20-20 HINDSIGHT LACar.com in Retrospect: 20 Years of L.A. Cars
Published on Mon, Oct 2, 2017
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
A REARVIEW MIRROR SPECIAL SECTION:
This compendium of short pieces was assigned by me to a number of our staff writers with the idea of them each taking a year all the way back to LACar’s inception year of 1997 and coming up with what they thought was the machine that would have been the very best (most fun, most practicable, most probable) car available for sale for use in Los Angeles and its environs.
It's honestly not about anything else but that, and, (bless their hearts) anyone else who picked a car of the year 20, 15, 10 years ago did not have the retrospect that the LACar staff has enjoyed in making these fun and fantasy choices. We review all sort of machines here, but “LACars” should always be the cars that work well in the homeland. Selective, subjective, subversive, and silly (with maybe a little hint of all four), here’s 20 years of cars written by our inciteful staff writers who were parceled out "150 words" each to reach back and talk about a "good one" for L.A. - Doug Stokes, Editor
1997 – Acura Integra Type R
The automotive press was slow in warming to the import tuners of the 1990s. While hot rod magazines featuring American classics filled the newsstands, tuner Hondas and Acuras dominated the streets of Los Angeles. This didn’t go unnoticed by American Honda, so in 1997 it introduced the Acura Integra Type R—a factory twin-cam, 16-valve tuner with peak horsepower at 8,000 rpm.
It cornered like no previous front-wheel driver. It became the equivalent of the 1955 small-block Chevy to a new generation of hot rodders. In ‘97, the Chevy Malibu captured the Car of the Year award, but in hindsight, no car represented what was happening in So Cal more than the Acura Integra Type R. It was the new American hot rod. Twenty years from now, don’t be surprised if you see old gearheads with walkers proudly displaying their Acura Type Rs at the local classic car show. – Roy Nakano
1998 – Honda Prelude Type SH
I was a young car guy just entering the professional work force and I had $20k (in the form of a loan, of course) burning a hole my pocket, combined with a lack of respect for the future importance of FICO scores.
The top of-the-line Honda Prelude Type SH caught my eye. Even though I wanted the Integra Type R (see above for all the reasons why) the local Acura dealer was charging $2k over MSRP and at the time that felt like highway robbery. The Prelude seemed like a practical choice - as practical as one could be in the sports car market – and we were off to the races.
For less than $27k, the Prelude was loaded with all kinds of goodies. The “big-block” H22 engine produced a whopping-for-1998, 195 horses at 7,000 rpm. When VTEC kicked in you felt like Hans Solo engaging hyperdrive.
Weighing in at a heavy curb weight over 3,000 lbs. the Prelude was not about to set any land speed records … but combined with the 5-speed manual and the ahead-of-its-time ATTS torque vectoring system, it was quick. The Prelude could just as easily ape its economy cousins and provide a respectable 23 mpg city / 27 mpg highway. I added the factory spoiler, aftermarket wheels, and a soup-can Tanabe exhaust and felt that it was just as sexy as any European coupe of the era. Bottom line: that was a damn fun car, and just maybe the “LA car for the day”. – Glenn Oyoung
1999 – Little Red Corvettes
In homage to Prince’s landmark "1999" and his mega-hit single from that album, let’s mark this year to honor all the Little Red Corvettes that roamed the streets of Los Angeles, and continue to do so today in virtually every local classic car show in the City of Angels.
This is possible because the Southland is home to vibrant clubs like Corvettes Unlimited, OC Vettes, Pacific Coast Corvettes, the PVCA Corvette Club, the Southern California Corvette Club, the Ventura County Corvette Club, the Vette Set, and so many others that’ll exceed our 150-word limit. In 1999, Los Angeleno tuner (and former Corvette racer) Dick “Mr. Corvette” Guldstrand was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame, following the induction the year before of fellow Angeleno and legendary Corvette C2 and C3 designer Larry Shinoda—all the more reason why it’s this car for this year. – Roy Nakano
2000 – Porsche Boxster S
YEAR 2K —the Millennium, clocks running backwards, calendars useless, the internet destroyed, disaster all over the place… Except that it never happened.
What did happen was that Porsche continued building their neat little Boxster in two versions: regular and the more powerful S variant, either way one funnest ways to blow $50,000 on a LAcentric ride that year (yeah, sure who cares what it cost; the world as we knew it was ending anyway … right?).
With one of Porsche’s wonderful 3.2-liter double-overhead-cam flat 6’s happily producing 250 horsepower from its true mid-engine position that puts this one in perfect balance and makes the car a far more agile canyon-carver than your westside brother-in-law’s damn 911 (which he never fails in finding a way to get the fact that he drives one into conversations that have no need for that sort of detail at all). This sleek, modern day iteration of the vaunted Porsche 550A has a luxury interior, brilliant steering, and cool cross-drilled bakes that could haul down a freight train. L.A. Perfect! – Doug Stokes
2001 - Lamborghini Murciélago
Brilliantly in 2001, humans semi-successfully landed a spacecraft on a passing asteroid. On the other end of the spectrum, those with the blackest of souls brought forth the tragedies of 9/11. Both momentous occasions happened far away from our corner of the globe. Here in LA, we amused ourselves with the birth of the modern supercar – the Lamborghini Murciélago.
Lamborghini wraps the 572 horspower, 6.2 liter, V12 engine around a dazzling, stealthy body that breaks with the organic shapes of the Italian brand and others.
Yet, the real achievement was instilled by the brand’s new parent company Audi. The Murciélago brings a level of fit and finish to the interior and exterior unmatched by other exotics. This game-changer was the beginning of a new era where exotics are no longer ill-fitting, craft-built cars, but now embrace precision and sophistication. Fortunately, the genre has never been the same since! – John Grafman
2002 - BMW M3 Coupe
It is sacrilegious in my mind to have any kind of top 20 list and not include the BMW 3-series in some way, shape, or form. In the case of this list, BMW’s third-generation M3 (the E46 for the cool kids keeping track) is hands-down my pick for 2002. The “Hindsight” referenced in the title of this list is appropriate. I recall exactly which cube I was sitting in at my downtown L.A. job when I slacked off and stared at this car with a co-worker. I remember feeling like in hindsight (four years’ worth, to be exact) perhaps I should have limped along without a new car longer and saved up for this work of automotive art.
The E46 M3 featured an astounding 333 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque, and rocketed to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. While the ride could be rough, what did you expect from a factory-tuned coupe or sedan that could hang with supercars like the Porsche 911 Turbo? At the end of the day the price point in the $50k range (for a relatively stripped-down build) was more of a deterrent to ownership than insurance costs, daily-driving ride quality, or the Boss' raised eyebrows signaling one might be overcompensated. That being said it’s hard to say if my investment in my graduate education really outweighed the long-term value of a clean E46.
Good thing I know my driving style – there is no way would my hypothetical M3 be clean after 15+ years of ultimate driving bliss. – Glenn Oyoung
2003 - Cadillac Sixteen Concept
It seems almost like a dream now. The year, 2003. In another six the Great Recession will drive General Motors into bankruptcy. Gas was hovering around a buck seventy-five. Sales of luxury vehicles were on the upswing and the General, specifically Cadillac, was dreaming big. Really big as in a 13.6L, 1,000 horsepower, V16 power plant. Really, really big as in an ultra-luxury car that evoked the custom-built Fleetwood cars of the 1930s – Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Yes, just imagine this contemporary, gorgeous, beautifully proportioned, four-door hardtop rolling up to the Red Carpet to deliver a celluloid star to an LA star-studded event. And what a statement it makes for Cadillac and American luxury. Ahh but it’s just a dream. A bonafide dream car for sure. – Christopher Merlo (Okay, Chris, we’ll let you slide this dream car behemoth in. I agree, it would be THE car to be tooling around LA in, in 2003 or any year … luckily Cadillac only built one for the show circuit … I’d hate to meet up with someone coming the other way on Rodeo Drive in another one. – DS, Ed.)
2004 - Hyundai Sonata
Some of you will say: “Say what?” Let me explain. In the late 80s, the Korean company brought the Excel. It had serious flaws, but so did the first Japanese imports in the late 50s. The company, just like the Japanese did three decades earlier, regrouped, redesigned and counter attacked. Hyundai went head to head against the American and Japanese brands with quality and the best warranty (10 years-100,000 miles) in the market.
Then came KIA and then Hyundai and KIA became one. I liked the Sonata because it was a symbol of Hyundai in an ultra-competitive segment, and I chose 2004 because that year Hyundai tied with Honda for initial brand quality in a survey from J.D. Power and Associates. This made Hyundai second in the industry, only behind Toyota, for initial vehicle quality (the company continued this tradition by placing third overall in J.D. Power's 2006 Initial Quality Survey, behind Porsche and Lexus, no less). I still smile when I recall advising friends to buy a Hyundai (or a Kia), their response had been: “Korean? Yuk!”. Not any more. Everybody loves the underdog. So do I. - Hector Cademartori
2005 – Bugatti Veyron
While you would think that the signing of the Kyoto Protocol would signal a movement to the economical and energy efficient, the transportation world seem to say 'Whoa Nelly!’, almost literally. A few months afterwards Airbus debuted the largest passenger plane ever, the 'superjumbo' A380. The auto world doubled-down with the introduction of the highly popular Chrysler 300. While the 300 may have deserved its accolades, it was the 2005 Bugatti Veyron that was the true game-changer. OK, 1,000 horsepower, 250+ miles per hour, a super-charged W-16 engine, $1.7 Million, and it’s a Volkswagen? … That fits perfectly for an LA Car for ’05.
Whether it was due to its less-than-stellar handling or the ‘Look At Me!’ social set that typically bought them, the car was often dismissed as a Rolex on Wheels. Still, it captured the imagination of pop culture and supercar companies alike. Within several years, the Aventador, the LaFerrari, the P1, the 918 and a whole host of other cars would collectively birth the hypercar class. Not bad for what some would call an affectation. – Sean Spear
2006 Saturn Sky
The Sky was about as California (er … LACar) cool a two-seat scooter as there was, it looked great, it ran good, and it was priced right. The literature says that the Red Line edition could be had with a 260 horsepower Ecotech 2 liter engine (which local dealers could “kit up” to 290 by installing an aftermarket turbo). But most of these machines were ordered with the standard 2.4-liter, 177hp engine that produced more than adequate performance for the vast majority of owners, way back in ‘06.
If you were a young(er) person who drove a Sky, top down (all year around) to your office in Venice office and back to (as you sometimes refer to it) your “flat” in Silverlake you could pull it off no sweat; and still look good pulling into the parking lot at KCET to answer phones for pledge. There was flash and filigree out the flank, but Saturn was not the right brand at the right time (even in LA). By the way, at that time Pontiac was circling the drain too and we lost that marque’s non-identical twin the Soltice too. Bad day for LA. -Doug Stokes
2007 - Apple iPhone
In our formative years, we looked forward to seeing the new model year’s latest offerings—be they Audis or Alfas, Corvettes or Cadillacs. That all changed in 2007. Today’s youth just aren’t into these machines the way we used to be—and it can be traced to the day Apple launched the iPhone back on June 29, 2007. Now all the new model year attention is on what can the latest smart phone do. To many, cars still represent freedom to roam the local city or the town across the way, but the smart phone has become a symbol of freedom to explore the world. Ask the young ones about fuel injection or fuel efficiency, and you’ll likely get a glazed look in return. Talk about the latest smart phone apps, and suddenly the reception becomes clear as a bell. The high performance model that stole the show in 2007 was the sleek new unit delivered by the Apple Motor Company. –Roy Nakano (Yeah, he snuck one in on us here, but Roy's not only the founder of this forum, but the guy who keeps all of us corks, alert and bobbing. The iPhone was far more important than ANY car in '07 ... and so say all of us! -Ed.)
2008 – Nissan GT-R
It was the worst and the best of times. The financial crisis cancer had spread world-wide, and the United States was to be led by a man who, less than 150 years ago, could have been enslaved by the country over which he was to preside. And to Japanese sports cars aficionados - still mourning Acura NSX’s disappearance - Nissan offered performance-bent people in Los Angeles some hope. And, this squared-off machine looked just as brutal as the grand abilities that its numbers spoke to.
Underneath an aluminum hood, trunk, and doors, GT-R’s racing-inspired jig welded steel chassis, held a 3.8 liter twin-turbocharged engine with a beautifully-balanced 478 hp and 434 lb/ft of torque and that actually met ULEV standards! The rear mounted six-speed dual clutch semi-automatic transmission powering all four wheels allowed performance of 2.7 seconds from 0-60, and top speed of 193 mph. Such Gran Turismo feel was not at accidental – GT-R’s multifunction display was designed by its creators to blend driver and road in pitch-perfect harmony. So much fun for seventy grand justifies putting GT-R on the top step of the podium for 2008. – Zoran J. Segina
2009 – Honda Fit
For $250,000, (just about) any company can build an outstanding vehicle. If you do it for $15,000, that’s a demonstration of true technical expertise and resourcefulness. In 2009 the economy was in freefall. GM and Chrysler went through bankruptcy, and Ford was inches away. No one could see bottom. In retrospect, the right car for 2009 called for low cost, high value … and could make us smile. And, heaven knows we needed the smiles.
The car that fit was the Honda Fit. The second-generation Fit seemed to have more room inside that it took outside, more power than its 117 horses, sports car nimbleness and larger-than-needed brakes. (No such thing, Chuck … great brakes are always a very welcome component of great cars.-DS Ed.) The Fit was surprisingly quiet and the first subcompact with 5-star safety ratings for both driver and front passenger. It was an engineering tour de force and fun to toss around. Doing far more for far less made the ’09 Fit a solid lookback LA Car for 2009. – Chuck Dapoz
2010 – Toyota Yaris
It may not be sleek or sporty, and it certainly isn’t the powerful performance car that many drivers to aspire to own, but the 2010 Toyota Yaris is a true superstar when it comes to fuel economy and practicality. (Two left coast attributes that are as good as any for a LA runabout – Ed)
I went to friend’s house as we had plans to go out to dinner. The friend of which I speak is very well off financially and, quite honestly, could purchase any vehicle she desires. Sitting in her driveway was a new Yaris. When asked why she purchased a Yaris, she replied: “It’s so cute and so much fun to drive!” She invited me to drive the car to our dinner destination and, within a few weeks, I purchased a Yaris, as well.
Yes, the Yaris is designed to be budget-priced basic transportation but, in my opinion, Toyota may have come up with one of the most cleverly designed automobiles ever. It looks quite small from the outside but is surprisingly roomy inside. The cloth seating surfaces are comfortable and, instead of arranging controls on a bulky center console as in many vehicles, they are mounted on a vertical panel below the radio, with a small storage compartment on either side.
Speaking of storage, because the Yaris has its speedometer and gauges uniquely mounted in the center of the dash rather than on the driver’s side, it allows for three glove compartments – one on the driver’s side and two on the passenger side (one that opens from the top of the dash on either side and a larger compartment that lowers from below the dash on the passenger side.)
Powering my little three-door liftback is a peppy 106-horsepower 1.5-liter engine paired with a four-speed automatic transmission. Plenty of power for a vehicle this size as well as very responsive handling with the agility to get around slower moving traffic as needed. And, at 29 mpg city and 35 highway, Yaris provides a very economical way to get around town. A five-door liftback and sedan version were also available for the 2010 model year. – Reed Berry
2011 – Uber
Uber, it just rolls off the tongue, natural like. Not like the effort it takes to stand curbside, waiving your hand and shouting, “Taxi” at the top of your lungs. Not like the effort it takes to dial the phone or the expense of tipping the doorman to call a cab. Nah this is the new mobile world. And if there is any city that is mobile on steroids it’s Los Angeles. We love our cars. We love our smartphones. And when brought together via an app … well the ending to this Hollywood script is yet to be written. But the question is, will they live happily ever after? Mobility, ride hailing and ride sharing are a few of the many disruptive forces altering today’s car culture.
Founded in San Francisco, no surprise there given the proximity to Silicon Valley, Uber went “live” in California in 2011. Since then, the name has become ubiquitous. It’s even become a part of our vocabulary. Today, we talk about the uberization of an industry or to uberize a market. And so the question is, will Uber uberize car ownership? Will Uber and its like transform our transportation system? Yes, Uber has met a need and certainly offers a more efficient, less stressful way to get from point A to point B. But is it fun? Or are we at the beginning of a script that spells the end of car culture, as we know it? – Christopher Merlo (Again, not a car per se, but a whole way of life for both passengers and drivers. - Ed)
2012 – Infiniti M Hybrid
Much has changed since 2012, but I hope that a few things found on the 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid, now called the Infiniti Q70, will be with us for years to come. It was heralded as among the best executed hybrid performance luxury cars (along with the Porsche Panamera Hybrid), because it managed to significantly lower its gas consumption while retaining its acceleration and handling characteristics of its gasoline-powered counterparts. Speaking of the Panamera Hybrid, it was featured in the Infiniti M Hybrid’s commercial… in the M’s rear-view mirror.
When I reviewed the Infiniti M Hybrid as it was released in late 2011, I was stunned at how smooth the engine wandered between the graciousness of the electric motor, and the beast-combination when the combustion engine kicked in. I still marvel at the fact that the gas pedal gave my foot feed-back, pushing back when the M sensed I was coming in too close to the vehicle in front of me. John-Fredrik Wright
2013 – Nissan Cube
Because it was just about to disappear from these shores, the Nissan cube (yes, the cool people, and Nissan Motors itself, spells this with a small “c”) is my retroactive LA car for 2013. It was a brief but beloved run in the US, from 2009-2014, though the trucklet had been sold in Japan since 1998, and, if the great god of Google is to be believed, still is.
What’s so great about this vehicle? The interior is as large as a Studio City apartment. The cute factor beats the heck out of any EV you can name, and the wave-like shape of the headliner and the rounded features of the dash—complete with mini-shag-carpet mat—remind one of a time that’s suddenly cool again—the 1970s. In case the rest of the world hasn’t noticed, everything 70s is hip these days, and the perfect thing to do in the cube would be to cruise past the house used as the exterior of the Brady Bunch bungalow, which is on Dilling St. in LA and was recently valued for a very-LA-like million and a half bucks.
But back to the cube: in an LA where the SUV/Crossover market is almost without limit, and where everyone’s car looks like everyone else’s, the cube was different. Heck, it even beat its Nissan brethren for uniqueness, standing out in a model lineup that is almost impossible to differentiate one from the other.
Not that Nissan cared: in successive LA Auto Shows, the cube went from front and center to hidden in a corner behind a curtain. So much for retro-cool. – Brian Kennedy, Ph.D (Okay, you heard what the Doc prescribed, there are still a few of these cars with that charming cockeyed rear window around ... Get one just for fun. -Ed)
2014 – Volvo C70
Highly-respected (and still Swedish at heart) and by 2014 in off-shore ownership for 4 years, Volvos have always a place in the LACar culture. I owned and operated a dead-reliable 1976 245DL Wagon for many, many years. So it may not come as a shock that I believe the car that best articulated the LA lifestyle in 2014 is the modestly glamorous C70 Volvo.
Here’s four-seater that looks like a pretty serious Teutonic sports sedan with its convertible hardtop up; and a beach cruiser with the top down and the cool winds along PCH rounding off the edges of a hot day downtown. The C70 was powered by a wonderfully-smooth turbocharged inline 5-cylinder engine that never seemed to be out of its broad-shouldered power band. The ride was “sporty” but not downright harsh, the fitting were all first cabin. For my kroners the C70’s ability to change personalities (quite literally at the push of a button) really suited the criteria for this excercise. – Doug Stokes
2015 – Ford Mustang
I’ll admit it from the start: one Mustang or another would be COTY every year if they let me control it. They don’t. But for 2015, the Mustang lineup should have won. No, the original Ponycar doesn’t appeal to everybody, and it’s not going to meet the needs of a family, unless two of the members don’t mind squeezing into the back seat. But for all the dreams the Mustang has made come true over the years, it deserved the COTY in its 50th anniversary campaign. Kind of a "Lifetime Achievement Award" if you will, but not based solely on the past. For 2015, the car gained an independent rear suspension across the model line. It became a global platform, meaning, amongst other things, that it was designed from the start to be sold in all markets, including those where the steering wheel is on the right-hand side.
As always, the car could be had in many option configurations and on almost any budget, from the college kid wanting a four-banger “Ecoboost” to the 50-something finally getting the 302 CI V8 he (probably) hadn’t been able to put in the garage when things like kids and their needs were front and center.
The styling was a winner too, with bodylines hearkening back to the 1960s models as the “Coupe” went away and a true (and labelled as such) “Fastback” model was offered in addition to the drop-top.
And for 1964 people, in homage to the launch of the original in April of 1964, Ford produced a serialized Anniversary edition. Each has a numbered dash plaque, came with a deluxe owner’s kit, features several throwback touches, and will forever live as a reminder that half a century of Mustangs is not nearly enough. – Brian Kennedy, Ph.D
2016 - Cadillac CTS-V There was a time long ago when Cadillac was only known for luxury and style. Elvis loved Cadillacs. And then came the dark ages, when the Caddy slipped way behind the Europeans. But GM's luxury division began climbing its way back at the turn of the century. With the launch of the CTS-V in 2003, Cadillac mounted a challenge in the sport sedan class. Each year, improvements brought it closer to true competitiveness with Europe's best super sport sedans. The all-new 2016 CTS-V finally put a world-class Cadillac super sedan into the game. The engine is a slightly retuned version of the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 found in the Corvette Z06, making 640 horses and 630 pound-feet of torque. The 2016 Caddy would make Elvis proud! When I get one, the first thing I’m going to do is play Elvis’s greatest hits on my way to Vegas—probably to a car show or the drag strip. – Tom Gomez (We must divulge that Tom originally turned in a piece that was slightly - 1,272 words - longer than the 150 that we had originally budgeted ... our wise and kind founder, Mister Roy Nakano, Esq.,did a great job of condensing Tom's pean to the CTS-V to fit the space. - Ed.) Editor’s Notes on 20-20 Hindsight: We hope that our readers had (at least) as much fun as we did assembling this list. As you may have counted, a few of us overran our original quota of 150 words. Of course (and as you know by now) “cars happen”. As far as judging, justifying (or even rejecting) each selection, that’s YOUR job. Remember the criteria: A year and an “L.A. car” for it. Your exceptions (or concurrences) to our candidates are most welcome, in fact, much encouraged. We’re very proud of our first 20 years of delivering automotive information* from this end of the world. THANK YOU! - Doug Stokes *That would include conjecture, opinion, humor, subjucture (I made that word up), informed guesses, rumor, joy, excitement, and (at times) even outrage. (Your call on the "wit and wisdom" part of the deal). ... Ready! ... Steady! ... Go! - Doug Stokes, Editor Got something to say? Add your Facebook comment regarding this article here.