Wheels - 99th LA Auto Show

Road Show — Concept cars captured the imagination at the Los Angeles Auto Show, but our reviewer puts his money on the new Hummer.

Were I richer than ever, i.e. solvent, and were GM or the CIA — or whoever makes the Hummer — to build the new H3T, I’d lay down my $33,333.33 right now.

Yard-high tires, a radical five-cylinder, 350-horsepower turbo-charged engine, and style to stop your heart — this is not your father’s apocalypse-mobile. Unveiled at the recent Los Angeles Auto Show, the Hummer truck design team claims, “The H3T looks and feels as if it’s been milled from a solid billet of steel or aluminum.” Gone are the squinty, boxy machine gun-nest windows that make today’s $60,000 Hummer look like a chunk of the Maginot line. Never mind that the Hummer’s inside takes up so much space that it leaves little room, and what the Los Angeles Times calls crypto-fascist styling makes the Hummer appear made for the end times of the survivalist gliterati. This is forted lux that suggests the Hummer was designed for civil war in Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, or New Rochelle.

But now, an HO gauge Hummer that makes sense, that has found its medium under the adage less is more and may be about to join all the other hot new sport utility vehicles hugging what one GM executive called the “get three for a hundred-grand price point.”

Concept cars like the Hummer H3T are typically complex aberrations, uncompromised by the marketing department. They make mayflies look immortal — machines that have half-lives described by the time it takes to get them built and in front of a TV camera. Once seen, they are over. The stunning two-year-old Cadillac V-16 (black, low, and super long with locomotive-sized wheels built for running over the little people) is already a museum piece, a one-of-a-kind relic that leaves little in its sleek and visionary wake except an unkept promise.

The closest thing to the pure elixir of a great, un-watered-down concept car available for actual purchase is usually left to a handful of aftermarket automobile companies like Saleen, whose designed-by-the-wind S7 super-coupe was here on display. As the great former tractor maker Ettore Bugatti might have said, in the high-end automobile business, if you have no history, be profoundly timeless in the present to trump your lack of a past. This car is radical. If perhaps your mansion, townhouse, or summer-get-away has a mile-long room whose ceiling is paved, the S7 may be irresistible. Here is a super exotic capable of 200 miles per hour that at high speed generates so much road gripping down force that it could be literally driven upside-down. Priced in the high-$300,000s, the beautiful, primly outrageous Saleen S7 is low-slung like a shadow and so exquisitely executed that it may give you feelings about metal that could, left unchecked, become an expensive therapy issue. Then there’s the new supercharged Saleen Thunderbird — a once plastic-y pseudo sports car made real. Saleen redesigns cars like the Thunderbird to look like they should have in the first place.

As big as 17 football fields, Los AngelesConvention Center has lots of room for lux. Behold the Brabus S-Class. Imagine the standard Mercedes cubed, rebuilt here in Southern California. Maximum luxury: $250,000 work-stations featuring custom leather from the finest blue-blooded German cows, race car engines, and about as much telecommunications on board as you’d find in a space shuttle (rather than limit itself to a single carrier, the Brabus Mercedes phone system automatically roves the area to find the strongest provider).

Then we have new Volkswagen Phaeton, baring the stretched signature 2004 Passat design — an uber-Passat, if you will, the working man’s luxury car. The Phaeton offers an optional 420 horsepower W-12 engine, adjustable tire pressure at your fingertips, custom “micro-climates” for each passenger (when we said “working man,” we were actually thinking union boss) and what colors: Sonnenbeige and Bolero Beige, Nocturne Aubergine and Luna Blue Klavierlack, not to mention the marriage of the latter two: Nocturne Aubergine Klavierlack. The Phaeton also comes in two gloss blacks: black and Black Klavierlack.

Another big unveiling: The fastback Chevy Cobalt, a little Lexus-style coupe for the great unwashed. It’s powerful and affordable — an assault vehicle for latest generation of chic bureaucrats who drive a million miles an hour and give you the finger while racing up your tailpipe if you don’t get the $#@%& out of their way.

But back to the H3T: Build it and they will come. And build it they will. How do I know? Because they are already larding it up. Plans call for a mounted camera to record off-road excursions. And those yard-high tires? These are not just yard-high tire tires, but yard-high tires that “ address multiple traction environments with sand paddles, traction pads, and multiple durometers of rubber defined by different color breakouts.” Here is a conveyance upholstered in “technical leather.” Does it come from a cyborg cow? The technical leather “supports the athletic performance of the H3T … as do the chamois, petrol, and paprika orange interior colors.” What color is petrol? Will you go to your dealer and say, “I’d like the gasoline-colored interior”? But Hummer has a winner here. I’d make any sacrifice — even if my son has to get four paper routes — to make the payments for this truck.

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