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L.A. Is Still Car Crazy, and We Shouldn't Apologize For That

In the wake of an infusion of nearly $2 billion in federal cash for the Purple Line subway extension to Beverly Hills, the Los Angeles Times recently opined that "L.A.'s love affair with cars is over."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, a skeletal light-rail system, a burgeoning network of bike lanes, and a millennial generation that's more interested in smartphones than cars has helped Los Angeles diversify its transportation. And considering that we rate as the nation's traffic-congestion leader, that's a very good thing.

See also: Subway To Beverly Hills Is Gonna Happen

But that's a far cry from the death of our car-loving ways. This city is a world capital of car culture, and even in the age of global warming, we should never apologize for our four-wheeled lust. Here's why:

Automobile design and manufacturing, though we take them for granted, remain one of the great achievements of mankind. Cars are incredibly complex instruments, filled with computers and driven by precisely machined metal. And somehow we still put two in just about every driveway.

Now, we know what you're thinking: We're neanderthals over here at L.A. Weekly, because cars are just four wheels surrounded by the controlled chaos of a campfire known as a combustion engine, which burns our limited fossil fuels and pollutes in our neighborhoods.

California has come a long way in conquering auto-borne pollution, however, and those smoggy days of yore are few and far between. Because of standards inspired by L.A.'s pollution problem, the auto industry now boasts that some of its products emit cleaner air than they take in.

And, as Google's driverless car has proven, automobiles aren't going anywhere. The future isn't all cyclists and pedestrians; for most of us, living right next to where we work is never going to be an option in this sprawling city. What may be instead? You happily passed out in your car as it takes you home from work.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: For this Birkenstock fantasy of a Los Angeles moving on rails to happen, an unprecedented investment in infrastructure would have to take place. What we have now is nothing.

Los Angeles would have to lay down miles and miles of track to have a subway system with the efficacy of New York's. At nearly 500 square miles for the city of L.A. alone, nothing will ever entirely replace individual, motorized transportation in this town. Our breadth is why the LAPD relies heavily on helicopters to do its job.

You needn't be a Luddite or pig to embrace our love affair with cars, either. Vehicles are evolving at an amazing pace, and you can still be a "car guy" (or girl) and environmentally conscious at the same time.

Don't get us started on all the rich Westsiders with power-sucking McMansions who think they're doing their part by driving Priuses. You don't have to be this kind of hypocrite to dig cars nowadays.

Look at the Porsche 918 Spyder. It's one of the fastest street-legal automobiles in the universe. A plug-in hybrid that also generates power from braking, the two-seater is enough to get any petrol-head excited about the future of car culture. It can achieve 78 miles per gallon.

L.A. Is Still Car Crazy, and We Shouldn't Apologize For That
The 918 Spyder via Porsche

The dreaded four-banger (four-cylinder car), once a thing of shame among the auto faithful, has become the punch-packing, turbocharged norm for even some of the most luxurious car markers. That's because pressure to be fuel efficient and earth-wise has made it so.

This is indeed a new age for transportation, and the modern car is the centerpiece.

L.A. is deeply rooted in car culture. This kind of thing doesn't vanish because the federal government is providing the cash for three new subway stops.

The whole concept of "custom," now a $31 billion industry, was practically invented in L.A. (and the "aftermarket" industry's trade group is based in Diamond Bar) by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and his contemporaries.

The modern version of custom is probably best represented by the big-wheel craze and Dub Magazine, which is based in the San Gabriel Valley.

Even before Roth's day, prewar L.A. surfers like pioneering board-maker Bob Simmons adapted old jalopies (named for the junkyards of Jalapa, Mexico) to fit their needs.

The emergence of a new youth culture after World War II - including surf and car clubs - contributed heavily to very existence of modern street fashion, including the use of the t-shirt to advertise one's tribe. 

Auto racing's 1960s heyday, too, had much to do with Los Angeles, and the legendary Mustang modifier Carroll Shelby set up shop in Marina del Rey.

It was about this time that the Meyers Manx dune buggy was invented in Newport Beach.The postwar era also had Latino youths on the Eastside turning 1940s cars into flowing, deco-like lowriders. 

The import-tuning scene made famous by the multi-billion-dollar Fast and The Furious movie franchise came directly from the streets of Los Angeles County in the 1990s. 

Who knew, Los Angeles Times, that so many young people were so enveloped in this scene until Fast and The Furious actor Paul Walker died in a crash after taking a ride in a rare Porsche Carrera GT last year in Santa Clarita? The outpouring that followed his death caught the mainstream media off-guard. But it shouldn't have. For every newspaperwoman who denounces cars, there are a dozen kids learning to love them.

 

L.A. Is Still Car Crazy, and We Shouldn't Apologize For That
Shannon Cottrell for L.A. Weekly

L.A. is not a manufacturing center like Detroit, Tokyo or Stuttgart, but the heart of car culture still beats here. The Los Angeles International Auto Show is one of four or five crucial showcases (alongside the shows in Detroit, Tokyo, Frankfurt and Geneva) for the global car industry.

Some of the top car collections in the world, including those of Jay Leno and the late Otis Chandler, have been based in Southern California. The renowned Mullin Automotive Museum is in Oxnard, and L.A.'s own Peterson Automotive Museum, fruit from the L.A.-bred Hot Rod publishing empire, is a must-see for any car fan.

Mercedes, BMW, Toyota, Honda, VW, Mitsubishi, Mazda and other manufacturers have design studios in Southern California, because this is where car style begins. The Art Center College of Design and other local schools have been the training grounds for countless top auto designers.

Hyundai Motor America is based in Orange County, and Toyota just recently announced that the bulk of its U.S. operations were moving to Texas from Torrance. Many of Germany's top "tuners" for Porsche, Mercedes and BMW located their North American operations in Southern California.

And superstar customizers like Magnus Walker and ex-Catherine Wheel leader Rob Dickenson (of Singer Vehicle Design) continue to gravitate toward Los Angeles.

L.A. Is Still Car Crazy, and We Shouldn't Apologize For That
Magnus Walker by Ryan Orange for L.A. Weekly

Even our world-influencing culinary scene is based, in part, on the portable gastronomy of the taco truck. We rely on cars to get our medical marijuana delivered and for coming-of-age make-out sessions. Try to do that last one in a bike lane.

SoCal is also the place to be if you want to see Ferraris crash or if you need to purchase pretty much any high-end vehicle that's legal to drive on U.S. roads.

It was the home of James Dean and Steve McQueen and one of the places where American Graffiti was filmed.

Hollywood has done a lot to broadcast our love affair around the world. You can't just erase this heritage with four new miles of subway. 

Sure, traffic is a downer, even for the four-wheeled faithful. But most of us happily see the flip side in a weekend trip up the PCH or a spirited sprint on Mulholland Drive. There's yet to be a train or bike that will take us comfortably to Las Vegas, Coachella or Baja (the latter of which inspired a whole breed of SoCal offroad vehicles, including the "Baja Bug").

The Times got it wrong. Cars aren't leaving L.A., except when they're taking families on cherished road trips. And we should be proud of that.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.


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