Payne: Here are the 10 best features at Motor Bella

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 23, 2021

Pontiac — A 1961 Amphicar 770, the amphibious convertible that could drive in water as well as on land, would have been the perfect show car Wednesday when torrential rains shut down Motor Bella at M1 Concourse.

The Amphicar would also fit right in with the show’s experiential theme.

This is a different experience for Detroit Auto Show goers. Static car displays play second fiddle around M1’s 85-acre property containing on- and-off-road tracks. Like M1’s Roadkill Nights before the Woodward Dream Cruise, if you aren’t in a long line waiting for a ride then you’re missing the full experience.

Ram 1500 TRX ride. Hold on for a 702-horsepower, over-the-jump, rip-roaring adrenaline ride.

With that in mind, this column recommends — not just the best cars in show — but the best Motor Bella features. Here’s my Top Ten:

Ride the ‘Rex: What do you get when your cross a Hellcat with a Ram pickup? TRX — pronounced T-rex. With a 702-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 in its belly, the Ram 1500 TRX joins the Ford Raptor as segment-busting supertrucks. Ram wants you to experience TRX at full tilt. Jump in line at the 120-square-foot off-road experience and hang on: with a pro driver at the reins, you’ll accelerate from 0-60, hurtle moguls, claw ’round a dirt banking and hit 50 mph before flying — yes, flying — over a jump. TRX sticks the landing every time.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning and signature, full LED front running light.

F-150 Lightning bolt: At the opposite, northwest end of the M1 property from the TRX test is an on-track opportunity with the electric Ford F-150 Lightning. It’s the stealth pickup. Armed with an absurd 775 pound-feet of torque from twin motors, Lightning will quietly rocket to 60 mph as fast as TRX.

“This sucker’s quick!” exclaimed President Joe Biden when he drove it on a recent Dearborn visit. Check out the pickup’s gigantic frunk (front trunk) where the gas engine used to be. Lightning’s batteries are stored low between the pickup’s frame rails.

The Toyota Tundra is all-new and more competitive with the Detroit Three truckmakers. Upgrades include coil rear springs, a 14-inch screen, and LEGO Technic-like styling.

Toyota Tundra: The all-new Tundra, big and aggressive, anchors Toyota’s exhibit overlooking Motor Bella’s infield. Remade from the inside out, the Texas-made pickup learns lessons from its Detroit peers and should be the most competitive full-size Toyota yet. The once conservative skin is replaced by a chiseled bod that looks like it drove out of a LEGO Technic box. Under the new sheet meal, innovations include coil springs in the rear (like Ram), a big 14-inch screen (like the Detroit Three) and composite bed (Toyota’s answer to more corrosive steel and aluminum boxes).

Jump in the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon ride and you'll see the world from a new perspective.

Get dirty in a Wrangler: Jeep Wranglers are everywhere, but have you experienced their off-road capability? Saddle up a Wrangler Rubicon, 392, or 4xe, and you’ll get a treat over Jeep’s diabolical dirt course (next to Ram’s course). Tilt 20 degrees through The Spine, charge up an extreme dirt hill, scamper over logs, chew rocks. The course has it all.

The popular Ford Bronco can be ridden through a pond, up a hill and through sand. Your typical Bronco commute.

Bronco rodeo: Ford has its sights set on Wrangler and its dirt-kicker has brought a course of its own to M1’s infield. There, a fleet of Broncos take you through water, sand, and up and over a 21-foot-tall roller-coaster hill (the best view in Motor Bella). The obstacles show off the ute’s capabilities and tools, including water-fording, articulated wheel crawling and hill descent control. After the ride, immerse yourself in static displays that demonstrate Bronco’s removable doors, top and fenders.

The 2021 Mustang Mach 1 has inspired the electric Mach E (foreground). They appeared together at Ford's Dream Cruise display in Royal Oak.

Mustang Mach-E e-Xperience: Next to the Bronco rodeo is a ride of a different sort. The Mustang Mach-E is Ford’s first EV. Like Bronco vs. Wrangler, Mach-E wants to go toe-to-battery with class stud Tesla Model Y. Big center screen, tight handling, instant torque. Say hello to your driver before he stomps on the throttle — behind those masks are some interesting folks. Mine was a National Hot Rod Association nitro-fuel drag racer.

The McLaren Senna is the fastest production car in existence. A race car with a license plate, only at The Gallery.

McLaren Senna: For the first time, the exclusive Gallery exotic car show (usually invitation-only) is open to the masses. Located behind the infield toward the road course, it contains some rare birds. My favorite is the Senna — named, appropriately, after the late Brazilian Formula 1 superstar. The McLaren is a race car with a license plate. It owns Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap record around epic Virginia International Raceway in 2 minutes, 34.9 seconds. That’s, ahem, three seconds faster than a Porsche 911 GT2 RS.

The Bolinger B2 pickup has drop gates in the front -- and rear -- so you can pass through longboards.

Bollinger B2: Metro Detroit is home to two new pickup brands: Rivian and Bollinger. Bollinger makes its auto show debut at Motor Bella. The imposing, black B1 SUV and  B2 pickup siblings loom just off the infield. They’re off-road ready with dual locking-differentials, gnarly tires, 15-inch ground-clearance, and 10-inch suspension travel. My favorite feature is the bumper-to-bumper pass-through channel so you can load longboards.

The mid-engine Corvette C8 greets you at the GM display -- its forebears can be seen at the Lost Corvettes display, also on the M1 campus.

‘Vettes galore: Lots of eye candy here for fans of America’s favorite supercar. A pair of delicious mid-engine C8 Stingrays — in IMSA GTLM Championship Edition trim — welcome you to GM’s infield tent. But wait, there’s more. The so-called “Lost Corvettes” from artist Peter Max’s historic car collection are on the Woodward Avenue side of the infield. Restored to perfection, six will be given to military veterans Friday as part of a charity auction. Call them ‘Vettes for Vets.

NASCAR star Austin DIllon shows off the next-gen NASCAR Camaro with modern upgrades like an independent rear suspension, sequential gearbox, and single-nut wheel.

Camaro NASCAR: In addition to the race-inspired Corvettes, GM is showcasing the intersection between racing and production. Hot shoe Austin Dillon dropped in to introduce the next-gen NASCAR Camaro Cup car. It features significant updates with an independent rear suspension, sequential shifter, and wicked stance. It debuts at next year’s Daytona 500.

Not a bad debut for Motor Bella either. Hopefully the first of more great shows.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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