Year after year, Wisconsin’s car connoissuers flock to the Greater Milwaukee Auto Show to catch a glimpse of some of the hottest cars from around the region. This year, some of the most interesting and exotic are coming from a 4th St. shop in downtown Milwaukee.
Milwaukee-based body shop Bennett Coachworks has been building and restoring custom cars for 20 years. Owner Bob Bennett said the shop does anything from complete restorations to basic maintenance on hot rods, high-performance street cars, classics and antiques.
“Basically anything that’s not your mom’s beat-up Toyota,” Bennett said.
Bennett and his team work on a variety of vehicles, but they specialize in the exotic and expensive.
At any given point, there is likely a Ferrari, Maserati or Lamborghini somewhere in their shop at 1500 4th St. They also restore classics such as Lincolns and Oldsmobiles.
This year, Bennett Coachworks will have a 5,000 square-foot exhibit on the Wisconsin Center’s first floor at the auto show. Bennet and his team will showcase a collection of 13 exotic, antinque, hot rod, muscle and sport cars from all eras.
“Sometimes I look around the shop, and it looks like a part of Southern California from the 1960’s existing right in the middle of Milwaukee,” Bennett said.
Cars at the show will include Corvettes, Aston Martins, even the shell of a half-finished ISO Grifo. The exhibit also boasts a vintage 30s Talbot car, which Bennett estimates is one of 10 in the world.
Bennett Coachworks also will showcase the Bennett ZX-1. Essentially a cross between a Corvette and Batmobile, the ZX-1 can reach speeds up to 200 mph and is one of Bennett’s own designs.
Bennett has received cars from across the country and around the world. He has fixed up everything from Ferraris shipped from Las Vegas to vintage vehicles imported from Germany.
Despite his company’s international reputation, Bennett says he and his team have trouble drumming up business in Milwaukee.
“I had lived in Milwaukee my whole life and I hadn’t heard of the work these guys were doing,” said Jim Tolkan, president of Automotive Dealers Association of Mega Milwaukee (ADAMM), which presents the Greater Milwaukee Auto Show. “I think the exposure will be wonderful for [Bennett] and great for the auto show. Especially for the enthusiasts in Milwaukee who have sent their cars thousands of miles to have work done. They should know that they can get a world-class job right here in Milwaukee.”
“We’re showing to sell, but we’re passionate about our work, and we love what we do,” Bennett said. “If these guys were in this for money they would’ve gone somewhere else a long time ago. To us it’s way more than just work. We’re excited to share that.”
The auto show opens to the public this Saturday and runs through Feb. 28. According to Tolkan, this year’s show features more ride-and-drives than ever (45 available models) and more than 400 total vehicles at the show.
“The auto show is extremely important, especially in cold weather climates like ours. In terms of business from December through February, there is none,” Tolkan said. “The show marks the beginning of the new selling season. There’s a strong correlation between those who attend, and the number of cars bought after. It’s a big boost to the auto industry.”
If you go
Auto show tickets cost $11 for adults, and $6 for children. The first weekend of the show, children under 12 get in free. Tickets can be purchased on the day of the show, or by visiting autoshowmilwaukee.com.
If You Go
What: Greater Milwaukee Auto Show
Where: Wisconsin Center, 400 W. Wisconsin Ave.
When: Saturday through February 28
■ 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays
■ 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays
■ 3 to 9 p.m. Monday thorugh Thursday
■ 1 to 9 p.m. Friday
Admission: $12 for adults (13 and over), $9 for senior citizens (62 and older)