Motorcar Festival may become Chattanooga's claim to fame

Enthusiasts inspect a race car at the 2019 Chattanooga Motorcar Festival. / Photo by Mark Kennedy

Automotive historians say it took about 20 years, roughly from 1920 to 1940, for the transition from horse-drawn transportation to gas-powered automobiles in America.

Interestingly, the third and fourth decades of the 21st century, or roughly 2020 to 2040, are lining up the same way. This time the transition is from gas-powered vehicles to electric ones.

Even if you are not a fan of electric vehicles, chances are you won't have much of a choice in 20 years. The internal combustion engine's days are numbered.

Almost all the major auto companies are retooling to produce electric, cars, trucks and SUVs, and Chattanooga is at ground zero as America's future electric vehicle hub for the world's largest automaker, Volkswagen.

In the middle of this comes the announcement, last week, that officials of the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival expect up to 40,000 car enthusiasts to converge on the city Oct. 15-17. (The inaugural festival was in 2019, but COVID canceled plans last year.)

These two things are related, I believe.

As electric vehicles become more like iPhones on wheels, they'll be more like appliances. After a honeymoon phase with EVs, I expect the love affair to fade some.

Meanwhile, heartland nostalgia for gas-powered automobiles, like the ones featured at the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, is likely to push sky high in the next 20 years.

Here's the happy result.

If most people knew Chattanooga for rail transportation in the 20th century (via Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo Choo"), VW and one of North America's fastest-growing auto shows are likely to be the city's calling card in the 21st century.

Add Chattanooga to the list of place names that roll of the tongues of car collectors and enthusiasts: Pebble Beach, California; Scottsdale, Arizona; Palm Beach, Florida; and Detroit, Michigan.

Importantly, this year's Chattanooga Motorcar festival will feature a Mecum Auto Auction. It will be televised live on NBC Sports Network and various other streaming services. Also on tap are a wheel-to-wheel auto race, a concours d'elegance (which focuses on appearance) and a world-class Ferrari show.

The Mecum auction, which will be held Friday and Saturday, Oct. 15-16, and feature 600 vehicles on the block, is typically televised for multiple hours each day and the host city is mentioned several times each hour. The exposure potential alone must have the Chattanooga Chamber blushing.

A ticket to the Motorcar Festival ($39 for one day and $89 for three) includes admission to the Mecum auction. The festival, in a bold move, offers free tickets to children under 15 years old (two per paid adult customer).

If cars, and car culture, are not your cup of tea, so be it.

But the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival shows signs of becoming perhaps the city's premiere, family-friendly event.

The Mecum auction just takes things to another level.

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