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Roadster Riches

British auto meet will display 400 models--from sleek to sporty.

October 08, 1998|SARIA KRAFT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

British car enthusiasts often say their other car is a Ferrari, but it's not often they'll enter that other car in a show. Although some credit the Italians or the French with the most romantic auto creations around, only Britain has the distinction of producing the sportiest and the most luxurious.

For Sunday's 15th Los Angeles British Car Meet, nearly 400 examples of England's automotive art are expected to be on display, as Woodley Park becomes one glorious car display.

A wave of recent films has made all things British seem bright and beautiful. Beyond James Bond, "The Avengers" and "Austin Powers," there's more to the automotive allure of Britain than meets the screen.

The sleek and subtle styling of Bentleys, Rolls-Royces and Jaguars has obvious appeal to status-conscious Angelenos, but the British Car Meet also offers a seldom seen assembly of English whimsy. Alongside larger and more comely contestants, Metropolitans (by Austin for Nash), Mini Coopers and Morris Minors compete for best passenger car.

Last year's convention sported Aston Martin and Austin Healey, Lotus and MG, Sunbeam and Triumph models. The people's-choice judging also offers awards for a pre-World War II entry, a truck/sport utility vehicle and best overall club participation.

The event attracts individual owners, clubs and celebrity collectors as well as spectators who normally don't attend car shows. Entrants are here for tips on parts and mechanics. They're there to buy and sell. Many fall in love at first sight.

Steve Kunes never saw a Metropolitan until the day he bought one. The longtime Studio City resident was driving down Sherman Way when he spotted a "For Sale" sign. "It was the cutest thing I ever saw in my life," says Kunes, who is driving his family from Malibu to enter the 1961 Met for the second time.

"People usually own antique cars because of a sentimental attachment. Your father or uncle drove that model and you want to re-create those memories," says Kunes. "Sometimes, it's because you saw it in a movie."

Michael Hoback, who supplies exotic cars to film studios, plans to bring a 1962 Bentley and a 1950 Jaguar XK 120 used by Val Kilmer in "Batman Forever." The two are among those stored by entertainment industry collectors in his 6,000 square-foot warehouse in Panorama City.

Surprisingly, it's Hoback's first visit to the British Car Meet. Given his profession, the Van Nuys native says, "It's about time."

Actor Malcolm McDowell, a regular at the meet, won't make it this year. The star of the new "Fantasy Island" series says he's "in the middle of the Pacific on a tiny little volcanic rock." Even the show's mysterious Mr. Roarke can only work so much magic.

But distance and poor phone reception are hardly enough to keep McDowell, shooting in Hawaii, from talking cars.

"I love to see beautiful machinery that's well cared for," he says, "and I admire those who nurture restoration and who persevere. It ain't easy."

McDowell says he drives a "frighteningly fast," 1991 turbo-charged Morgan Plus 8 and "a couple of Jaguars, a 1967 E-type and a C-type race car. It's a fantastic reproduction of the 1951 Les Mans winner." It was made especially for him.

After his first successes in London, the Liverpool-reared actor bought a champagne-gold 1963 Alvis TF 21 "on hire purchase," as the installment plan is called in Britain. He drove the "sporting man's Rolls-Royce, a magnificent beast" for 30 years.

"When I got it, everyone thought I was raving mad to buy something so extravagant. I told them, 'This is the direction I'm going. This is who I will become.' "

The movies sparked an early interest in British cars for car meet founder Rick Feibusch. As a boy, Feibusch saw "Genevieve," a post-war comedy about the London-to-Brighton race. He was hooked. At age 10, he mounted his first model car show at his father's toy shop in Menlo Park.

"My first flier was done on a mimeograph machine," Feibusch recalls. "The shows were good for Dad, too. To enter, you had to buy a model."

By 13, Feibusch was teaching model-making and giving paint demonstrations. He founded his first British car meet in Menlo Park in 1978. It's still going strong.

"At its height in the late '80s, we'd have 1,200 cars in Palo Alto and 550 in the Valley," he says. That was before many British cars in California began to attract top dollar abroad and began heading off to Japan, Germany, France and Belgium.

"You'd see whole containers of them leaving the docks."

Today, Feibusch serves as an appraiser for the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The automotive photojournalist and historian writes for magazines and for the Web sites carsandculture.com and britishcars.com.

In 1991, he and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Venice with a pair of Morris Minor convertibles and two 1969 Chevy Malibus--which he calls his four favorite cars in the world.

BE THERE

Los Angeles British Car Meet, Sunday at Woodley Park, Van Nuys. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Registration, $20 per entry; admission, free.

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