BOSTON - When Mike Manning mistakenly drove to the Bayside Expo Center on Wednesday morning, he thought he had scored a free ride of sorts for the opening day of the 2007 New England International Auto Show.

When Mike Manning mistakenly drove to the Bayside Expo Center on Wednesday morning, he thought he had scored a free ride of sorts for the opening day of the 2007 New England International Auto Show.

‘‘We thought, wow, this is great - free parking today!’’ Manning said with a laugh.

Manning and his friend Brendan Cavanaugh may have started the day at the wrong site, but when they finally arrived at the auto show’s new location in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, they liked what they found.

‘‘It’s a nice facility and the cars are beautiful,’’ said Manning, a Hingham resident.

He was shopping for a Dodge pickup. However, he was looking for a more basic model than what was available at the show - where everything was, as Manning put it, ‘‘tricked out.’’

Marianne Bingel of Winchester also approved of the BCEC, the South Boston complex where the auto show is being held for the first time this year. The show had previously been held at Bayside in Dorchester.

‘‘It seems more spacious, brighter. A big improvement,’’ said Bingel, who has attended the show during the past six years. ‘‘I know Bayside’s not happy about it. We are.’’

James Rooney, the executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, said the Boston show is now the fifth-largest auto show in the country, putting it ‘‘into the big league with Detroit and New York and Los Angeles just by making the move.’’

Rooney said he expected 75,000 to 100,000 people to attend this year’s show, which runs through Sunday - making it the largest show hosted at the three-year-old BCEC. Previously, a ‘‘Donald Trump real estate wealth expo’’ and February’s New England Boat Show each drew about 50,000 people, he said.

‘‘These shows - the boat show and the auto show in particular - are shows that were bursting at the seams at the Bayside and had substantial capacity to grow,’’ Rooney said.

Rooney said the auto show’s move allowed it to more than double its floor space, add exhibitors and vehicles - more than 800 from 42 marques are on display this week - and gave show producers room to get more creative.

One highlight is the silver Chevrolet Corvette convertible that hangs in the air, high above visitors’ heads. On the other side of the hall, Finnish motorcycle champion Tommi Ahvala performed a series of stunts, wheelies and sharp turns before a crowd of spectators at noon on Wednesday.

The event’s cars - which range from Hyundais to Bentleys to race cars - can fill the space of nine football fields.

N.E. Auto Show

LOCATION: Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, South Boston DATES: Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 HOURS: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday TICKETS: $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 6 through 12 EVENT MANAGER: Paragon Group, Wellesley


Edward B. Colby may be reached at ecolby@ledger.com.