10 MEMORABLE MOMENTS
from LA Car’s first two decades

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Justin Grafman and Jay Leno celebrate LA Car Day at Autobooks-Aerobook in Burbank back in 2007


By Roy Nakano

Believe it or not, it’s been 20 years since LA Car first appeared as “A Journal of Los Angeles and its Car Culture.”

In 1997, LA Car started as an America Online-derived website. Since then, LA Car articles have been covered on the local news, appeared in Yahoo News, and US top 200/global top 1000 sites across the country. We are proud of the talent that has been channeled through LA Car, including Dean Batchelor award winners, a lifetime achievement award winner, the founder of the Automotive Design Organization, a Motor Press Guild president, and many others, from eager new talent to seasoned veterans of the automotive world. Two decades can yield some great memories. Here are 10 worth sharing:

This is NOT the lacar.org porn site, but our own car review photo by John Grafman

1. LACAR, the Porn Site?

LA Car was launched 20 years ago, as La Car – A journal of Los Angeles and its car culture. It carried the peculiar uniform resource locator (URL) of http://users.aol.com/cafelacar. As the publication grew in maturity, its URL became lacar.org. At some point, lacar.com became available, and we added it to our collection. Eventually, we let go of lacar.org, only to learn that it turned into a popular porn site (org for orgy?). We don’t know how many viewers wandered into our site, lacar.com, by mistaking it for the porn site, but it surely didn’t hurt our traffic. Alas, lacar.org, the porn site, became lacar.org, the Los Angeles Committee Against Racism, and our wayward traffic dropped. Today, lacar.org appears to be a Japanese language computer site. In the meantime, La Car became LA Car. For model year 2018, look for frequent reference to the site as LACar.

The New Beetle Convertible received a very favorable review by David Gardner

2. “This car got me laid”

We’ve had many colorful writers at LA Car—perhaps none more colorful than David Gardner. Prior to LA Car, David was best know for his writings about Adolf Hitler’s descendants. When he reviewed Volkswagen’s New Beetle Convertible, he proclaimed, “This car got me laid.” He was referring to his wife’s reaction to bringing home VW’s new sex machine. To say it was a positive review goes without saying. After LA Car, David moved on to become the West Coast Editor of The National Enquirer.

3. “General Motors purchases the Los Angeles Times

It was an April Fool’s gag, done long before it became an industry tradition. Dan Neil, the automotive writer for the Los Angeles Times at the time, wrote some blistering reviews of General Motors products. Things got so heated that GM reportedly contacted the Times about its perceived proclivity to single out its products for faults. On the subsequent April 1st, we reported that GM purchased the parent owner of the Los Angeles Times to—once and for all—force the paper to write good things about its products. Not everyone took it as a joke. One day, a GM representative contacted LA Car to thank it for covering the company. “I have asked around and no one can confirm the story in LA Car about purchasing the Los Angeles Times,” said the representative. “If you can kindly remove the story, it will be appreciated.” We did. In the meantime, Dan Neil went on to become the only automotive journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.

In 2007, then PCC President Perfumo used college funds to purchase the top-of-the-line Cadillac

4. LA Car’s Impact on Higher Education

In 2007, LA Car learned that the new Pasadena City College President, Paulette Perfumo, purchased a Cadillac DeVille Touring Sedan as her personal college-funded transportation. LA Car responded with a tongue-in-cheek article called, “The Public Figure’s Guide to Buying Cars with Public Funds.” Economy, sustainability, manufacturing origin and cost were factors in listing its recommended cars for the guide. The article caught the attention of Pasadena Star News-San Gabriel Tribune Staff Writer Janette Williams. On November 27, 2007, LA Car’s story made the front page of the Pasadena Star News. President Perfumo defended her purchase by saying she owned the same model Cadillac at her last job as president of Solano Community College District and needed a large car to accommodate her 5-foot-8 height and a “bad leg”. On December 8, 2007, the Pasadena Star News reported that President Perfumo decided to rethink her car pick.

Len Frank and John Retsek were the hosts of The Car Show in the 1990s

5. The Car Show Connection

KPFK’s The Car Show (90.7 on the FM dial) is the longest-running broadcast program about cars in the nation. It played a key role in the launch of LA Car when the program set-aside some time to discuss a letter I wrote, asking the co-hosts—the late Len Frank and John Retsek—to name the best cars to drive in rush hour traffic. The topic turned into one of LA Car’s first articles. “The Best Cars to Drive in Rush Hour Traffic” became a signature article for the publication, and made the 6:00 evening news on all the network television stations and a couple of the AM radio stations. Len and John ended up sponsoring my membership into the Motor Press Guild.

John Retsek presents the Los Angeles Car of the Year Award to Subaru in 2002 (Roy Nakano)

Soon, I was asked to be a judge in The Car Show’s short-lived Los Angeles Car of the Year. The most memorable moment was when a co-judge drove the award contender Corvette off a winding road in the Angeles Crest Highway area. I voted for the Toyota Prius that year—its first year on the market in the USA. The award went to the Subaru WRX—also its first year in the U.S. market. The Car Show continues on with its great programming every Saturday at 1 p.m., with hosts Art Gould and Dave Kunz.

Adolf Hitler commissioned Ferdinand Porsche to build The Peoples Car (archival photo)

6. Six Degrees of Reparations

Speaking of The Car Show, after it reviewed some Mitsubishi vehicles, a listener called in to chastise the hosts for not mentioning Mitsubishi’s checkered past. It turned out the caller drove a Chrysler product, which was owned by Daimler at the time, which owned a controlling share of Mitsubishi, and had its own colorful history to contend with. Given the globalization of the industry, we wondered if there’s a car company out there that didn’t have some perceived skeleton in its closet?

Several years ago, a trio of college students came up with the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” (a take-off of the John Guare play and movie “Six Degrees of Separation”). The game—which evolved into a website and later a book—hypothesizes that actor Kevin Bacon can be linked directly or indirectly to just about every American movie made. We figured the same hypothesis could be applied to carmakers. If someone could name a politically correct car company, we bet we could come up with a skeleton or two. We were so confident that the number of unblemished car companies were minuscule that we agreed to give out complimentary copies of David Magee’s “Turn Around – How Carlos Ghosn Rescued Nissan” to readers who could identify a major car company without an unblemished history. Readers responded with 25 candidates, ranging from Alfa to Volvo. For each suggestion, we were able to drag out a skeleton or two. In the end, we were unable to give away any of the Ghosn books.

The LA Law license plate, as featured in the television show (20th Century Fox)

7. LA Car Law

LA Car has an unusually large number of attorneys on its staff—probably more than any other automotive publication. As an attorney by profession, many of my colleagues at the time of LA Car’s inception were largely attorneys—several who happened to be automotive enthusiasts. Consequently, our staff included counsel for a Los Angeles Supervisor’s office, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, a U.S. Customs attorney, a patent and trademark attorney, counsel for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and a transportation specialist. This may explain, in part, the prolific articles involving car laws. But we even have a non-attorney on the staff that’s an expert on car laws: Reed “The Traffic Guy” Berry. A traffic instructor when he’s not writing for LA Car, Reed does the annual “New California Car Laws” article as the new year approaches.

(BMW M3 Challenge)

8. Are BMW Drivers A-Holes?

We heard it all the time. Even some surveys concluded that BMW drivers are the rudest. We decided to ask the BMW drivers. So, LA Car resident road runner Spinning Blue Propeller posed the question on several bulletin boards, including Bimmerfest, one of the most popular BMW bulletin boards on the Internet: Are BMW drivers A-holes? The answers we got back minced no words. Bimmerfest’s Jimmy325 confessed, “A lot of BMW owner’s that I know are a-hole drivers. I am one too. I’ve driven with several as well. I try to take my a-hole-ness to the track in a more contained and safer (relatively speaking) environment. Petra from the Combustion Chamber testified: “Not all M3 drivers are pricks…but the BMW brand does seem to almost magnetically attract all types of pricks, jackasses and abusers of public roads, does it not?” Bimmerfest’s VanF said, “Before I was a BMW owner, I remember teaching my then teenage son to drive. We were on an interstate and a BMW passed us going very fast and cut in front of us as he passed us. My then teenage son said, ‘Dad, those BMW drivers think they own the road.’ I said ‘No, that’s not true son – they know they own the road!”

LA Car Editor-at-Large Sean Spear reviews the San Marino Motor Classic (Sean Spear)

9. LA Car in Reviews

Our then Managing Editor (and now International Editor), Bill Wright, secured the first review vehicle—a Jeep Renegade—and then Co-Editor-Publisher (and now Senior Editor) John-Fredrik Wright continued our access throughout the years. Our car reviews have run the gamut from bargain basement models (“Zen and the Art of Inconspicuous Consumption”) to the 1001-horsepower Bugatti Veyron (“King of the Road”), and from the brief (“First Drives”) to the Zoranian (Managing Editor Zoran Segina’s famously in-depth reviews). We’ve got videos from Bobby Holland (Right Track Motoring), Robert Shoji (Show-G Productions) and Harold Osmer, who took home the Motor Press Guild’s award for video excellence. Christopher Merlo and Mark Dapoz have been our Detroit correspondents, consistently covering the annual North American International Auto Show and Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise. Brian Kennedy’s sports reviews reveal why he’s earned a press box at Staples Center. After his coverage of the biggest NASCAR event in Southern California generated six articles, the communications director in Fontana practically granted him carte blanche access to future events. And the stories would be far less if not for the contributions of photographers Albert Wong, Harvey Schwartz, and Gabriela Moya, as well as the work of famed artist Hector Cademartori.

The balance between critical analysis and maintaining our rapport with the manufacturers can be a delicate one. I remember one review by Editor Emeritus John Grafman. It was an estate wagon built by a coachbuilder for a prestigious luxury brand. The review was less than flattering of the coachbuilder’s execution. Meanwhile, at the next big industry affair, John found himself surrounded by members of the coachbuilder, wanting to know why he didn’t like their work. We don’t want to be any manufacturer’s lapdog. John (now Senior Editor) subsequently founded the Automobile Design Organization.

Staff and friends at Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank for LA Car Day

10. LA Car Days

The first LA Car Day was held at Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank in 2007. In the bookstore, we had the LA Car readers, KPFK Car Show listeners, Car Show co-host Art Gould, car aficionado Jay Leno, and the usual Autobooks gang converged over baskets of La Car Italiano torpedo sandwiches and talked story in the store. Out back was LA Car‘s own mini-car show, with the publication’s Keepin’ It Real Mercedes C-Coupe project car, Chuck Dapoz’ Mercedes E350, Zoran Segina’s BMW 633CSi, BT Justice’s C5 Corvette convertible, Gordon Bleam’s Lexus RX400h hybrid SUV, Brian Kennedy’s mint 1966 Mustang, and a 2007 Shelby GT500, courtesy of Bill Stroppe & Son and Ford Motor Company. Special thanks went to Autobooks’ Doug Stokes, who arranged the event.

Irwindale Speedway (Getty Images)

The second LA Car day was called LA Car Night and took place at Irwindale Speedway in 2015. Tommy Grafman’s sons, Jake and Justin, waved the green flag to start the race. It was a five-race evening of NASCAR Whelen All American Series racers, Hollywood Bandoleros, Legend Cars, and South West Tour Trucks at the Southland’s own half-track speedway. Irwindale Speedway is truly one of the wonders of the San Gabriel Valley and we are saddened by its slated closure. If you’ve never been there, be sure to pay a visit before its last day on January 31, 2018. Special thanks again to Doug Stokes, who became LA Car’s Editor shortly thereafter. Within months of his editorialship, by the way, Doug earned the Motor Press Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Left-to-Right: Glenn Oyoung, Bill Wright, Bobby Holland, Roy Nakano, John-Fredrik Wright, Zoran Segina and Sean Spear at MPG Track Days 2016 (Myles Regan)

Things To Come

What an enjoyable ride the first 20 years have been! Can we top it? I think so. Model year 2018 ushers in Glenn Oyoung as LA Car’s new Publisher. Many Southland classic car owners know Glenn as the founder and chief organizer of the San Gabriel Valley cars and coffee event, Carcadia. As mentioned, look for some new branding of LA Car as LACar (by the way, thanks to Senior Contributing Editor Chuck Dapoz for the idea behind LA Car’s stick shift pattern logo). Also, be on the lookout for the Summers & Shoji review team. Gary Summers, the four-time Academy Award-winning sound mixer, and Robert Shoji, the former technical director overseeing the Lexus-Nakamichi and Lexus-Mark Levinson sound systems, are embarking on reviews of the best factory sound systems that manufacturers have to offer. Last, but not least, exploring the outer boundaries of the car culture and even more great artwork from artists like Hector are in the cards. Stay tuned!

Evolution of a Christmas card by Hector Cademartori

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