Let me be up front with you: this is a love letter. It's a mash note to a city that's become my home more than any other city ever has, for many reasons. We talk about cars here, and that's just fine, because there is no American city with a carscape as lush, rich, and varied as Los Angeles.
I'm writing this now because I find myself, after over 17 years, having to leave LA. For a variety of complicated familial and private reasons, all of which reek painfully of adulthood and responsibility, I'm going to be moving to Chapel Hill, NC next month. This wasn't an easy decision to make, because I really love Los Angeles and my ratty little house here in the Los Feliz area. Los Angeles has been good to me, and I want to repay her a bit by giving her some praise for one of her best features: her cars.
Los Angeles loves cars. And, sure, that love came at a high cost of the death of the Red Line and LA's old trolley network, and brought with it smog and traffic and all those related issues, but the end result still is a city that celebrates and embraces cars like no other place I've known.
Los Angeles has so many features going for it to make it this ideal environment for cars to thrive: a climate that allows for nearly any style of car to be used year-round, and that climate is one that is arid enough to keep rust at bay. There's a lot of money in parts of LA, so exotics can flourish, and even in the areas that the money seems to avoid, there's plenty of rich and active automotive subcultures.
Oh, and the roads! There's so many incredible roads out here for driving, from the Angeles Crest highway to Mulholland drive, to scary little canyon serpents, to the PCH, and, hell, even the scary-at-night industrial areas around downtown LA. There's so much variation in scenery and experience, you'll never be bored.
You see everything in LA. Cars that have no logical reason to be anywhere near palm trees and In-n-Out burgers, like the Volga I saw the other day or that Trabant a friend of a friend has. It was in LA that I saw my first Rolls-Royces and other exotics in rough condition, a class of cars that I bet barely exists outside of Los Angeles. I'm pretty sure the list of places where daily-driver Silver Shadows and Countaches that have Bondo patches and need mufflers is very short.
On any given day, a drive around Los Angeles can reveal beautifully-maintained Corvairs, JDM cars that you have no idea how they're legally registered, vintage Lancias being driven to the grocery store, lowriders with paint so deep you get the bends if you stare into it for too long, and entire subcultures of Beetles and MGs and BMW 2002s.
Up until a point in the late '60s, you could import almost anything into the US, and it seems like a good portion of Los Angeles did. LA has always been a little more willing to try new things than the rest of the country, and as a result of this automotive open-mindedness, LA gained a large pool of genuinely interesting cars, many of which still survive today.
The reason I'm going on and on about how amazing Los Angeles is for cars is, of course, it's killing me to leave here, for this very reason. Coming from places where you'd see maybe one interesting car a week, Los Angeles is absolutely mind-blowing. You run the risk of getting whatever the car-equivalent of diabetes is, since it's almost impossible not to over-indulge on all that sweet sweet car candy.
The more I think about it, the more categories of amazing cars I think of: strange, lunatic-decorated art/psychosis cars, artist-created rolling masterpieces, lovingly-maintained mundane vehicles like K-Cars and Vegas, concours-quality unicorns like Facel-Vegas — I've seen all of these out and about, without even trying.
Los Angeles really is a place that makes improbable car-dreams come true. I was able to drive a Tatra T87 here, I participated in absurd races, and I even was able, my very own self, to buy an absurdly rare project car. When people come to LA, even normally car-rational people can have the option of driving something interesting or rare or vintage with much more likely outcomes of success than almost anywhere else in the country.
Because the city loves and respects cars so much, there's real support and respect for those who have interesting ones. I've always found people willing to talk about their interesting cars, and even let me drive them — sometimes before I was a super-big-shot automotive journalist, even.
People come here to actually do interesting things with and to cars, as well — think about the guys from Singer and ICON, to just name a couple of prominent ones. There's many, many more little shops and backyards cranking out some really novel things.
Los Angeles has many detractors. There's the clichés about how the city is soulless, has no culture, no one reads, etc. and I'm happy to report all of those accusations are bullshit. But LA doesn't even care what you say about her. I've been treated like crap in San Francisco and occasionally New York when people hear I'm from LA, but I have never seen the reverse happen. LA loves New York and SF, and I've always admired the overall gleeful not-give-a-shittery of the city.
So, here's my advice to anyone who really loves cars: if you get the opportunity, spend some time or live in Los Angeles. The city will always welcome a gearhead, and no matter how perverse your automotive desires may seem, I'm certain you'll be able to find a couple other weirdos who like cars the way you do.
I still can't really believe I'm leaving, but there it is. I'll be shipping my Beetle out to NC, and my Scimitar, which I'm pretty sure will be the only one in the state. I'm not leaving Jalopnik, of course, and I plan on finding every interesting car-related thing I can do in NC. I also have a good plan for how I'm making the trip itself, which I'll reveal soon. But right at this moment, I can't help but feeling a little self-indulgently sad about leaving this automotive wonderland. Even if this is the city where my car was stolen once.
Goodbye, Los Angeles. It was great driving with you.