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Mini, Hummer Steal the Auto Show

The cute golf-cart-sized car and the burly military-style vehicle are crowd favorites.

January 13, 2003|Steve Hymon and Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writers

In this sprawling, concrete-dipped metropolis besieged by gridlock and often plagued by smog, it figures that the largest civic gathering on Sunday probably was at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

More than 100,000 people attended the final day of the annual event at the Los Angeles Convention Center, with many dreaming about their favorite models, whether or not they had any practical use.

The traffic in downtown was thick enough that some people left their vehicles at home and did what public officials have been urging them to do for years -- use public transportation to get there. Others willingly paid $25 to park the cars they own to see the cars they wish they could own.

The crowd was impressed with some of the cars' seemingly superfluous features, like one with infrared night-vision headlights.

Or the $600,000 Ferrari that reportedly goes from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds.

"What better place [for these kind of cars] than Los Angeles?" said Randy Rischar, an auto parts seller from Ventura. "It's cars, money and power ... having something no one else has."

There was little talk about fuel mileage, emissions or the environment. And some cars would clearly be illegal on surface streets.

Take, for example, the Aston Martin Vanquish from the latest James Bond movie. For most of the day, there was a crowd five-deep around the sleek tungsten silver coupe, which sports a pair of 9-millimeter machine guns that pop out of the hood and four surface-to-air missiles mounted in the grill.

"I don't think this would help road rage around here," said David Thach, 20, of San Bernardino.

Crowds flocked to the tiny Mini Cooper hatchback and the colossal H2 Hummer, two of the most striking vehicles -- and models actually available to those with the money.

A family of eight managed to cram themselves inside the golf-cart-sized Mini as if it were a phone booth-stuffing contest. An employee of Mini proclaimed it an impressive feat, but it was nowhere near the record of 25 set in an older, smaller model of the car in 1999.

But heavy attention was paid to the Hummer, a colossal military-style vehicle that looks more like a hunkered down combat tank than a passenger car.

The $50,000 and up price didn't stop people from politely waiting their turn to sit in the driver's seat. "You gotta feel it," said Kyle Keller, 17, of Chino Hills.

People chatting in Russian, Spanish and Arabic crowded around the brightly painted models, snapping photos of themselves near one, on one or in one, examining in earnest tires that are the size of a small refrigerator.

Gas guzzling, flashy, expensive and most of all intimidating, it is exactly the car that someone such as Hancock Park resident Peter Sim wished he could afford.

"But I guess you really don't need it," Sim admitted. "It's for show-off."

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