Four-year-old Caleb Tegey may be a long way from driving, but he already knows what he likes.

"Viper!" Caleb exclaimed when his father asked what kind of car he might like to take home from the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center.

The show opened Saturday to the public — and the public came. Auto enthusiasts flocked to the hall, eager to check out the new models and concept vehicles they had heard so much about during a week of media previews and charity events.

It seemed that Caleb was not alone. The platform displaying the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10 was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people wondering what it would be like to get to the high end of the car's 220 mph speedometer.

Little cars got big attention all over the show.

"Right now, I want a Mini," said Jeff Sosnowski, 20, of Ann Arbor, one of the many show-goers intrigued by BMW's Mini Cooper S. The car, which is not quite 12 feet long and 5 feet high, promises "to bend the laws of physics like a pretzel."

Sosnowski said he wasn't surprised about the show's popularity, even in the midst of a slowing economy that offers uncertain futures to individuals and automakers alike.

"Maybe the auto show's a good way to escape all that," Sosnowski said. "It's, you know, a little bit of fantasy."

Fantasy reigned as concept vehicles and futuristic displays seemed to be the show's biggest draws.

"I want to see what's going to be out there in five years," said Nick McClung, 48, of Livonia.

McClung hopes to one day get a Volkswagen Beetle, which he says just keeps getting better.

"It's different. It's `me' somehow," McClung said. "That's what people are here for: hoping to find what's `me' for them."

For some, the show isn't about finding a car, it's about keeping up a tradition.

Jim Larive, 66, of Detroit, has been coming to the show with his daughter, Lisa, since she was "just a little girl." Now she's 27.

"We come to the show, go out to dinner, make a day of it," Larive said. "Then we go home and wait for next year."

On the other end of the spectrum is 11-year-old Ryan Kelly, who was viewing his first auto show with wide eyes.

"It's just really cool," Ryan said.

Ryan said he's not sure what car he'll drive, but he and his friend, Jake Barnett, weren't too worried about picking one out at this year's show. They figure they'll have some different options by the time they're behind the wheel.

"Flying cars," both boys said with a smile.

The Auto Show is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily through Jan. 20 and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Jan. 21. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for people 65 and older. Children 12 and younger are free when accompanied by an adult.

More than 770,000 people attended last year's event, show officials said.