I lived in Los Angeles for close to 20 years, and while I’m certainly not blind to LA’s many troubles, sweet mother of noodles, does that city have some fantastic cars. You can’t help but notice that while you’re just driving around, but just in case you’ve somehow been in an interesting-car-blocking fog, all you have to do is find one of the city’s Cars and Coffee meetups at any given morning and the sheer car-quality will just slap you in the face like a soaking wet towel.
I was in town for the LA Auto Show, and I stayed a few extra days to shill my book (which, legally, I think you have to buy in most states). While there, I decided to get up painfully early on Sunday morning to see what might show up to Cars and Coffee in Griffith Park on that random, chilly, late November morning.
What showed up was a genuinely remarkable and varied collection of cars. Sure, maybe a bit air-cooled Porsche heavy—this is just an LA thing—but who’s going to really complain about that? I’ll walk you through some of the amazing stuff that just, you know, is floating around this city.
Oh, before I get to the Cars and Coffee cars I just want to show this random street scene, from the neighborhoods around Dodger Stadium. That’s a 1940 GMC truck sitting there, parked on the narrow street. It needs work, but still, it’s something to see street parked in front of a Toyota Echo.
Okay, on to the Cars and Coffee, um, cars:
This essentially perfect 1963 Beetle caught my eye immediately, of course. It was upgraded with a 1600cc dual-port engine, but everything else looked remarkably stock. I think the engine bay is cleaner than my kitchen right now.
This Mark 1 Golf—I think it’s a 1981, and the front end suggests this was an American-market Rabbit L, possibly built in Westmoreland, PA, has a more modern VW turbo engine in it making, I was told, over 250 horsepower.
Mechanically, this thing was really well sorted and was stripped out for racing, but I’m fascinated by these taillights, which are, it seems, German postal car spec lights. They’re a mystery I’ll address in a separate post, so, you know, prepare accordingly.
It wasn’t all Germans, of course—look at this amazing deep midnight blue Lanica Aurelia B24 convertible, I think a 1958? It’s a stunning car, and if you forgot how magical Lancias can be, this is a great reminder.
It’s also a reminder of how strange Lancias can be as well; look at this expensively-cast dual air cleaner doohickey. The owner said this part was crazy expensive, and while I agree it’s strange and beautiful, it’s a really weird place to put cost and effort, I’d think?
It’s always nice to see a tidy Alfa Romeo like this, too. Such a well-proportioned, handsome little thing.
An immaculate Jaguar E-type also showed up, all curvy and showy and lovely. By some odd coincidence, when I walked over to it what caught my attention was the air cleaner, just like in the Lancia:
What struck me here was just how huge an E-Type air cleaner is! It’s like a wastebasket! Why is it such a massive drum? What are they using for a filter, a poodle?
I was also very excited to see an old Lotus Europa, a car I’ve always loved because it’s such a great visual lesson in the challenges of mid-engine design.
As Lotus’ first real mid-engine car (maybe Britain’s, too, if you don’t count the Trojan) the design is charmingly clumsy, and this is best demonstrated in this little detail under the back of the car:
That’s the world’s most awkward shift linkage, a long tube that goes all the way past the drivetrain and reaches around behind the car to get at the transmission. The Europa used a Renault FWD architecture flipped 180 degrees, and this goofy shift linkage was the simplest way to make it all work.
If you whack it on a speed bump, do you pop out of gear?
I liked this Porsche 911 because it reminds me of 16th-century astronomer Tycho Brahe for two reasons, which I’ll let you guess. Go ahead!
Okay, want answers? First, the gold nose on the Porsche reminds me of Brahe’s prosthetic gold nose (I’ve heard it may really have been brass) that he wore after losing his original equipment nose in a duel over who was a better mathematician. Second, the lovely French market-yellow headlamps remind me of how he died, from a burst bladder because he wouldn’t excuse himself from the table at a dinner party.
My good friend Tom (not pictured) drove us there in this incredible time-capsule 1968 Rambler American, a stripper car that was owned by one man for over 40 years, and he kept absolutely obsessive records. It’s such a basic, bland car of its era that’s it’s just charming now.
I just liked this 912's paint scheme. A speed ellipsis.
This other 912 just completed a China-to-Paris race, and still bears the dirt, duct tape, and scars of that grueling trip. Plus, there’s some clever storage solutions here, like the under-hood cargo net...
...and how the owner of the car made a little tool bag compartment by putting a divider behind the 912's two-cylinders-shorter 356 flat-four engine. Neat!
This stunning little Toyota Corona is one of those long-gone everyday Japanese cars that you only seem to find so well preserved in California. This was a little coupé with an automatic, a sensible but sporty-feeling little car of the early stages of Japan’s successes in America, but I especially liked this one detail:
This car had some sort of dealer-installed air-conditioning, and I love how it just replaced the glove box with a unit containing three A/C vents, all right smack in front of the passenger.
Freeze the passenger, melt the driver, the average is still one comfortable person, right?
All I know is that Ford’s new Bronco better offer this exact same paint scheme or there’s gonna be trouble.
I wonder if this Buick Grand National owner has gotten any more attention since the Watchmen series started? I mean, that’s Sister Night’s car, after all.
Oh, great. Another Chrysler Model 70 Sport Rumble-Seat Roadster from 1927. I mean, geez, it feels like most Cars and Coffees are just rows and rows of these things, am I right, people?
Hey, an original Mini! I wonder what’s under that very modified hood?
Oh, right. Madness. Cool.
I think this Honda engine swap into a Mini is a well-known thing, but it still seems absolutely bonkers. I bet this thing is a terrifying hoot to drive.
Let’s wrap up with this lovely BMW 3.0 CS, with its great shark nose and italic, forward-leaning stance, and marvel at a detail:
Why was BMW okay with this? They needed to have both a lamp and reflector to meet U.S. DOT lighting standards, so instead of making a new single lens with a reflective area, they just slapped on an extra, off-the-shelf side marker reflector, cluttering up the side of the car.
It’s so half-assed! I mean now I find it fascinating, but I’m just surprised they put so little effort into this.
Here’s a palate-cleansing 912 the color of liver for you, to end with, after all that marker reflector business.
And, yes, Los Angeles, we get it: you have amazing cars. Fine. You win.