Fun Stuff

Underground at the LA Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Not everything at the Los Angeles Auto Show is all about brand-new cars. In a city that’s all about car culture, there’s room for everyone.

A huge exhibit on the lower level, called The Garage, has just about everything, from low-riders with hydraulic suspensions and metal-flake paint, to a 1930 Ford inspired by American custom-car builders, but created in a hot-rod shop in Japan in 2003.

A few all-original vehicles are on display, including a 1961 Dodge Polara that was used by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). It was purchased with a Police Pursuit Package, which added a 325 horsepower V8, heavy-duty suspension, larger brakes and wheels, and a calibrated speedometer. Not only is it one of two period-correct 1961 CHP cars remaining, but Dodge only offered the package on the smaller Dart that year. CHP bought enough cars that Dodge built 1,200 of the larger Polara models – “through unofficial channels,” the sign says – for the police.

Another oddball nearby is a 1971 DeTomaso Pantera, now owned by the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles but originally purchased by Elvis Presley. The car wouldn’t start and Presley pulled out a gun and shot it. There are still bullet holes in the floor and through the steering wheel.

The Auto Show brings out the full range of the automotive hobby. A 1974 Audi Fox on display has an aftermarket air suspension. There’s a 1991 Nissan Figaro; the model recently became old enough to be imported into the US, right-hand drive and all, and it’s becoming a hot collectible. Owner Beth Molina got it from her husband as an anniversary gift.

While the automakers are here specifically to show off new cars, Subaru also brought along a 1968 360, the minicar that first gained it entry into the United States. It was actually imported by Malcolm Bricklin, who later became infamous for building a failed sports car in New Brunswick, when he discovered that the 360 didn’t weigh enough to pass automobile crash standards.

That’s likely the reasoning behind a few other cars in the lobby. The Los Angeles Auto Show always attracts a few companies trying to get off the ground with a new electric car, and this year, there are three.

The Sondors Electric holds two people in its front seats and one in the back, offers three battery sizes up to a 321 km range, will be sold online and delivered directly to customers, and is expected to start at $10,000. The two-seater Ampere 1, built in California, will go 160 kilometres on a charge and “has the same type of suspension as that of $100,000 sports cars,” but for $9,900.

Both have three wheels, and that’s the ticket: they’re classified as motorcycles, so no car standards. On the Ampere 1, a windshield is an option. Both companies say they’re taking pre-orders, with delivery possibly starting in 2019.

A third newcomer, Bollinger, had its brick-like B1 electric SUV on display. Built in New York, it will have a range of up to 321 kilometres, along with full-time all-wheel drive and a ride height that lifts up 50 centimetres. The company says 12,000 people have pre-ordered one online, although the price hasn’t yet been revealed.