Wheels - 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show

Hot Wheels — The Los Angeles Auto Show proves the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.



The $281, 170 Ferrari Superamerica. The $319,100 Lamborghini Murcielago roadster. For the properly obsessed, these delicious machines address the need to embrace truth, beauty, an insane amount of horsepower, and some fairly serious therapy issues.

Yet, even in a super-exotic realm, where it costs six figures for an automobile delivering every option but a back seat, trunk, and spare tire, something seems funny about a production car sticker-priced $1,230,000 plus tax off the showroom floor. A great idea might be for Larry David of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm to find a 1,001 horsepower Bugatti Veyron 3 squatting in his driveway one morning, as if left by God, ready to roll. Astounded and mystified, he’d ogle the W-16 engine able to detonate from 0 to 60 in three seconds while burning more than a gallon of gas a minute.

Unable to resist, Larry would go for a spin and nearly shorten his life by 30 years, screaming through the twists and turns of Mulholland Drive before discovering what a hyper chick-magnet the low-Earth-orbit, art deco Veyron 3 can be when he oozes up to valet parking, where every $1,000-an-hour blonde vies for a perch on a passenger seat that looks like what could happen if La-Z-Boys were designed by Coco Channel for the space shuttle. Finally, we learn the Bugatti Veyron 3 was, natch, meant for 50 Cent, but was mistakenly delivered to Larry’s house by a confused service manager from Phat Kat XXXotiks.

Meanwhile, in the “real” world of the annual Los Angeles Auto Show, the Bugatti Veyron 3 emerged a star of the future. Surprisingly, this car is not Italian. With your $1.23 million swoop of steel, Kevlar, leather, and one-upmanship, the Veyron 3 delivers state-of-the-art German engineering. In a move similar to but more successful than Hitler’s refusal to retreat from Stalingrad, the Veyron 3’s German command refused to step back from the goal of 1,001 horsepower to deliver a steel hallucination that, if operated at even half its performance ability, anywhere in the United States would get its driver tossed in jail or a graveyard. Cool, though no-nonsense Germans commanding the kind of automobile insanity normally left to Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Maserati may seem to make about as much linear sense as Rommel commanding an Afrika Korps soldiered by hookah-smoking caterpillars, talking white rabbits, and Marcello Mastroianni.

For a $200,000-plus exotic to succeed in California, it must appeal to tastes triangulated by NBA basketball stars, Newport Beach gold diggers, and the trend-setting age 0-to-19 demographics. Audi’s Spyker is the goddess you meet at the high-school dance: a sexy sliver that looks lit from within. Though a tad goofy, the Spyker has a flat, four-spoked steering wheel that could be a yacht wheel rendered small and an odd but lovely machine-age Jules Verne gearshift that slides up and down twin chrome shafts, which shoot into holes in the leather bulkhead between the seats. The Spyker is neither the ultimate race car, nor the ultimate trophy. It’s far better: It’s the ultimate toy.

Lamborghini’s new Murcielago roadster comes in a close second. For under $250,000, you can’t get that much torque anywhere this side of a Soviet tractor factory: 650 pounds of twist to, presumably, all four wheels.

Among the wild concept cars in Los Angeles was the Jeep Hurricane: a sport pickup with two HEMI V8 engines and all-wheel steering. When the mood strikes, you can spin it like a top, squiggle down the road backward at a diagonal, or cruise to church sideways. As Larry David breaks down the fourth wall of comedy playing his real self in unreal situations, in the Jeep Hurricane you can break the fourth wall of drunk driving while sober.

So far as making auto art, the car as canvas is becoming two-dimensional. “Is the party over? HELL NO!” reads the script above the Hyundai Gator, a top-fuel, end-of-the-world dragster that runs on hydrogen, a spooky little arrow with big fat rip-the-irradiated-rubble tires on the back, and 1960s dragster bicycle tires on the front. Here, finally, is a car that has no utility at all, so completely self-indulgent as to make the Bugatti Veyron 3 look like a 100 horsepower, four-door Chevy Biscayne. And check out the Maybach California Tourer, a motorized tricycle that suspends a restaurant for two and a wine cellar between its three wheels. Talk about answering a question no one ever asked

Then there is the Marc Mainville-designed Kia Sidewinder “drift car,” a rippy little beast for the PC road warrior crowd. It comes with a disclaimer: “Whether performing a power over drift or a clutch kick, this environmentally responsible drifting vehicle provides optimum performance and proves too fast and too lethal for the competition.” What next, an environmentally friendly sawed off shotgun?

Finally, the (partially) solar-powered GMC PAD. “Affordable housing in LA?” the script inquires. Yes. The humongous PAD is “an urban loft with mobility … created with modularity in mind” that includes an “integrated sky-deck.” The PAD screams art by committee.  Where the artist’s signature might be is instead a credit crawl: Director, Frank Saucedo; Design & Concept, Steven Anderson; Exterior, Senon B. Franco III; Interior, Jay Bernard.

The Kia Gator, Maybach California Tourer, Hyundai Sidewinder, and GMC PAD exist only in places like the paper posters they occupied at the auto show; no one has had the courage or foresight to actually build one. There were, however, a couple of nice concept cars that might be great to own, particularly the Ford Fairlane sport utility vehicle. Inside the big-windowed Fairlane is a clean, well-lit space, as simple and efficiently executed as an empty box. Yes, it’s a rip-off of the $75,000 Land Rover, but bound to be only half the price. The Fairlane remains slightly unedited. Best lose the plywood dashboard; it may have been meant to exude trendy deconstructionist, IKEA-hip sensibility, but plywood’s not-so-little secret is that it looks like plywood. It makes a sturdy packing crate, but is laughable as the dashboard for an otherwise gorgeously well-realized SUV.

The auto show’s best dollar-for-dollar car was the newly redesigned Audi A4, which covers all the quality, comfort, and performance bases. Whether you’re Donald Trump or Donald’s garden boy, you’ll love it. Any car can be fun to drive at 90 miles per hour on a twisting mountain road with a 1,000-foot cliff on one side and a lethal rock wall on the other, but the Audi A4 is a car that’s fun to drive at 25 miles an hour in L.A. gridlock. It has a four-cylinder engine generating 200 horsepower, and the tires break loose just goosing the gas pedal. Its fit and finish are flawless. The A4 is nimble and quick as a cat and as good as it gets — until Hyundai loses its corporate mind and gives us the Gator.

Palm Springs Life

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