National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
Caption from LIFE. Honking sextet takes place before model instrument panels while crowd in Coliseum lobby awaits horn blasts that will open motor exhibition. Tooters from left are E.J. Bush, vice president of Diamond T Motor Car Co., representing manufacturers; Harold Churchill, president of Studebaker-Packard; General Motors' Curtice; Henry Ford II, president of Ford Motor Co.; L.L. Colbert, president of Chyrsler Corporation; American Motors' president, George Romney.Walter Sanders—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
National Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum featuring 1957 lines.
Caption from LIFE. Honking sextet takes place before model instrument panels while crowd in Coliseum lobby awaits horn b
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Walter Sanders—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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How Auto Shows of the Past Revved Up Excitement

Jan 13, 2016

In Detroit this week, automakers are unveiling the cars of the future: vehicles connected to the Internet, all electric and hooked into networks of apps. The North American International Auto Show, which runs from Jan. 11 through Jan. 24, continues a long tradition of convening leading manufacturers and industry experts to analyze trends and wow auto enthusiasts with the newest models. But much has changed since the early days of car shows, one of which LIFE’s Walter Sanders captured for a photo essay in 1957.

The National Automobile Show, held at the now-demolished New York Coliseum, featured an older kind of pageantry. Before the days of high-tech, automakers drew attention with models posing as hood ornaments and “a thirty-minute musical revue” called “‘America on the Move,” repeated six times daily. A new vehicle model was rarely seen unaccompanied by a live human model, clad in a regal dress as she pointed out its features.

“The color motif of turquoise, gold and red-orange mirrored the jaunty mood of the automobile industry,” the magazine declared. It’s a mood that is, in some ways, reflected at this year’s show, as automakers celebrate a record-setting year in the sale of new cars. And though a new crop of models shows off today's newfangled autos, they have to compete for attention with the shiny, new tech toys that attempt to steal the show—sometimes from the cars themselves.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

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