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Zoom Zoom Zoom: The LA Auto Show:

On the November 29 press preview day for the LA Auto Show, the Convention Center was relatively empty, and many manufacturers, by way of courting the press, offered everything from wine and prime rib to freshly made smoothies.  Most of the displays were sleek and high tech, and certain select vehicles sat under tarps, awaiting their dramatic unveilings.  As economical as the latest Yaris or Scion might be, those rides will never give anyone an adrenaline rush, so many reporters gathered around the sports cars.

The truth is, a lot of sports cars are not built with tall guys in mind – in fact, getting in and out of many cars that are indeed drool-worthy on the road would require folks over 5’ 10” to have advanced training in yoga, gymnastics, and, in one or two cases, contortionism. 

Many of the aforementioned cars, particularly the convertibles, create what this reporter now refers to as “The Fred Flintstone Effect.”  The FFE is when one’s head sticks out higher than the upper frame of the convertible when the top is down.  The FFE was clearly noticeable in, among others, the BMW  Z4, the Pontiac Solstice (but oddly, not its sister car, the Saturn Sky), the Mini Cooper (yeah, yeah, it is called a “mini”) and the grand prize winner, the Lotus Elise.  A reasonably priced roadster powered by a 4-cyl Toyota engine, the Elise rockets from 0 to 60 in under five seconds.  Had Jay Leno planted a hidden camera, The Tonight Show would have ended up with lots of amusing footage as a parade of journalists got their daily workout squeezing in and out of the bloody thing.

In Los Angeles, this bastion of status- and attention-seekers, there are many people for whom money is no object when purchasing a car.  But, at a certain point, how much car do you need?  What does it do?  Give you a haircut and spoon-feed you a latte while you’re driving?  Take the Maybach, Mercedes-Benz’s exclusive private label luxury car.  Fully equipped, the Maybach runs about $450K, and includes airplane-style reclining seats, audio, video and, I don’t know, a trained monkey to shine your shoes.  When I remarked to the woman manning the car that it was indeed the ultimate pimpmobile, she laughed and, in a conspiratorial whisper, agreed.  Candy Spelling checked out the Bugatti Veyron, at $1.4 million, the show’s priciest car.

In the sports car category, the C6 Corvettes are by far the most bang for the buck – at about $70K, the Corvette Z06 comes stock with 505hp, is fast (0–60 in 3.5 seconds), and if Chevy is to be believed, more nimble than many cars priced 30-300 percent higher.  The basic hardtops and convertibles come stock with 400hp, and options include the Z06 sports package.  The only problem with the ‘vette is that parts of the cabin feel cheaply made, especially when compared to its competitor, the Porsche Boxster S, whose stitched leather interior is nothing short of luxurious.  Despite being referred to on The Sopranos as a “Porsche with panties,” the Boxster S is still the best buy in Porsche’s entire line. 

Other notable vehicles include the Saturn Sky, a beautiful car inside and out, whose upgraded 260hp turbo engine delivers spunky acceleration and at $25K is a great buy.  The Aston Martins, though pricey, are elegant and cool, the perfect choice for the refined sports car lover.  Also keep an eye out for Audi’s A8 sports coupe, one of the new cars that got the press “oohing” and “aahing.”  Also coming soon: a stunningly re-imagined Camaro, both futuristic and seamlessly retro.  And for those nostalgic for the muscle cars of yore, the Dodge Challenger is back in all its big block glory.  Also of interest is a new high-performance, all-electric sports car aptly named the Tesla.  Built on a modified Lotus frame, the Tesla goes 0–60 in about four seconds, and gets full power and torque the moment your foot hits the accelerator.  Slated to begin production this summer, celebrities like George Clooney, Dennis Haysbert and the guys who founded Google have already shelled out $100K for the revolutionary roadster that gets 250 miles per charge.  (At around 6’ 3”, I wish Mr. Haysbert luck.)

So go to the car show.  Whether you are buying or admiring, it’s a fun way to spend a day, even if you don’t get a free smoothie.  It runs through Sunday, December 10.

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