Detroit might be the nation's car capital, but for the next three days Chattanooga will be America's automotive showroom and playground.
Up to 40,000 auto enthusiasts are expected to flood the city to attend the 2021 Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, which begins at 8 a.m. Friday downtown.
Barry White, chief executive officer of the Chattanooga Tourism Co., said the economic impact of the festival on the city has been estimated at $4.8 million.
"We expect it to be bigger and better than before," he said. "People will be exposed to cars they may never see again in their lifetimes."
The festival launched in 2019, but a planned 2020 motorcar festival was canceled due to the pandemic.
Organizers are taking over sections of downtown, which will become a virtual automotive theme park to benefit neuroscience research, including the search for an Alzheimer's disease cure.
Events this year will include racing, showing and selling collectible automobiles. Single-day passes to the festival are $39 (plus fees). Two-day passes are $69, and three-day passes are $89.
Children under 15 may attend free with a paid adult (limit 2 per adult ticket). Most events are Friday and Saturday. (See chattanoogamotorcar.com)
Meanwhile, if you see a $1 million Ferrari stopped at a traffic light in downtown Chattanooga this weekend, don't be surprised. Fourteen of the world's most collectible Italian sports cars will be gathered at the Westin Hotel, which is serving as the headquarters of the festival. The Ferrari display is billed as the "Gathering of the Greats."
"It's going to be a world-class event in my favorite city in America," gushed Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, whose family was in the automotive business here for 80 years, in a promotional video for the festival.
The inaugural festival in 2019 was deemed a success, but the 2021 festival is bigger and is expected to further cement the city as a center for automotive culture, organizers say.
"Car people are the best people in the world," said Joseph "Corky" Coker, a Chattanooga car enthusiast and grand marshal of the 2021 Chattanooga Motorcar Festival. "We want to bring the best people in the world to the best mid-size city in the world."
A new wrinkle for 2021 is the Mecum collector and classic car auction at the Chattanooga Convention Center Friday and Saturday. It is one of 13 such events staged throughout the year by the world's biggest collector car consignment company. Cars on the block will range from a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria with a transparent glass top to a 1965 Lola T70 MKI Spyder.
The Chattanooga Mecum auction, featuring 600 autos for sale, will be sandwiched between Mecum events in Las Vegas and Chicago. Sales here alone could top $15 million over two days, organizers said.
As many as 1,300 people are expected to pay a $200 fee to be bidders at the Mecum event, auction leaders said, and video of the event will be streamed on Mecum.com. (Holders of Motorcar Festival tickets will be allowed to view the auction cars and will have access to the Convention Center to watch the bidding from bleacher seats.)
Sam Murtaugh, chief operating officer of Mecum, said Chattanooga's proximity to other large Southern cities and its first-class convention center contributed to the decision to bring an event here.
"It seems like a great town, and we like what's going on [here]," Murtaugh said.
The festival will again host vintage car races along the riverfront, a collectible car competition (called a concours d'elegance), the Mecum auction, a three-state road rally, numerous car club exhibits and stages featuring panel discussions about racing and collecting cars.
Some of the proceeds from the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival go to the neuroscience center at CHI Memorial and the NeuroScience Innovation Foundation and contribute to research into Alzheimer's disease.
Here are some of the festival's main events:
— The Pace Grand Prix at the Bend: This two-day series of wheel-to-wheel races will be staged on a two-mile road course built around the Bend development on the 121-acre former Alstom plant site at Moccasin Bend. Races will cover eight automotive categories ranging from early 20th century brass and tin cars to modern electric vehicles. The races are named for the late Jim Pace, an accomplished race driver and the CEO of the 2019 Motorcar Festival, who died of COVID-19 in 2020.
— The Mecum Auction: The Chattanooga Convention Center will become a vortex of frenzied bidding on classic cars and trucks Friday and Saturday. Cars for the auction will be staged (and viewable) in lots outside the Convention Center. Tickets to the festival will allow you to attend the auction, too, but it costs extra ($200) to register to bid on the cars and truck. Doors open at 8 a.m. and bidding starts at 10 a.m.
— The Chattanooga Concourse d'Elegance: The West Village around the Westin Hotel will become a sea of vintage automobiles, many of them here competing for trophies. The people walking around with clipboards are judges who are trained to spot tiny flaws in the vehicles. The judging and awards will conclude on Sunday.
— The West Village Road Rallye: Both Friday and Saturday vintage and historic autos will depart and arrive at the Westin Hotel as part of a three-state road rally that will take drivers through the scenic mountains and gorges of the Tennessee Valley. Even if you don't buy a ticket to the festival, you may see some of these cars on area roads this weekend.
The festival also includes live concerts, street fairs and food trucks.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com.