I was walking down Grand Ave, face first into a cold constant lake front breeze, and just about to cross Lower Lake Shore Drive, when I heard the sound. The distinct burble of a Subaru boxer engine approaching, resonating off of the buildings and underpasses and magnifying it’s growl. The white flash of an Impreza STi passes me by, and I immediately begin to get out my camera. I was headed to Wekfest at Navy Pier, but the show starts here, I thought to myself. I snapped a few shots but did not linger long on the street, again thanks to that cold lake wind, I was quickly scrambling for some warmth. So I headed indoors, walking my way through Navy Pier and toward the loading dock of the massive exhibition hall that would house Wekfest Chicago 2018.
If you are reading this, there is a good chance you’ve been to a car show like this one or similar, probably multiple. However, if you are reading this, and you’ve never been in a car show as an exhibitor, or showing your car, you may have never experienced the event that is roll-in and set up. If you have the opportunity, I recommend experiencing it, at least once. There is just so much spectacle about it. In every day life, a traffic jam with a line of cars is mostly made up of mundane automotive fare; Toyota Priuses, Ford Escapes, Chevy Malibus, and so on. All uneventful, unmodified, and not particularly exciting. When at a roll-in for a car show however, everything in traffic is something exciting, eventful and often very modified. Cars you may only occasionally see on the street, like an early Acura NSX, a Challenger Hellcat, vintage JDM specials like Datsun 510’s and Toyota Corollas, are all in line here and often more than one. The atmosphere inside the exhibition hall is a frenetic bustle, with vendors setting up their booth spaces, and exhibitors meticulously cleaning every inch of their cars. A mix of exhaust fumes and the sweet smell of various car waxes and quick detail spray hang in the air. The constant din of internal combustion fills the hall, as cars steadily shuffle into their places. A member of the Wekfest staff, busily ushers cars into their show spaces. He is a blur of activity, a master of the wave and point, he hurries down the line after placing each car, quickly moving on to the next.
When I arrived, half the hall was already filled, with cars and booths settled in place. At this end of the hall, things are a bit more hushed, everyone is focused on their various prep work, and only a few people wander about to take in the sights. The scene of a car show set up is a bit like a lot filled with tailgaters, folding chairs pepper the scene, coolers packed with food and drink nearby, everyone is ready for what will be a long day. That’s one thing that might be easy to miss when you only enter the show as a spectator, the official hours of the show for Wekfest were 1pm to 6pm, but these exhibitors were here from the early morning and will likely be leaving in the late evening. It is quite a full day, and quite a bit of work for everyone involved
Of course it’s not all hard work, there’s plenty of fun to be had when you spend a day hanging with friends among throngs of cool cars. It’s inspiring too; you see something you like on a car like yours, you get ideas, you strike up conversation, and maybe make some new friends. A DJ keeps the music going, and there’s even a bar to partake in an adult beverage or two. That is, unless you drove a car that supplied it’s own bar.
Cars with their own bars can only refer to the VIP or Bippu crowd. This sect focus on making luxury barges into over the top, rolling monuments to decadence. Extra posh interiors with in many cases more elaborate stitch work, extra head rest cushions, drink tables, and the obligatory fusa knot, are some hallmarks of the Bippu style. The exterior of the cars is flashy and brash, an odd mix of luxury and outlaw attitude.
On hand were lots of great vendors as well, with various items on display. Shift knobs, steering wheels, brake calipers, various alloy wheels, and all manner of automotive related wares. It just added to the eye candy, and made it possible you could leave the show with a little something to make your own car all the more special. Of course the vendors brought along some pretty amazing cars of their own as well.
The curated nature of Wekfest, they screen cars applying to exhibit, ensures that the quality of cars on display is fairly consistent, and fairly high. Well put together cars, using reputable name brand parts, in a well thought out package, seem to be the overwhelming theme at the show. You could spend hours just gawking at and cataloging all the notable wheel makes and models on display, let alone the rest of the car they’re attached to.
Wide body kits still draw crowds, and there was no shortage of many different cars on hand given the treatment.
There was a fantastic contingent of vintage Japanese cars, we’ll call them the nostalgic set. I’m a fan of these, as a sucker for anything late 80’s and early 90’s.
There were plenty of cars with eye catching liveries, and bold colors that really popped against the white/beige/yellow backdrop of the hall.
Another thing that struck me,was the number of Honda CR-X’s on hand. Here I thought they were becoming more scarce, at least in the midwest where the salt and snow has rusted many into oblivion. Most notable among them, is the dark blue first generation CR-X with Mugen wheels, body kit and interior…basically Mugen all the things.
This trio of S2000’s struck me as interesting, because it perfectly exemplifies why people who love cars decide to modify their cars. Here you have three cars that were arguably identical when they left the factory except for the paint they wore. As these three sit today, they all have evolved into something unique, an expression of each of the individuals tastes and styles. What you end up with is these three wonderfully different machines, whose only common trait is the S2000 they were based on…and possibly a love for Dragonball Z.
Then you have cars at the show, that may not be flawless, may not be flashy in the typical sense, but all exude a palpable attitude. There’s something to be said for a build that really goes all-in on a theme, or just a feeling. The Heavenly Dogs Z pictured below, gives you a perfect post apocalyptic, neo-Tokyo road warrior vibe. Sit down and watch the first fifteen minutes of the anime classic Akira, and you realize this car is that sequence distilled into an actual road going machine. The Datsun Sunny ute, aside from being a cool, somewhat obscure JDM vehicle, with a bonkers turbocharged rotary heart transplant, pushed even further to transform into the owners vision of what Boba Fett would pilot. The notorious bounty hunter’s helmet, jet pack and blaster all included in the mix and some revealing signs that Fett had some Leia issues.
Wekfest is only a blur in my memory at this point. I saw most of the show almost entirely through the viewfinder of my camera it seems. I can tell you, I ended up pretty well worn out at the end of that afternoon, having walked probably the equivalent of about 5 miles within that Navy Pier hall, including countless “squats” as I adjust to get a different perspective on my shots. I ended up with more shots than I typically end a day at any show, and I also made plenty of mistakes. I screwed up exposures, mis-focused shots, some shots I deferred on but never remembered to go back and re-shoot. It was rough, but a good reminder that I still have so much to learn, and plenty of mistakes to glean new lessons from. All that said, it really was an exemplary show this year, the fact that I was overwhelmed at least partly because there was so much that was photo worthy, speaks volumes to the quality of the show. After many hours of editing photos into the wee hours of the night, hopefully I have been able to deliver a half way decent account of the event. Thanks again as always for following and reading the blog!
-photos and writing: Robert Sixto