Friday, September 12, 2008

The Nissan GT-R – Athlete or Axe Murderer?

If you’ve never seen nor heard of the Nissan GT-R, then you’re probably living in a type of bubble that boasts several guest houses; tennis court; indoor and outdoor lap pools; home theater and nightclub for 200. And your Pap says Good For You, Stay That Way!

For the rest of us, we’ve had the displeasure of seeing these cars on streets like Roscoe, Burbank, 196th, Hoover and on and on. And you can’t get away from it because it’s more powerful than you – it’s Godzilla and it’s pure brute force. Other sports cars make associations with a race horse, a shark or an agile cat – all lithe animals with precision movement. But not the GT-R, it’s adopted the persona of the Japanese monster Godzilla. It mindlessly and aimlessly tears down buildings and turns cars into pancakes. Yeah, it’s powerful, but for what?...what need was filled that was not previously by say, an Italian exotic? Yes, in the $70k range, it’s a fraction of the cost for cars we’re used to seeing around L.A., but is it really necessary to give that much power to the masses? – “with great power comes responsibility.” Give the Porsche 911 Turbo that much power and it’s an athlete; give it to the GT-R and it’s an axe murderer.

Currently, the GT-R does 0-60 in 3.2 seconds! And they’re making an even faster version next year called the GT-R V Spec. For now, performance is in the upper end of exotic car territory. But unlike your Ferrari, your Porsche Turbo or your Lamborghini…well, actually your Pap just said it all. The GT-R is simply unlike those cars. Nobody within a 5-carat stone’s throw of Sunset Boulevard recognizes this car because quite simply, it looks like a $25k Mitsubishi, $249/mo. with your good credit. The car looks like it’s been kicked around a few times by the large foot of an upright lizard, which is where the car seems to get some of its severe creases and tumultuous angles. It doesn’t look terrible (it’s not like BMW designers got their hands on it) but it does have a certain childish, remote control car type styling.

You certainly can boast of the performance, maybe tolerate the spine-compacting suspension and even overlook the cheap interior, but in better parts of L.A., the folks you share the road with aren’t so open-minded. Nissan execs think they can entice you to buy their GT-R rather than a 911 Turbo since it costs half as much and performs “better.” But we’ve seen mark-ups on the GT-R pushing the price to over $125k. And then we put down the puff-puff and looked again…and our bloodshot eyes did not lie, it was in fact $125,000 after the dealer mark-up. At a minimum, six-figures can be the expected market-price of the GT-R.

Six damn figures for a Nissan! No doubt valets and car-wash attendants will appreciate this car. And the prospect of having the car serviced alongside a Nissan Sentra and being offered free Folgers coffee at the service bay does sweeten the pot. Pleeze! There’s a market for this car, but it’s not going to lure 911 Turbo drivers away from Porsche, and you’ll rarely see them in Beverly Hills. And if you do…Pssss – they were bussed in.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Germans Made it Better

In L.A., we sure love our German cars. BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes are par for the course. We know some of the Fans might be new to the German marques and might be tempted to brag about some of the great technology they didn’t have in their Civic and what not, but let your Pap help you get your ego in check before you embarrass yourself and are asked to get to the back of the line at The Hometown Buffet. Some of the wonderful technology in Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches are indeed wonderful, but they were not necessarily the first to adopt such technologies. The following automotive technologies first debuted on American cars, failed and was later brought back and popularized by the Germans.

Before the 1986 Mercedes S-Class debuted as the first car with standard airbags, it was 1974 when GM first introduced their “Air Cushion Restraint System.” These early airbags were offered as an option on Buicks, Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles, with the ’74 Oldsmobile Toronado as the very first production car to have “airbags.” Problems arose when airbags were thought of as an alternative to using seat belts. Airbags in fact did not provide the same protection from head-on accidents as seat belts, and after several deaths these primitive airbags, they were discontinued. The airbag was resurrected in the early 80s by the almighty Mercedes, this time not as replacement for seat belts, but as a supplemental restraint system (SRS, an acronym that appears in all cars today).

In 2002, the BMW 7-series debut iDrive, which is essentially the relocation of many car functions such as climate control, radio and more into an LCD screen controlled by software, and thereby eliminating the vast number of buttons typically crowding the console and dash. But it was in 1986 when we first saw this type of button-eliminating, screen-menu access device on the Buick Riviera. It was called the Electronic Control Center (ECC), which featured a touch screen computer interface to control radio, climate control and provided diagnostic access to the vehicle. It also featured a date reminder and trip computer…much like what iDrive does today! By today’s standards, the screen on a microwave looks better and that annoying beep each time you pressed a button would drive your Pap insane. Although it only lasted two years on the Buick, it was the start of something different. Today, Audi has their MMI and Mercedes has their COMAND but dare we say it was all thanks to the Buick ECC?

As far back as the early 50s, an automatic headlamp option called the Autronic Eye was available on certain GM cars. A periscope-like sensor sitting atop the dashboard sensed surrounding light conditions and from oncoming traffic. It would adjust between high and low beams according to those conditions. The problem was an erratic flickering between high and low beams from the slightest change in light, such as from street lamps. By the late 50s, the name Autronic Eye was dropped, but the system was tweaked and reintroduced as Guidematic Headlamps – a self-dimming headlamp system that had addition of a driver-adjustable sensitivity switch. Unfortunately, lingering memories of the Autronic Eye made buyers shy away from the Guidematic Headlamps and so they were never popular. By the mid-60s, Guidematic was discontinued from all GM brands except Cadillac, which offered the option until the late 80s.

Today, certain Mercedes come with the Intelligent Light System, which boasts a feature that brightens the headlights at highway speeds; illuminates a wider area on dark country roads and turns the headlights in the direction of the steering wheel to illuminate curves. BMW has High Beam Assistant and Adaptive Headlights which does the same. High Beam Assistant automatically switches from low to high beams when the road is dark and back to low beam when oncoming traffic approaches. Adaptive Headlights turn the headlights in the direction of the steering wheel to illuminate curves. Yes, all done seamlessly and without an erratic flickering or a silly-looking periscope sensor.

Back in the mid 80s, Nissan (okay, not American, but follow along anyway) introduced an active suspension on certain Nissan and Infiniti cars. Called Sonar Suspension, a sensor “read” the road surface and adjusted the shock dampening accordingly. The system also allowed for two driver-selectable settings – a soft or firm ride at the touch of a button. Available until 1992, Nissan’s system was not well-received, as neither of the two available settings were appropriate. In “comfort” mode, the car was too springy; in “sport” mode, it was too jittery, and there was no middle setting.

Today, Porsche has PASM and Mercedes has Airmatic, both received with high acclaim since their introduction several years ago. A Porsche with PASM dailed on comfort mode actually gives the car a more relaxed ride, with the ability to instantaneously self-engage into sport mode and stiffen up should sensors detect a sudden aggressive maneuver or turn. Alternatively, the driver can manually select “sport” mode, and the car is immediately transformed into a track-ready sports car. The active suspension on certain Mercedes cars is called Airmatic, which in addition to variable shock dampening, also maintains vehicle height depending on load, and slightly lowers the car at high speeds for improved aerodynamics and handling. And in typical Mercedes fashion, Airmatic ingeniously manages to iron out road imperfections while maintaining road feel. And while Airmatic doesn’t sound any less hokey than Sonar Suspension, at least it does the job right.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Treats for Your House Guest

As the holiday weekend approaches, are you ready for your out-of-town guests? Both guest houses are ready; you’ve got prime dinner reservations each evening and you’re ready for some late-night pop-star debauchery at The Kress. So what’s left? the L.A. Car Couture, we suggest more than just mints on the bed. We want our guests to have use of a “couture-car” and we’d rather not have them get into our own garage, just like we’d rather not have them get into our wine cellar. So here’s a recommendation from your Pap…rent them a set of wheels for the weekend. Yes we know in the evening you’ll most definitely have car service but while you’re nursing your hangover by the pool, your guests can motor on over to your house in the Bu for a little day-trip and some much needed negative ions.

It’ll cost you a little bit of money but believe your Pap, it’ll save you in the end when Laurie from Lancaster rear ends them in her Nissan 350Z with bad bodywork and good wheels.

If you wanna keep it simple and low key, how about a Porsche 911 for about $600/day. Your guest may not want too much attention and a 911 will ensure they’ll stay invisible. And with great handling, it’ll get them through windy Sunset Bl. safely as they make their way down to the Pacific Ocean.

Do your guests want some flashy fun? Are they ready for their paparazzi-moment in L.A.? Get them a Ferrari F430 convertible. At around $3,000/day, this is when you remember the great time they showed you in New York a couple months ago. Don’t forget that dinner at The Waverly Inn, and we hope you did get that coveted reservation phone number so you can return another Saturday evening without having to deal with that dreaded cattle of new-money.

Didn’t get that reservation number? Then an Aston Martin Vantage Roadster will do just fine…$2,000/day, and stay away from the Cristal pleeze!

It wasn’t a threat; they actually traveled with their children? Pray the domestic was brought along. In this case, the Maserati Quattroporte is perfect to carry the herd. Just $700/day and the trunk will hold the damn stroller. It even comes in an automatic.

So here you go. For glamour, for survival or for return of a favor – these are the cars for your out-of-town guests. Now hurry; click the links below and get your assistant on the phone before they run out!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Hypocrisy of Hybrids

The Fans know good and well that your Pap is not taken by hybrid vehicles. In every high-end L.A. neighborhood, we see these hideous things being driven with self-righteous indignance and reflex-dumbing cell phone use. In an effort to look “green,” these individuals will often drive a hybrid, sacrificing style and luxury for what they believe will earn them social approval. But don’t you be fooled! Your Pap has the skinny on these wolves in sheep's clothing.

In L.A., where “faking-it-til-you-make-it” is as common as another day of hazy sunshine, who do you think are driving the $100k+ Mercedes CL, the Bentley Continental GTs and the like? Your Pap has seen many of these hyper-expensive luxury or entry-level exotics crammed into tight little Brentwood-adjacent carports or Santa Monica micro-condos south of Montana Avenue. These flashy cars often come to mind as your typical gas guzzlers, with their mps in the low teens. But before we give these “fake-it-til-you-make-it” babes any heat about their seeming environmental vendetta, let’s look at the situation closer. Their overall environmental footprint is actually quite small. Most of these people with the luxo-exotic cars are on a mileage restriction lease of 7,500 to 10,000 miles a year. They’re also living in sub-2,000 sq.ft. 2+2 rentals, condos or small houses with little amenities. And you can bet they do everything they can to cut back at home, like dimming lights, minimizing a/c usage and the like. These are the same people who would never drive something like a Toyota Prius because it would erode their affulence disguise.

Now take the hybrid-driver. What better disguise is there than a Prius for the moneyed living in sprawling Bel Air estates and Beverly Hills compounds. In households of 2-3 cars per person, you can bet a Prius conspiracy is afoot! With $200k+ exotic gas guzzlers tucked away in tastefully appointed and humidity-controlled garages, the Prius makes its appearance when the occasion calls for keeping up a “nice-guy” appearance like at Red Carpet events, philanthropic fundraisers and, well you get it! Meanwhile the Misses is shuttling herself and a very expensive Hermes crocodile Birkin around daily in an 8mpg English SUV or drophead coupe (we don’t need to mention the specific vehicle; you already know). So while the Prius is a different type of “keeping up appearances” its owners are leaving an environmental crater with their 10,000+ sq. ft. mansions, heated lap pools and lighted tennis courts…all for a family of 3-4. And believe your Pap, no mansion is being lit by fluorescent bulbs, thank you.

So before we attack the wannabes in their Astons and Bentleys, let’s put a magnifying glass to the Prius drivers! When you see a hybrid conspicuously parked in circular, gated driveway north of Sunset…well, you now know!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Location. Location. Location.

No we’re not talking about real estate; we are talking about cars named after places. Your Pap would like to take the Fans on a walk down Memory Lane, USA. Let’s have a quick look at several American car companies who have named cars after places. We’ve always had a silly fascination for these “worldly” cars and here is just a small sampling.

From the late 70s to early 90s, Chrysler gave us the “Fifth Avenue,” named after the glitzy street in Manhattan where the Fans aspire to keep a pied-a-terre overlooking the park. From 1979-1983 The Fifth Avenue began as a trim-level package offered on the existing Chrysler New Yorker and was called the New Yorker Fifth Avenue. The package included two-tone paint with matching leather interior and landau roof (for the young Fans out there, landau is a simulated convertible look with the roof of the car wrapped in vinyl…you would know this if you didn’t grow up in a household of Mercedes!). While this type of roof treatment seems odd to us today, it signified American luxury back then. Thankfully we’re not seeing this type of thing on even the gaudiest Cadillac DTS or Mercedes S-Class today! After 1983, the Fifth Avenue branched off as it’s own model, no longer a trim level, and got a body all to its own. The Fifth Avenue lasted until 1993, being the last of Chrysler’s V8, rear wheel drive sedan, until the 2005 introduction of the gangsta Chrysler 300...hollar!

Another fascinating name to come from Chrysler was Corinthian Leather. Do you mean leather from the Greek city-state Corinth dating back to antiquity? Nope! – this was a marketing term made up by Chrysler to describe a certain soft, luxurious leather used in Chryslers in the 70s and 80s. The name first appeared in 1974 on the Chrysler Imperial and later made famous by celebrity spokesperson Ricardo Montalban (from Fantasy Island; 10 p.m., right after Love Boat…ABC). With that accent and the way he rolled those rrrrrs, you almost believed Corinthian leather was a supple, exotic hide…from that Greek island. But in fact, there is no such leather as Corinthian leather, and it’s not from Corinth – it’s made in a factory in New Jersey!

Again using Manhattan geography, going a blocks east of Fifth, is Park Avenue…the Buick Park Avenue (1975-2005). Like the Fifth Avenue, the Park Avenue started off as a luxury trim level on another car, the Buick Electra. Not until 1991 did the Park Avenue became a standalone model. The Electra/Park Avenue was a full size, near-luxury car. We’re not sure how a posh New York street complements a car named after a Greek mythological character whose name was adopted to characterize a psychological concept – the Electra Complex. But then again, we don’t understand a lot of things about American cars.

Cadillac’s Eldorado, a large 2-door luxury coupe had a long run, from 1953-2002. For so many years, the Eldorado was the epitome of style and posh motoring. It had the appeal similar to what is today’s BMW 6-series or Mercedes CL. The name comes not from any actual locale, but rather a legendary city of gold in South American folklore. The story of Eldorado is that of European explorers discovering a place of immense riches, gold and jewels. But where is it exactly no one knows…not even Cadillac. Within the Eldorado lineup was the top-of-the line Eldorado Biarritz. Biarritz is the luxurious seaside resort town in southwestern France. Biarritz boasts some of the best beaches in Europe and is also a popular surf destination. The Eldorado Biarritz was a trim level offering even more luxury…again the landau roof with opera lights and velour or leather-covered pillowy seats with tufted buttons that remind your Pap of a furniture in grandpa’s library. We find the name a mismatch – an easy-breezy European coastal resort town doesn’t blend well with the car of a Texas millionaire in a white suit and bolo tie, does it?

Are the fans up to their eyeballs in confusion yet with all this tawk of old American cars? Well your Pap has just the thing to bring you back, right back to that ever so familiar 200ft. long driveway leading up to your Mapleton Drive estate, where you just might be parking your 2010 Ferrari California (your Pap has discussed in a previous posting). It’s an exotic hardtop convertible for daily-use. It’s great fun and frivolity! But just because it’s California casual all the way, this Ferrari doesn’t come cheap...we’re talking $200k+, but hey no problem – maybe you found Eldorado!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Paris Hilton is WISE!

Paris Hilton, one of L.A.’s most important, most respected and one of the most influential pillars of our community spoke a couple years ago about hybrids – a statement that was mocked. Those famous words heard throughout The Basin were: “I like hybrids, but a lot of them aren’t that cute.” Now here is a lovely young lady wise beyond her years, but the media hastily spun these insightful words as idiocy. Well your Pap agrees with Miz Hilton; and what a truism her words are!

In L.A., what individual is unable to recognize a truly beautiful car from a hideous one? True, one must train his eyes in order to recognize the difference. If you see enough that is beautiful, you start to recognize the ugly. And in L.A., a veritable concourse of beautiful cars, there’s plenty of opportunity to train the eye. You need only drive on the Sunset Strip; San Vicente Bl. to Ocean Ave.; or LaCienega from Wilshire to Sunset to see a continuous parade of beautiful and expensive cars. So what is there to attack in Miz Hilton’s statement? If anything, this is a plea to produce better looking environmentally friendly vehicles that will appeal to more people. We are sick of those Priuses stigmatizing our eyes, with its infiltration into every damn L.A. neighborhood!

So Paris, here’s something your Pap thinks you might like. It’s the electric-powered Tesla Roadster. A pretty convincing sports car that goes 0-60 in 3.9 seconds…that’s hot! The Tesla has been out for a couple years now and still, we’re not seeing them lined up in front of Sunset Plaza cafes like we see Ferraris and Lamborghinis. And while admittedly we may not rush out to trade in our Ferraris and Lamborghinis, the Tesla isn’t as much a concession as other environmentally friendly cars...and it looks pretty darn good. At around $100k and production numbers of just 1,500 planned for 2009, the Tesla is definitely L.A. Car Couture-approved. So here you have it, Paris. It may not be the Bentley Continental GTC or the Mercedes SLR you’ve been used to, but it sure is a lot cuter than that big ‘ol Chevy Yukon Hybrid we know you’ve purchased.