ford pickup truck who has little interest in fancy rides. "Super cars don't really have a place in Delaware. They're not practical," said Waniak, who wore a Ford T-shirt to the show.
Aaron Gunter, 28, didn't come to the show with dreams or plans of buying a new car. He just likes to look, whether he can afford anything or not. "I always like looking at the Lamborghinis and the Bentleys and Audis. I guess they're pretty much out of my league, too," chuckled Gunter, a software developer from Glassboro, Gloucester County, who drives a 2003 Saturn ION with 169,000 miles on it.
"Since it's paid off I don't have any monthly payments going on, and I like saving money," Gunter said of his Saturn, a model that was discontinued by General Motors in 2009.
So what about that Bugatti? "I think it's incredibly overpriced," he said.
Juan J. Gonzalez, 63, a retired Army infantry captain and owner of 14 cars, was full of joy as he and a friend took it all in.
"I love cars, yeah," he gushed. "I want to see the brand-new Chevys — I have two Corvettes — and the Ferraris and the Bugattis, and I want to see people having fun like I do," he said after admiring a replica of an 1896 Ford Quadricycle.