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Honk if You're Going to L.A. Auto Show

January 03, 1987|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

Little known fact: There are more Porsches driving the Los Angeles freeways than you'll find on Autobahns.

Better known fact: More new cars, domestic and imported, are sold in California than in any other state (far ahead of New York, Florida and Texas) and in 1985 those sales represented more than 10% of the national market.

Emerging realization: The Greater Los Angeles Auto Show that today begins an eight-day run at the Convention Center is rapidly accelerating to a unique status among the major auto expositions.

The Chicago show has history. New York has formality. But only the Los Angeles showcase, say car industry watchers, can claim a make-it-or-break-it influence on sales.

New Yorkers Don't Buy

"New York is a madhouse for aspiring buyers," believes Dutch Mandel, West Coast editor for Detroit-based Autoweek magazine, who maintains, nevertheless, that very few New Yorkers actually buy cars. "The only car that interests these people comes in (taxicab) yellow.

"Chicago is a black-tie offering. Los Angeles, however, is jams and tank tops and these people are buying because they're car-conscious."

Climate certainly helps that worship. Particularly the sales of convertibles and sporty cars and high performance sedans that seem to motor much better in soft sunshine. A 25-million-person market doesn't hurt. Especially one geared to three-car (his and hers plus at least one toy) families and daily commutes on a crash-work quilt of freeways.

As Chrysler president Lee Iacocca noted in his best-selling autobiography: "Although the car industry was born in Michigan, it came of age in California. It's been said many times before, but it's worth saying again: California is really the mirror into the future. Sometimes we (auto makers) don't like everything we see . . . but we'd be crazy if we didn't take a good, hard look."

The good, hard looking at this year's Greater Los Angeles Auto Show will be at more than 600 cars, trucks, limousines, replicars, race cars, street rods, antiques born yesterday and concept cars that might not survive tomorrow.

By timing alone, the exhibition has progressed into something of a New Year's rite for Southern Californians window-shopping for wheels. It obviates those periodic crosstown, uptown, downtown treks to cover all dealers. At the show, everything is at one location and the inventory, from cars to car covers, is total.

$169,000 Rolls-Royce

The Yugoslavian-made Yugo will be displayed, and its list price of $3,990 wouldn't even cover the sales tax on the Ferrari Testarossa (at $110,000) that costs more than a six-month vacation in Rome, or the Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible (at $169,000) that costs more than most houses. Contrasting with big-name manufacturers will be the limited, almost custom offerings by builders of speciality cars--from the new Canadian-built Enterra, a two-seat, mid-engined sports car with a sticker price of $25,000, to the latest nouveau classic from Zimmer Motor Cars Corp., the two-seat, etched glass, leather and burled walnut, Gatsby-appointed Quicksilver boulevard cruiser. "The Los Angeles show is a dress rehearsal for the opening night of sales and automotive trends across the country," a spokesman explained. "Here, you'll see a giant like Cadillac starting to shape its new image with an exhibit that includes a concept car, a presidential limousine and the Allante that is ready to compete with the Mercedes luxury market . . . this from a manufacturer that at one time was considered by the automotive press to be staid and unprogressive.

"You'll see the trend toward what are being called pocket rockets, small, high-performance sedans such as the 16-valve Volkswagen Golf. . . .

"But a major appeal of the show is that it is an informal, friendly, family affair where nobody minds if you get into the cars, play with the knobs and look under the hood . . . except with the high-buck cars that have to be coralled to prevent damage."

British Off-Roader

Among more than a dozen model unveilings at the show will be the American introduction of the British Range Rover--an up-market, chic, luxurious 4x4 that could become to American off-roaders what the Burberry raincoat is to those who like to walk wet countrysides.

This aluminum-bodied, V-8 slogger (an aristocratic offspring of the farming, 40-year-old Land Rover that continues to be built) costs $30,000. A price fit for royalty. But then Queen Elizabeth does carry her Corgis aboard a Range Rover.

Fiberglass Fun Car

More down to earth (certainly closer to the average credit union) is the Dallas. It is a fiberglass fun car built in France. It takes the image of a Texas city and a television series. It is seeking an American place in the sports/utility trend currently commanded by the nippy Suzuki Samurai for much the same yen. Or francs. About $6,995 worth.

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