Insider Garage

Living in Los Angeles forced me to stop driving my classics everyday. Maybe, it's for the best.

by Conner Golden
12 September 2022 5 min read
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Los Angeles is an incredible place to be an automotive enthusiast.

Car culture courses thick and pure through LA’s veins like grease dripping from a street taco. There’s as much automotive variety in this city as there is cultural diversity; if there’s an automotive niche—or a niche of a niche—you can find it on full boost in southern California.

Certain streets and parking lots shimmer with a perpetual parade of interesting cars, a patchwork quilt of gleaming hypercars, buzzing imports, hopping lowriders, and sunburned survivors. You’ll meet some of the most welcoming and wonderful people out on the streets, with communities and clubs for every type of enthusiast. And the roads! Oh god, the roads. When I die, bury me somewhere alongside Angeles Crest.

Los Angeles is an awful place to be an automotive enthusiast.

My former 1999 Mazda MX-5 Miata on Glendora Mountain Road

Tainting this kaleidoscope of vehicular wonder is a toxic stew of hassle and sunk cost. Traffic, exorbitant gas prices, lobotomized drivers, and the omnipresent threat of the overzealous LAPD are the obvious bummers that tamp the physical act of driving, but it’s hidden frustrations that can make ownership a nightmare.

As of this writing, the average price of a home in LA is right at $1 million. So, if you’re an enthusiast of regular means, you live in an apartment, which means you automatically must fight for parking if you live in one of the many buildings who do not offer assigned spots. This is annoying if you own a car. It is all-consuming if you own several cars.

Regular street parking almost invariably leads to regular dents, dings, and scrapes. If you’re near the ocean, the marine layer will render anything old into a pile of brown dust. Something breaks? You’re working on it where it lays unless you bring it to a shop. If you have assigned parking at your apartment, you’re usually forced to bring it to a mechanic anyways, since the majority of complexes do not allow you to work on your own car for anything beyond a battery replacement or bulb swap. Ask me how I know. And you’re going to want to keep your car in tip-top mechanical shape, considering I can think of fewer scenarios scarier than a blown radiator on the side of the 405 at rush hour.

My 1998 Volvo S70 T5 in the Santa Monica Mountains

This is to say nothing of the physical hazards of LA’s rotten infrastructure. Hollywood’s silver-screen representation of LA has done nothing to prepare visitors for the deteriorated roadways that await their hapless rental Camry. Busted stretches of highway expansion joints on the main arteries interrupt conversation and will convince you of a newfound flat tire. A significant portion of parking lot entrances are perplexingly steep and apex at a sharp point, while the interiors of some LA garage structures can prove treacherous for even a Mini Cooper.

Don’t stray too close to the dips and missing chunks bordering the edges of surface streets, lest you seek catastrophic sidewall damage. If you take any of the strange V-shaped drainage ditches scattered around the city at speed, you can expect to leave the concrete some gratuity in the form of oil pan fragments and the fidelity of your control arms.

In short—this is not a place friendly to the average classic car enthusiast.

I love classic cars. I’ve dedicated my career and most of my rapidly dwindling brainpower to the worship of the older stuff. It’s a shame, then, that I am mentally unfit for relying on a classic car for regular transportation in Los Angeles at this time. As a professed neurotic, driving anything through the City of Angels that could be considered unreliable or problematic is an exercise in hyper-fixation and weaving anxiety from the threads of tranquility.

Hey, at least they both have flat engines.

Hold up—did I just hear ticking? Is that my lifters? I just had the oil changed—maybe the mechanic put in the wrong oil. He’s a specialist with three decades of experience with this particular car, but people mess up, you know? I bet there’s catastrophic engine failure brewing, I just know it. I know it! Then, I’ll be stranded. Then—then!—I’ll have to call Hagerty roadside services, and wait while they thread through the same traffic jam that did in said engine. Man, isn’t the shop rate at my place like $200? This is going to cost five-figures. How much is this whole car worth? God, there goes my weekend—no, my month.

Oh. It was just the A/C compressor cycling on and off. Haha! We’re good!

I know, I know—I need to relax, I need to chill. It’s not like this mania is fueled by a history of disastrous automotive incidents, either. My family’s 1981 Porsche 911 SC never once died on me, nor did my cranky and very sketchy 1974 VW Baja Bug I daily drove in college. So far, my 2002 Carrera has been rock solid, as was my 2005 Pontiac GTO. In fact, it’s the traditionally reliable stuff that’s left me stranded. My unmodified 1999 Miata caught fire en route through the Mojave desert—thank you, cheap coil pack!—a few months after I grenaded the valvetrain of an automatic 2016 Corvette Stingray convertible press car.

My ’74 Baja Bug parked off Rodeo Drive? Or somewhere in rural Oklahoma? You decide.

Point is, even if it’s possible to drive a classic every day in Los Angeles, it simply isn’t enjoyable. My daily driver for the past six months has been a 1998 Volvo S70 T5. This five-speed, front-wheel drive turbobrick is a grand Swedish thing with oodles of character and barrels of torque—or is that tjörk? In theory, it’s the sort of modern classic that a young collector can use as an actual car. In reality, the air conditioning doesn’t work, the engine is absurdly thirsty for a 2.3-liter, some parts are hard or impossible to come by, and I don’t always want to drive stick in gridlock when I just want to get the hell home. Yeah, I don’t think it’s fun driving manual in traffic. Sue me!

I needed a new car before summer hit and I sweated through the seats of my Volvo. No, not a different car, a new car. Something I don’t have to pay out the nose for and won’t burn my ass in severe depreciation when this wild market starts to settle. Something with a known history, something that I can sustain simply with oil changes and tire rotations for 100,000 miles while I spend the big bucks on keeping my 996 on the road. Naturally, I made a list of all the hot hatches, compact sports cars, and generally interesting rides that would scratch the fun rash during errands and not turn to stapled Jell-O when snaked through Malibu canyons.

I bought a 2022 Subaru Crosstrek Sport.

Not visible: my grand mal identity crisis

Please, stay your jeers and hatemail—this has already triggered every sort of identity and existential crisis that you can imagine. A crossover. No, a CVT crossover. Are you ok, man? Have you considered medication? Therapy?

Yeah—this is my therapy. Air conditioning, CarPlay, and the zone-out CVT is what keeps me sane during my daily trudge through LA. Plus, the Crosstrek is, dare I say it…good. Plenty powerful, big enough to carry my stuff, small enough to park anywhere.

So why do I feel so bad? Modern car culture has warped me to feel ashamed that I would trade character for comfort, and acceleration for A/C. For many enthusiasts, there is no Goldilocks option. If I moved back to rural Michigan or my hometown of Dallas, you can bet your lugnuts I’d have found something with a stick and a stoke—but not in LA. I can’t do it, I just can’t do it.

Crosstrek at the Grand Canyon.

Maybe I’m a cautionary tale. Southern California, the place were America’s love affair with the automobile really took flight, has become utterly inhospitable to car lovers of ordinary means.  That likely will become even more the case if Californa succeeds in upholding its 2035 gas ban, leaving regular Joe enthusiasts to fight over a dwindling supply of fun ICE cars.

Or, maybe, I’m just maturing. Our own McKeel Hagerty has gone on record that we’re here to save driving—not necessarily commuting. I still have my (manual) 996 for weekends and short trips, and I’d add an MGB GT to the fleet if the coastal air wouldn’t melt the poor thing down to its tires. Save the special cars for the special drives. For the rest of it, there’s my Crosstrek.

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Comments

  • Joe says:

    Completely rational decision for daily driving in the Los Angeles metropolis. Don’t apologize!

  • Eric says:

    The older (very) I get, the more my brain takes me to the dark side of practicality. Over the past three decades, the evil brain cells have taken me across the automotive landscape from high horsepower, manual transmission cars to where I am right now; a 2021 Audi RS6 Avant. It’s the perfect blend of performance and practicality. Dear God, please slay those evil brain cells so that this car, which I absolutely love, is the extent of said evil brain cells’ last act of making me my father.

  • Mike Davis says:

    I often get the “oh” when I tell fellow enthusiasts my 2004 M3 is an SMG. But here’s the truth: I drove it from my home in Temecula to Car Week and back it was fantastic on the SoCal freeways and Carmel hills. Not having to shift in the stop and go and brake/clutch hills was a relief. I have a 2000 Miata SE when I feel the need to shift. BTW – we have some nice roads and winerys here for entertaining driving! Winerys at the end, of course.

  • Mark A Reynolds says:

    Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choices. I live where housing is pretty cheap, as is gas, garages and help plentiful and car culture is everywhere (Detroit). I still don’t daily drive my classic in the 6 – 7 months when they are able to be used without fear of sublimating them to the ground on account of salt and weather.
    Why? Too many zombie drivers on thier phones risking car and body. Besides, my Hagerty policy wont cover that use anyway.

  • ABikePeddler says:

    No. I refuse. I live in the mayhem of Southern California and refuse to go over to the dark side. I do not own a modern daily driver. My daily drivers are vintage collector cars, two of which, admittedly have air conditioning but all are manual transmission and all are maintained by me. Granted, the argument that living in an apartment with limited parking is not conducive to owning a vintage car, the idea you have to own a CVT transmission horrid box is simply not true. Toyotas new GR Corolla is a good example of a fun, do everything future collectible that you can use daily.

  • Scott Vardeman says:

    As I have known your parents for some 5 decades I still remember your dad in his mom’s light green 289 3 speed Mustang doing 1 wheel burnouts!
    I have a good Greendale and customer in Mission Viejo. After he wrecked his high modified 70 Boss 302 ( clone) it came to me in Texas. This car now has the outside appearance of a Boss, that’s where it ends. It is a 100% Modern car,custom built and yes a 5 speed manual. Today’s aftermarket provides for a level of perfection that is found in high end sports cars. To have a near 500 h.p. V8 that is calm enough to drive daily is not easily obtained.
    As a true restorer at heart it is sometimes very difficult to make these changes. Then after the 100’s of hours to make it ALL user friendly and reliable I drive them. Call it the final shakedown. After usual 300 or so ” daily” miles and to my degree of perfe t they go home.
    You’re gonna spend past 100k . But it will turn more heads than a new C8 and the cool factor is off the chart.
    I’m still building at 66. My latest is a ” spec” car. Boss 429 clone. It will have the look. It will have a 429. That’s where it ends. All else is ” Too drawer” tried and trued” aftermarket.
    I’m looking for 600h.p. plus, and as calm as a Mercedes.
    You should have my number still. Uf not reach out to your mom. She can get a hold of me. Scott Vardeman

  • Russ Boyett says:

    Completely understandable choice. Good ground clearance and a suspension designed to take more abuse than the typical grocery getter. As a retired long haul truck driver that drove through Hell A on a regular basis I am very aware of all the hazards that the local highways can throw at you. The last truck I drove before retiring had an auto trans and it was very much appreciated in the stop and go nightmare that the LA area has been for quite some time. When I first started truck driving in the early 70’s I was driving twin stick trans with as much as 20 gears with low horsepower engines so shifting is second nature to me. I love manual trans vehicles but there is some places where they don’t make much sense. Here’s looking at you LA!

  • JJ says:

    Gosh – to each his own, but maybe you ought to re-think your priorities 🤔. I left south Florida after 16 years and returned to rural Northern Michigan and enjoy my manual transmissions and affordable storage buildings with a capacity of 30 cars. It sure was the right move for me. So just think about it ….

  • Mark Fisk says:

    Funny I bought the same car , with a Porsche911 Carrera, 944S ,a couple of 240z’s all sticks I find driving the Crosstrek refreshing. 8 speed paddle shift , XM big booming bass stereo plus AC and 4×4 it’s a great under the radar ride .

  • Bob Paczynski says:

    Glad I live on the east coast and in a location where I can drive (even the ’61 ‘vette) year ’round (Charleston) but the only things holding me back are krappy road repair (quickly being remedied after years of neglect), hell-bent truck drivers (welcome to SC — this problem ain’t never going away), and insidiously and insanely hot humid weather (…. but we are just now coming in to prime driving months for 60+ year old convertible cars with no AC). I take the ‘vette out about 3 times/week.

  • Tom F says:

    No problem driving a 73 911 here in Long Beach.

  • george elicker says:

    THANK A DEMOCRAT THATS RUINED OUR COUNTRY.

  • julius bognar says:

    Right on! I experienced it when I moved from Illinois to So.Cal (Irvine). Not as bad as LA , so I only go up there when necessary and when I do, I drive a ’00 Buick Park Ave, one of the TOL luxury GM cruisers of the day. The classic that I and my sons restored (’70 olds 442 Indy Pace car) after our move to Irvine is driven and enjoyed to special events and of course topless Coast Highway cruises! BTW….I also have another “fun car” …..An ’05 Pont. GTO automatic that can serve both purposes with plenty of power (LS2) comfort (AC) and road hugging reliability. I’ll keep both
    for the Grandkids and drive the PA til it dies…..if that 3500 cc mill ever does! Would like to hear about your experiences down the road as you “break in” that Subaru, as I did at least talk my wife out of an Escalade back in ’17. (she ended up with an Audi Q7). The SVT may have been a better choice if it was available back then.
    Julius

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