July 25, 2004
Saturday I spent the evening checking out Chicago's edition of the import tuner show Hot Import Nights. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting walking in, but in some ways I was very impressed and at others almost horrified.
To the uninitiated Hot Import Nights combines a local competition where entrants display their vehicles to the crowd and judges for prizes, along with national displays by major sponsors like Ford Racing, Circuit City, Yokohama etc. Not surprisingly it was the national booths that really had the innovative machines. With lots of marketing dough I guess it's not hard for someone like Circuit City to come up with a rotating subwoofer incased in clear plastic or a Mazda with a matte white, blueprint paint job. They were two breaths of fresh air of an evening that was otherwise pretty predictable.
In comparison the poor folks displaying their own cars seemed pitifully inept. But it's not really their fault. Who could compete with the resources and money of the national sponsors? Even lots of cash spent on high-end parts could never measure up. I did find a few locals doing interesting things like this classic Datson Z and a handful of others. For the most part there was a see of Lambo doors and TV screens everywhere. And even when you found some original video technology it was all playing the same movie. You guessed it, The Fast and the Furious (blooger's note: if I hadn't seen the movie playing two dozen times Saturday night I would let it slide).
Then there were the women. Whether it was a tuner magazine cover girl or Playboy Playmate, they were selling autographed pictures at $10 a pop. And any booth with something else to sell had to have a model in skimpy clothing selling it. It seems all the sex that left the mainstream car shows years ago has ended up in the tuner aftermarket. And the crowd didn't seem to mind. Even the large numbers of women in attendance were ambivalent to the often raunchy displays.
Making the sex appeal a bit humorous was the location of the event. McCormick Place is one of the country's largest convention centers and can hold multiple events each day, even those as large as Hot Import Nights. But this well-oiled showcase forgot to put signs up telling patrons where to go. If anyone headed right (towards the area where the International Car Show is held every year) instead of straight when coming in the front doors they would wind up at an extremely large gathering of Pentecostal churchgoers. A surreal mix-up indeed. This license plate on a Toyota Camry in the parking lot could be appropriate for a holly roller or someone into hydraulics. Since the car seemed stock we figured it was the former.
In the end it was worth going if the only goal is to spend a night among tuners and models. But there weren't many instances where a person might see something new or innovative done by a do-it-yourselfer. And that seemed to be the main drive behind the event.