Written by Gary Ledoux

For years, the National (then later the International) Autobody Congress and Exposition, better known simply as NACE—later combined with the Congress of Automotive Repair and Service, better known simply as CARS—had been the premier trade show for the collision industry.

Driven by its sponsoring organization, the Automotive Service Association(ASA), the NACE show saw terrific growth in its early years, then fell into a long decline.

There will be no NACE show for 2019. So what happened?

Founding and Growth

Sponsored by the then-premier automotive repair organizations of their time, the Independent Automotive Service Association and the Automotive Service Councils, the first NACE show was held in November 1983 at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN. Prior to this time, there had been a number of small, regional shows sponsored by local auto body associations, but this was the first show of its kind on a national scale. The first show proved popular and exceeded expectations.

NACE came along at precisely the right time in the evolution of the industry. In the summer of 1983, a spot survey of shops conducted by the trade media asked how many had attended a national or local trade show. Close to 80 percent had recently been to a trade show, and over 90 percent had been to one in the past two years. Those who did attend said they wanted to look at the latest equipment and keep up on repair techniques and trends. Those who didn’t attend claimed there were no shows in their area, or they just didn’t have time to go—being so busy just to stay afloat. The first show saw 171 exhibitor booths and about 1,500 attendees.

Reaching Its Peak

In the early ‘80s, shops were on a buying frenzy securing new equipment to work on the new unibody cars. A trade show was the ideal place to see the equipment, talk with manufacturer reps and network with other shop owners.

Only two years later, in 1985, NACE attendees exceeded 4,000. In 1986, attendance exceeded 6,200, and by 1988, attendance broke 10,000. The last show of the decade saw more than 15,000 attendees.

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