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At the L.A. Auto Show, Luxury's on a Roll

January 06, 1989|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

They are sculptured, expensive, pampered and haughty.

And like all stars attending any international festival, these cosseted cars have been arriving by air from around the world for Saturday's premiere of the 1989 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

From Crewe, England, where it is crafted alongside the Rolls-Royce, came the new Bentley Turbo R. The car costs $149,000. The British Airways flight cost a mere $12,000.

From West Germany, on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, came two new cars by Bitter. One is a prototype four-door sedan. The other is a production two-door convertible. Both are big-ticket and aimed at the consumer who wants a German car that isn't seen everywhere.

Luxury Four-Wheel Drive

From Italy, aboard Alitalia, came the first of the Laforzas, an upmarket, $43,000, four-wheel drive vehicle. Its manufacturer is hoping to dethrone the British-built Range Rover from its ermine pedestal.

"For nine days we will be spotlighting the products of all manufacturers from all countries," said Ben Orloff, manager of the Los Angeles show, which now is in its 67th year. "That will translate to 500,000 people examining 650 new cars, trucks and vans at a show that's a 500,000-square-foot showroom."

That showroom will also be displaying more first season players than the opening day of spring training.

Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti lines--luxury boats all--will merge approving glances with glazed stares from customers who never thought they'd see the day when any Japanese car would cost $35,000.

Chevrolet is introducing the Lumina line, a coupe, a four-door sedan and an APV (All-Purpose Vehicle)--a new family of vehicles for families with children, desires for maximum grocery space, multiple entrances and outdoor pursuits.

Geo, the new import sales arm of Chevrolet, is out to snare whatever entry-level motorists might be left over from Hyundai and Daihatsu with the Prizm, a family hatchback expected to sell for less than $10,000.

But it is the high-line cars--the ones we wouldn't have the gall to drive, even if we had the money to buy--that sell the shows and the visitors.

Such as that 140-m.p.h. Bentley Turbo R, once described by David E. Davis Jr., publisher of Automobile magazine, as the car that will "replace the Ferrari Testarossa and the Lamborghini Countach as the most 'in' car in which bicoastal trendies can be seen."

For the purchase price of a Turbo R, you could buy 20 Plymouth Horizons. Eleven cows gave leather to upholster the Bentley. Its turbocharger was built by Garrett for airplanes. It is the highest combination of elegance and power since elephants wore gold saddles.

But who on Earth--let alone in Beverly Hills--would want such a car? "Merv Griffin, Barbra Streisand, Bijan and Jay Leno all drive Bentleys," a company spokesman replied.

Off-Road Luxury

The new Laforza (Italian for "strength") is a rural and off-road luxury vehicle--from leather seats to burled walnut dash and audiophile sound system--that by purpose and $43,000 base price will attempt to give the British-built Range Rover (at $35,800) a tug for its 4WD money.

An Italian-American hybrid, the vehicle is powered by a 5-liter Ford engine installed in the United States. The rolling chassis, body and interior are designed, assembled and shipped by Italian coach builder Pininfarina.

"Range Rover is stately, has heritage, is the queen's choice and is a superb vehicle in its class," noted Gene Stinson, senior vice president of Laforza Automobiles Inc., of Hayward and Turin, Italy. "But our buyers will be offered the aerodynamic look and greater luxury in a vehicle with 40% greater carrying capacity, smaller turning circle and a 40% greater towing capacity."

Bitter is back with the Bitter Type 3, a heftier advertising budget and loftier marketing ideas, in an attempt to find the California niche it has been pursuing since 1985.

"This year we are going from almost total handcrafting to a car that is 50% (machine) production," explained Jim Reilly, general sales manager for Bitter Automobile Co. of Santa Monica. "As far as price goes ($47,000), we'll be in the mid-range of manufacturers like Mercedes and BMW. But much better appointed.

"The Germans make great interiors. But they do tend to be a little vanilla. The Bitter has sharp looks on the outside and it's real sexy. The interior will be African rosewood and Italian glove leather with a Blaupunkt stereo system so a driver can sit in Los Angeles traffic all day and not get bored."

West German Convertible

The Type 3, manufactured in Schwelm, West Germany, is a two-door convertible with an in-line, six-cylinder engine by Opel. The car develops 210 horsepower and has an estimated top speed of 140 m.p.h.

Porsche will be introducing three new cars to Southern California--an area with a larger Porsche population than all of Germany.

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