All posts by Bob Golfen

Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle.He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs.A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

Pomona hosts inaugural Street Machine Nationals

The TT Camaro from Steve Strope’s Pure Vision, powered by a 1,400 Nelson Racing engine, will be displayed | Strope Pure Vision
The TT Camaro from Steve Strope’s Pure Vision, powered by a 1,400 Nelson Racing engine, will be displayed | Strope Pure Vision

A new event for street rod, pro-touring, custom and muscle car fans debuts March 22-23 when the O’Reilly Auto Parts Street Machine & Muscle Car Nationals takes over the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., bringing the popular Midwest car show to the West Coast for the first time.

More than 1,000 performance machines and show cars are expected for the inaugural event, which is presented by Lucas Oil and billed as “America’s Car Show.” The Nationals will present cars and trucks from professional builders and rarely seen muscle cars from private collections. But it’s also an interactive event with local car collectors and hobbyists invited to bring their own muscle cars and street machines.

Everybody’s invited to enter a special car in the event | Street Machine Nationals
Everyone’s invited to enter a special car | Street Machine Nationals

Not only can owners bring their special cars for display, they can take part in a number of activities, such as autocross competitions, Mickey Thompson Tires Burnout Contests, the Dyno Challenge and special outdoor cruising lanes for styling and profiling. More than 40 judged show awards will be presented. For entry information, see www.StreetMachineAndMuscleCarNationals.com.

A Pro Builders Pavilion headlines the Nationals with some of the hottest magazine feature cars from the country’s top builders. The pavilion will be anchored by the Chip Foose Experience, which will include the P-32 Roadster, built in the style of rat rods and World War II fighter planes, and the exotic custom supercar Hemisfear.

So-Cal Speed Shop will present a number of fantasy cars at the pavilion, including John De Vine’s LS7-powered 1966 Chevelle; Richard Varner’s 675-horsepower So-Cal Coyote Roadster; Jimmy Shine’s 1934 Ford Pick-Up; and the 1961 Caddy Coupe De Ville owned by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.

Chip Foose's intense Hemisfear street rod | Chip Foose Design
Chip Foose’s intense Hemisfear street rod | Chip Foose Design

“Customs from the big name builders just keep pouring in, and we are thrilled to have a Pro Builders Pavilion packed with vehicles from so many of the industry’s top names including Chip Foose and Jimmy Shine,” said Jessica Kirchner, marketing manager for Street Machine & Muscle Car Nationals. “This is a great place for car fans to see these iconic vehicles up-close and even meet some famous builders.”

Other show features include the Performance Midway with vendors’ products and services on display, celebrity autograph sessions, live music by Queen Nation and Joshua Tree, and a Miss Street Machine Nationals contest.

The Street Machine & Muscle Car Nationals is the latest automotive event held on the site of the famed Pomona Swap Meet and Classic Car Show, an event that takes place seven times a year, the next one April 13.

Eye Candy: Porsche Lit Meet

 Photos by Bob Golfen 

Known simply as the Lit Meet among the Porsche faithful, the annual Los Angeles gathering is actually a full three days of multiple celebrations for the little rear-engine sports cars from Germany.

The events surrounding the Porsche and Vintage VW Literature, Toy and Memorablia Swap Meet at the LAX Hilton took place Feb. 28 through March 2, and included a “shop crawl” of the many terrific restoration businesses in the LA area, most focusing on the original 356 and early 911 models,  and a major swap meet in Anaheim of classic Porsche parts and accessories.  

Weather was an issue at this year’s Porsche party, with sometimes-heavy rain coming down on all three days.  But the shows went on without a worry, and thousands of devotees made the pilgrimage and shrugged off the rain.

For a full report on last weekend’s events, click on Porsche Lit Meet.

Porsche fanatics plunge into annual Lit Meet festival

Soggy Porsche fans check out a 911 S during the Sunday swap meet | Bob Golfen
Soggy Porsche fans check out a 911 S during the Sunday swap meet in Anaheim | Bob Golfen

The rain poured down in wind-driven sheets as the crowd at Carparc USA, a Porsche restoration shop in Costa Mesa, Calif., peered from under the open garage doors.

A small river rushed down the gutter past a Porsche 911 – a valuable early one – parked in the street out front. Pelted by the fat drops, the black beauty seemed emblematic of the soggy weather being dished out by the Southern California skies during the events of the Porsche and Vintage VW Literature, Toy and Memorabilia meet.

But it didn’t really matter. This was the major annual gathering of the Porsche faithful, with tens of thousands coming in from all over the country and the world to indulge their passions for the little rear-engine sports cars from Germany.

A customer considers the original posters for sale at the Porsche Lit Meet | Bob Golfen
Customer considers original posters | Bob Golfen

The shows would go on, damp but undampened.

Known simply as the Lit Meet, the Saturday literature, toy and memorabilia show has taken place at the Hilton Hotel adjacent to the airport for the past couple of decades and has spawned a collection of related social events, the “shop crawl” of open houses at the many local Porsche restoration businesses, and a big Sunday swap meet in Anaheim.

California and the Southwest have been in the grip of a vicious drought, so it was with mixed feelings that we ducked under cover as rain fell during all three days of the Porsche lovefest. But nothing was going to wreck this key Porsche weekend, and we joined all the others who shrugged off the weather to join the fun.

And it was well worth it. That quickly became obvious during our first stop Friday at Callas Rennsport in Torrance, which repairs and restores some of the rarest and most valuable Porsches in existence. One of the true exotics of the 1980s was the Porsche 959, and here were three of them parked outside, and another one on a lift. Value? Who knows.

Rare Porsche 959 coupes lined up at Callas Rennsport in Torrance | Bob Golfen
Rare Porsche 959 coupes at Callas Rennsport | Bob Golfen

A member of our group, Erik Black of Phoenix, ecstatically eyed every inch of the very first 1967 Porsche 911 R race car, which was parked in one of the bays. He pointed out the serial number: 11899001R.

“This is the number one 911 R,” Black said in a reverent tone. “It’s so significant, it’s not even funny.”

At Callas, we met a star of Pikes Peak racing, Jeff Zwart, who has pounded Porsches to the top of the mountain nine times.

“This is really a great event, the greatest gathering of Porsche people in the nation,” Zwart said of the Lit Meet weekend. “It really is a special deal.”

The actual Lit Meet was Saturday inside two large ballrooms at the hotel, so the weather was not an issue as Porsche fanatics packed in to browse, buy and carry away the myriad stuff brought by more than 250 vendors. The goodies included rare books and literature, original posters and advertising, loads of vintage models and toys, and an impressive selection of new-old stock and reproduction parts for the classic 356 and early 911 models, which have become increasingly valuable in recent years.

Porsche 911s under restoration at Carparc USA | Bob Golfen
Porsche 911s under restoration at Carparc USA | Bob Golfen

That was a major takeaway from the weekend: The rising interest in and booming values of 911s from the 1960s and early ’70s have heated up restoration efforts of the iconic sports cars because it’s now more economically feasible to turn rusted basket cases into polished gems. Some shops, such as Carparc, have become dedicated to finding and restoring early 911s.

Tate Askew, a restorer and collector visiting from Atlanta, was checking out a pristine 911 at Willhoit Auto Restoration in Long Beach. He said these cars are his focus. “I have five ’65s that I’m building right now.”

Askew, who has been a regular at Lit Meet events for many years, noted that California is the center of the universe for Porsche enthusiasts, with some of the best work coming out of the So Cal restoration shops.

“California is Porsche Mecca,” he said. “Back East, when we see a great paint job on a Porsche, we call it a ‘California paint job’.”

The immaculate Willhoit shop, one of the premiere Porsche restoration facilities in the nation, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Visitors at Willhoit’s shop eye a Speedster body stripped of paint | Bob Golfen
Visitors at Willhoit’s shop eye a Speedster body | Bob Golfen

“Porsches are my passion and I’ve been lucky enough to have it work for me,” the affable John Willhoit said as he chatted with his many visitors.

Nearby, people gazed up at a red 1964 356 Carrera 2 that was held high on a lift to display its underside, including its exotic four-cam engine. Prices for these very-special performance cars have climbed into the high six figures. This one was the best of show winner at the Dana Point Concours d’Elegance

One of the most fascinating stops on our shop-crawl tour was Steve Hogue Enterprises, where metal craftsmen create steel and aluminum bodies and parts for restoration efforts. The shop is famous for its intricate reconstruction of the 1951 Glockler Porsche, crafting the aluminum body over a handmade wooden buck.

Among several current projects, the metal men are creating the body for an early Porsche race car, the RS61 Spyder.

A 911 race car was fitted with new rear sheet metal with flares | Bob Golfen
911 racer at Hogue’s fitted with flared rear bodywork | Bob Golfen

“We have the (original) frame and we’re making the body for it,” Hogue said, pointing out that the reconstructed front section of the body that came with the frame was not up to snuff and would be discarded. Perfection rules at this shop.

Sunday’s big swap meet on the grounds of the Phoenix Club in Anaheim harkened to the days before the Internet when one of the few ways to locate rare parts involved everyone toting their collections of bits and pieces to events like this to buy, sell and trade.

Of course, the social aspect to the swap meet is critical, with the annual gathering providing an opportunity to meet and greet old Porsche buddies. The occasional cloudburst hampered some of the activities, although the attendance was pretty strong.

Or as one vendor noted when asked how he was doing, “Not bad. It would be better if the weather was cooperating.”

A rainbow arcs over Porsches at European Collectibles | Bob Golfen
A rainbow arcs over Porsches at European Collectibles | Bob Golfen

With much of the swap meet contained in a large tent, the only real downer regarding the weather was that it reduced the number of local Porsche owners who brought their cars out to display. Usually, the grassy field adjacent to the swap meet is filled with personal Porsches. There was a good number of them scattered around the grounds, just not the usual horde.

A meaningful moment happened Saturday at European Collectibles, a Costa Mesa restoration complex that throws one of the biggest parties of the weekend. Dozens of gorgeously restored 356 and 911 models were lined up outside in the rain, water beading up on their gleaming finishes, while hundreds of visitors were huddled in the open-sided shop, eating barbecue and sipping beers.

Gradually, the rain stopped and, to the delight of everyone, a rainbow arced overhead, rising above the beautiful old Porsches. These cars were a true pot of gold.

See ClassicCars.com on Saturday for an Eye candy gallery

from the Porsche Lit Meet weekend.

Amelia Island Concours celebrates the rare and unusual

The 1960 Aston Martin DB4 GTZ will be among the Zagato-bodied cars on display. (Photo: Amelia Island Concours)
The 1960 Aston Martin DB4 GTZ will be among the Zagato cars on display. (Photo: Amelia Island Concours)

 On Sunday, March 9, the 19th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance brings its showcase of 300 rare and exotic automobiles to the fairways of The Golf Club of Amelia Island at The Ritz-Carlton, Fla., for one of the most-beloved automotive events of the year.

The full celebration of great automobiles on Amelia Island takes place over three days, starting March 7 with a number of classic-car shows, auctions and seminars leading up to the main event, the Concours d’Elegance.

The Concours is held on the fairways of the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. (Photo: Mattstonecars.com)
The Concours is held on the fairways of the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. (Photo: Mattstonecars.com)

The Amelia Island Concours has turned into one of the world’s great concours events, as well as one of the biggest, which founder and chairman Bill Warner says can be challenging as well as gratifying.

“It’s just grown and grown and grown; it’s kind of taken on a life of its own,” Warner said in a telephone interview. “The first one we did here we put together in 90 days. We could never do that again. I did it by myself with a laptop.”

He certainly never expected to have 300 show cars on the field, Warner added. “I’m just a shameless car guy, and it’s hard to say no to some cars.”

Warner, who has become something of a celebrity himself in classic car circles, credits the show’s success to a focus on creativity and an eye for the unusual.

“We come up with ideas that we want to do before the other shows do them,” he said. “That’s always the challenge. We want to have cars that people haven’t seen before, so even the most jaded collector walks away saying, ‘I never knew that car existed.’ Then we’ve done our job.”

The unique American Underslung is the honored marque for 2014. (Photo: Ultimatecarpage.com)
The unique American Underslung is the honored marque for 2014. (Photo: Ultimatecarpage.com)

Amelia Island’s originality can be seen in its choice of honored marque for the 2014 concours: American Underslung, one of the most innovative automotive brands from the early days of motoring, produced by an auto company that existed from 1905-1914.

“We have 14 of them, which has to be a record,” Warner said of the beautifully unique Underslungs.

The honoree for the 2014 Amelia Island Concours is sports racer Jochen Mass and marks the 25th anniversary of his victory in the 1989 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Mercedes-Benz Sauber C9. Mass will be a guest at the concours and is the subject of the event’s official poster by hot rod artist Tom Fritz.

Other special features for the 2014 edition of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance include:

A display of 16 significant McLaren race cars to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the competition marque, which remains the only racing entity to win the Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship, the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Can-Am series championship. Among the cars on display will be Johnny Rutherford’s Gulf and Mark Donohue’s Sunoco McLaren Indy racers and two Marlboro F1 cars, one of them the winner of the Spanish Grand Prix.

The 1956 Chrysler Diablo/Dart concept car. (Archive photo: Paul Gould)
The 1956 Chrysler Diablo/Dart. (Archive photo: Paul Gould)

A reunion of nine important Chrysler concept cars, featuring the Thunderbolt Roadster and dual-cowl Newport from 1941; the Chrysler Ghia, first shown at the 1952 Paris Motor Show; the 1952 Chrysler d’Elegance; 1954 La Comtesse, which has not been seen in public for more than a half century; 1955 Chrysler Falcon, designer Virgil Exner’s favorite concept car; 1956 Diablo/Dart; 1958 Hemi-powered Dual Ghia in original unrestored condition; and the famed 1963 Chrysler Turbine.

The Packard Concepts of Ralph Marano, comprising all 10 Packard show cars from the 1950s and marking the first time at Amelia Island that an entire class has been dedicated to cars from a single man’s collection.

A Zagato class that celebrates the beautifully aerodynamic performance cars with bodies by the Italian coach builder founded in 1919 by Ugo Zagato. Cars wearing the “Lightning Z” badge include those from Ferrari, Maserati, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Hispano-Suiza, Fiat, Rolls-Royce, Lancia, Lamborghini, MG, Bentley, Porsche, Spyker and Aston Martin, for which Zagato created the landmark DB4 GT Zagato.

The first BMW Art Car, a 3.0 CSL GT racer painted by acclaimed artist Alexander Calder to run in the 1975 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is part of a special class of BMW “Batmobile” race cars. BMW race cars have been used as painting canvases in an annual tradition by such world-renowned artists as Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

The Lautenschlager Mercedes won the 1914 French Grand Prix. (Archive photo: George Wingard)
The Lautenschlager Mercedes won the 1914 French Grand Prix. (Archive photo: George Wingard)

The historic Lautenschlager Mercedes race car that a century ago won the 1914 French Grand Prix, which was considered the “Race of the Century.”

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Maserati, the unique Maserati 450S Le Mans “Costin Coupe” raced by Stirling Moss in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1957 and dubbed by its Maserati mechanics as “Il Monstro,” Italian for “the monster.”

A magnificent aluminum-bodied 1930 Duesenberg Model J Speedster, a disappearing-top convertible with coachwork by the Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, Calif., from the Gen. William Lyon Family collection. The Amelia Island appearance will be the Duesenberg’s first showing on the East Coast.

A pair of seminars with panels featuring some of the most-legendary names in racing will take place during the three days of Amelia Island. The Great Offy Drivers Seminar features a celebration of Offenhauser-powered race cars Friday, March 7, at 3 p.m., and The Merchants of Speed seminar, which explores the hidden world of motorsports management, will be offered Saturday, March 8, starting at 10:30 a.m.

A third collector-car auction, Hollywood Wheels, has been added to the docket, joining RM Auctions and Gooding & Company that hold sales prior to the Concours d’Elegance. Gooding happens March 7 at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation; RM has its sale March 8 in the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Resort; and Hollywood Wheels takes place March 8 at the Omni Amelia, though at a later time than the RM event.

Other events happening during the Amelia Island weekend include a concours-vehicle road tour Friday morning, automotive art shows, manufacturer test drives, vendors and receptions.

For a listing of times and events at Amelia Island, see www.ameliaconcours.org.

Hemi ‘godfather’ details the birth 50 years ago of the legendary racing engine

Hoover with a 1962 Max Wedge

The utter dominance of Chrysler’s brand-new Hemi V8 racing engine at the 1964 Daytona 500 astounded NASCAR fans and competitors alike. Plymouths powered by 426-cid Hemis ran to a lopsided 1-2-3 victory at Daytona, with Richard Petty taking the checkered flag in his No. 43 Plymouth after leading for 184 of the 200 laps at a record-breaking average speed of more than 154 mph.

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LA Lit Meet lights up Porsche fanatics

Vintage Porsche toys, posters and parts are among the LA Lit Meet’s offerings. (Illustration: LA Lit and Toy Show)
Vintage Porsche toys, posters and parts are among the LA Lit Meet’s offerings. (Illustration: LA Lit and Toy Show)

For Porsche fanatics, it’s known simply as the LA Lit Meet. That serves to sum up the unbridled Porsche frenzy that hits the Los Angeles area next week.

The main event is the 31th annual Los Angeles Porsche and Vintage VW Literature, Toy and Memorabilia Show, which takes place March 1 at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton hotel. Hundreds of vendors spread a sweeping collection of primarily Porsche items – advertising and press materials, toys and models, books and technical literature, original factory documents, steering wheels and trim pieces, and a wide variety of collector’s items.

It’s massive and it attracts passionate Porsche people from around the world, so the social aspect becomes almost as engaging as the event itself. The emphasis is on early Porsche sports cars and competition models, and there’s quite a contingent questing for 356 and early 911 artifacts as well as racing posters and other pieces from the 1950s-’70s glory days of Porsche racing .

Admission is $10, but savvy shoppers pony up $30 for an early-bird ticket that gets you in the door and at the goodies just as the dealers are setting up. For more information, see www.lalitandtoyshow.com.

Porsche shops, such as AutoKennel in Costa Mesa, will host open houses. (Photo: AutoKennel)
Porsche shops, such as AutoKennel in Costa Mesa, will host open houses. (Photo: AutoKennel)

But that’s only part of the multi-day extravaganza. The experience includes a series of informal open houses at Porsche restoration shops stretching from San Diego to north of Los Angeles from Thursday through Saturday after the Lit Show, including such famed venues (to Porsche folk) as Wilhoit Auto Restorations, Sierra Madre Collection, AutoKennel, Callas Rennsport, Steve Hogue Enterprises, European Collectibles, Liberty Motorsports and Carparc USA.

Another major happening occurs Sunday with the All-Porsche Swap and Car Display presented by the 356 Club of Southern California. For adherents of the classic tubs, this is the main draw of the schedule.

Located at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, the swap meet harkens to the days before the Internet when hobbyists and restorers trolled through acres of parts and pieces for just the right original bit. It also serves as a gathering place for the Porsche faithful to meet and greet.

There’s an 11,500-square-foot indoor area for swap tables as well as some two acres of adjacent swap-meet area. There also is a large soccer field to display cars for sale. All in all, a mad jumble of stuff that celebrates the booming interest in early Porsches.

For the run of Porsche-shop open houses and more information about the Sunday swap meet, see related events.

Simeone Museum offers auto photography workshop

Learn how to photographic classic cars from the experts at the Simeone Museum. (Photo: Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum)
Photographing classic cars is the focus of workshop. (Photo: Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum)

Learn the fine art of automobile photography at one of the nation’s premier showcases for historic race cars when the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia presents a full-day workshop Sunday, March 2.

The Simeone Museum encourages photography of its beautiful displays of vintage sports race cars and the workshop is designed to provide professional advice on lighting, photo angles and other aspects of automotive photography, both indoors and outdoors, and including video.

The workshop will run from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and will feature three leading automotive photographers — Michael Furman, Dom Miliano and Andrew Taylor.

The cost is $75, which includes lunch, and will be limited to 50 participants.

To register, visit Simeone Museum photography.

Cross-country drives celebrate Mustang’s 50th

Thousands of Mustangs will hit the open road in April. (Photo: Mustangs Across America)
Thousands of Mustangs will hit the open road in April. (Photo: Mustangs Across America)

 What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang than getting together with a bunch of like-minded enthusiasts and driving the original pony cars across the United States, with a big birthday party at the end of the trip?

That’s the plan when the Mustangs Across America 50th Anniversary Drive leaves Los Angeles on April 10 and heads for Charlotte, N.C., on a seven-day tour. And this is just one of three cross-country drives that are being called the largest-ever mobilization of Mustangs.

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Future classic: Mazda Miata celebrates 25 years

Miata MX-5 (2010 model shown) is all about driving fun. (Photo: Mazda)
Miata MX-5 (2010 model shown) is all about driving fun. (Photo: Mazda)

When the Mazda MX-5 Miata was unveiled at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, it was nothing less than a revelation. Finally, there was a little roadster to replace the beloved British and Italian sports cars of long ago. Think MG, Triumph, Alfa Romeo and all the rest.

But unlike those high-maintenance, low-reliability critters of the ’50s and ’60s, Miata was a modern vehicle that could be driven with some expectation of actually arriving, both at your destination and then back home. You didn’t have to be a mechanic to own a Miata, and you didn’t need to bring along a roll of tools or extra ignition points and spark plugs. Things didn’t break off and fall on the highway.

Miatas come at various levels of style and luxury. (Photo: Mazda)
Miatas come at various levels of style and luxury. (Photo: Mazda)

Of course, there are those masochists among us who love that sort of stuff. Me included. But that’s another story.

In this year of more big anniversaries (Mustang, Maserati, Beatles), Miata marks the 25th year since its debut during 2014. Miata is  in its third generation and still enjoys a high level of popularity, though the original rush of excitement has long since faded.

The quarter-century birthday party will likely be fairly muted, probably even less celebrated than last year’s 50th anniversary of the MGB. Remember that? Didn’t think so. To be fair, MGB was vying for attention against two major icons, Porsche 911 (also 50th) and Corvette (60th).

Upon arrival, Miata ignited a firestorm of enthusiasm for tiny roadsters – nearly 36,000 were sold during 1990 – with several other brands hurriedly attempting to strike the same spark. But Miata (known as just MX-5 in Europe and simply Roadster in Japan) has reigned supreme in its niche of modestly priced sports cars.

The original Miata resembled a Lotus Elan. (Photo: Mazda)
The original Miata resembled a Lotus Elan. (Photo: Mazda)

More than 920,000 have been sold worldwide and more than 300,000 delivered in the U.S., gaining the Mazda its own spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the top-selling two-seat sports car of all time. The perky convertible still enjoys special popularity among women of all ages.

The original Miata was built through the 1997 model year (there was no 1998 version, for whatever reason). Its body somewhat resembled the Lotus Elan, with a 1.6-liter, 110-horsepower four-cylinder engine, later raised to 1.8 liters and 126 horsepower.

The second generation updated the styling cues and did away with the retractable headlights of the original, while horsepower went up to 140 from the revised 1.8-liter engine. A facelift came in 2001 to both the body and interior, engine power rose to 146 horsepower and the manual transmission went from five to six gears.

The happiest smile since the Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite. (Photo: Mazda)
The happiest smile since the Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite. (Photo: Mazda)

Miata received a major makeover for 2006, growing in scale with added space and refinement inside, a beefier 2-liter engine that currently makes 167 horsepower, and in 2007, an optional retractable hard top. Mazda dropped the Miata name in favor of just MX-5, but most folks still call it Miata nonetheless.

Each generation of Miata came in various stages of performance and luxury, and there were several special-edition models.

So, what are the chances of Miata becoming a bona fide collector car with rising values any time in the foreseeable future? Not so hot, really. The common run of MGs and Triumphs have never made much of an impact, and Miata will most likely follow suit. There are just too many of them, and as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Preserved versions of early Miatas do have their admirers.

Still, Miata earns its stripes as a classic in the true sense mainly because of its historic impact as a pure sports car that took the original formula and reinvented it for the modern world.

Miata repaved the way, and we’re all the better for it.

Classic opulence on display at Petersen Museum

1927 Roll-Royce used by Fred Astaire among town cars at the Petersen. (Photo: Petersen Automotive Museum)

Town Cars: Arriving in Style, a new exhibit focusing on the grand chauffeur-driven limousines of history’s most rich and famous, highlights upcoming activities at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

Opening this Saturday, the yearlong showcase of bygone opulence features the finest examples from 1900 through the 1960s of the ultra-formal vehicles known as “town cars,” a term which denotes an open chauffeur’s area and an enclosed passenger compartment. The name Town Car was later co-opted by Lincoln.

Elegant town cars came from a variety of premium European and U.S. brands, and from the earliest days of the automobile. Usually, they were the most-splendid and most-expensive vehicles that the auto companies had to offer.

Many were custom-bodied by luxury coachbuilders, and they were as much about being seen in as they were about going places. Fred Astaire’s classically styled 1927 Rolls-Royce will be among the celebrity town cars on display.

Other upcoming events at the Petersen, located on the busy corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, include:

  • The Automotive Design Symposium: Celebrating Southern California Design, at 11 a.m. Sunday, February 23, with a panel of auto designers and industry experts. A Car Designer Cruise-In featuring concepts, classics, hot rods and creative customs starts at 9 a.m.
  • A special Movies and Milkshakes showing of the documentary film “Where They Raced,” featuring racing footage and photos from California’s golden age of speed, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 26. Admission and popcorn are free, and milkshakes are vintage priced at just $1. Click here for a preview clip from “Where They Raced.”
  • The fourth annual Women’s Day at the Petersen Museum from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 8,  presents hands-on lessons in car care, maintenance, tricks and tips presented in an entertaining fashion. For more information, call (323) 964-6308 or email sreck@petersen.,org.
  • Continuing exhibits at Petersen include License Plates: Unlocking the Code, through March 30, and Pickups: The Art of Utility, through April 6.

For more information about the Petersen Automotive Museum and its programs, see www.petersen.org.