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Car buffs shrug off rain to see 'latest and greatest' vehicles at Motor Bella


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Pontiac — Jacob Rollins thought of the ultimate selfie for a 10-year-old: Snapping a phone picture right in front of a flashy green Lamborghini.

His fancy and ridiculously expensive dream cars were all present on Thursday at the first public opening of Motor Bella at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac.

The Atlanta native joined his grandparents, Dennis and Barbara Rollins of Grosse Pointe Shores, like others who braved the cool, damp day to peruse all kinds of cars and exhibits to showcase them.

"He wanted to see all the stuff like right here ... super cars, so to speak," said Dennis Rollins, 69, as they passed the fancy sports cars section.

His wife, Barbara, 67, was also excited about the event, especially for her grandson. "I've been looking at cars all the time Jacob's been here. Cars, cars, cars," she said. "I like 'em, too."

Despite two days of rain and the promise of more on the horizon Thursday, the family joined other car-crazy fans scoping out the exhibits, interactive displays and the main stars — 350 vehicles — scattered around a one-mile circular track where some visitors might get a ride, weather permitting.

It was unclear what impact the rain would have on Bronco Mountain and Camp Jeep, surrounded by mud holes. Over 24 hours starting Tuesday evening, 3.14 inches of rain was recorded at Detroit Metro Airport, while Pontiac received 1.9 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Many vehicles from electric vehicles, classics and exotics to new SUVs and trucks, were still canvas covered early Thursday to protect them from the overnight rain. Others under large tents, were being carefully wiped down in anticipation of admirers.

Early visitors included auto show veterans who remarked at the difference of being outdoors, and not having to thaw out from the winter chill associated with the traditional auto show that was held each January in downtown Detroit.

Motor Bella is the Detroit Auto Dealers Association's replacement for its North American International Auto Show, which was canceled the past two years due to COVID-19. The group hopes to resume the show next September at TCF Center. 

"I'm excited at seeing some of the new vehicles and what they can do, rather than cars on carpet," said John Scheuher of Beverly Hills. "I've been on a waiting list for a 2022 Camaro for a couple months. I have a 2010 but hoping for a new one if it becomes available."

Lee Tait of Washington Township is a retired General Motors employee and worked on the show site between 1972 and 1990. He was one of the first to visit Motor Bella Thursday.

"I decided the weather might scare some people away and make it easier (for me) to move around and see it all," Tait said.

"They have really done something here," added Tait, noting the M-1 Concourse's features, such as "car condos" available to well-heeled owners to store and work on their cars. "I have a Chevy Bolt but am interested in seeing the latest and the greatest, including electric cars."

Melissa Todaro, a high school engineering teacher and Mallory Miller, who instructs business and information technology classes, escorted a group of about 20 juniors and seniors from Lake Shore High School in St. Clair Shores. 

"We take a group to the auto show every year and when that was cancelled and this was created, it seemed like a good field trip," she said. "It's an opportunity for students to be exposed to both marketing and testing."

Jerome Vassallo, 56, of Las Vegas grew up in Warren. Now he's a vice president of Saleen, which makes high-performance sports cars, and was working the display booth at Motor Bella. He's excited about the event for Pontiac and the region.

"The idea of having an auto show (in Detroit), we grew up with that. It's great. But it got really sterile. It removed all the attention from the cars and turned it into who could do the best display," Vassallo said.

"But this really gets back to the car's native environment," he added. "I really like the idea. I think it's fantastic to do it at a track."

Amanda Bonser, 42, and her daughter Sierra Bonser, 18, of St. Clair Shores, took a ride on the "Bronco Mountain" obstacle course in a new mustard yellow Bronco with a stick shift.

Amanda Bonser said her husband is interested in the Bronco, "so we went for the ride and I recorded it to take it back to him."

Lisa Gill, a spokesperson for the event, said it is policy not to announce ticket sales numbers or the number of visitors until after the weekend.

Motor Bella is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 7.p.m. on Sunday.