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Southern California – Car Buff Capital of the World

April 5, 2011

There are many opinions people have about Southern California, whether or not they live here or have even visited.  When thinking of “SoCal” many conjure up images of sunny weather, palm trees, surfing, and the Hollywood sign.  Some may think of the Lakers, Disneyland, San Diego, or Palm Springs.  Still others mark this region with thoughts of earthquakes, bad traffic, OJ Simpson, and plastic surgery.  The truth is Southern California is all of these things, and a lot more.  But when I think of this great land I have called home for the better part of the last decade I also think of cars.  In fact, I from this day forward will unofficially crown Southern California the Car Buff Capital of the World.  There I said it.  Now, I would probably get some arguments from those who live in and around Motor City (Detroit), where the American car dream was born in the 20th century.  Others could make a case for heavy enthusiast states in the South and Southeast, where motorsports are a big part of the culture.  Or even those in the Midwest, where I grew up and witnessed my fair share of classic car shows, world-class racing, and a passionate base of automobile lovers.  However, after living here and witnessing just how much the automobile is engrained in the culture and the culture engrained in the automobile, I have realized this place is a true candy store for car fanatics, no matter what their preference. 

Eye Candy

Now I live in Newport Beach, which may give me an unfair advantage given the fact I get to see some pretty amazing cars on the road as I just drive to the grocery store.  Ferraris old and new, mint-condition muscle cars from the 60’s, Tesla roadsters, Aston Martins, Ford Model A’s from the 1930’s, and a half-dozen camouflaged test mules of upcoming, yet-to-be-released models have been witnessed by yours truly in just the past month.  And the beauty of it is these sightings are commonplace for coastal Orange County locals. 

Prime Conditions

It’s no secret Southern California has by and large the best climate for drivers of any place in the U.S. and possibly the world.  With few days of rain, limited excessive heat (for LA, Orange, and San Diego Counties at least), solid roads (anyone who refutes this hasn’t lived in the pothole-ridden Midwest or East Coast), and no snow, the climate gives enthusiasts simply more nice days to enjoy their rides.  As a non-native it was amazing to me after moving here to see so many old cars, and I mean ’65 Mustangs to old VW Beetles, still on the road being used as daily drivers.  Rust is virtually non-existent in such a dry climate and these weathered workhorses only have paint-fade from the sun to show their age.  A properly kept will looks years newer having grown up in Southern California than virtually any other place in the nation, and is yet another reason the area is so great for car lovers. 

Local Passion

What I perhaps love most about Southern California car culture is that it truly does have something for everyone.  Car clubs run rampant in these parts and have very strong followings, whether they are British sports cars from the 60’s or modern Japanese technology, the forum for camaraderie is ever-present.  Big name custom shops are also in great supply.  From German car powerhouses such as Brabus to hot rod style-influencers like Chip Foose and the legendary West Coast Customs, influencers of the industry are widespread.  The lowrider revolution even started here in the ethnic neighborhoods of Los Angeles and continues to have a strong following to this day.  Perhaps because of this culture of trend-setting individuality visitors will find residents who, by and large, take more pride in their cars than most.  Some may say it is more of a “status” issue where John Doe is trying to keep up with the Joneses, but in my opinion it runs much deeper than that.  Culture such as clothing, music, and television has been exported from California for decades, and the culture of the automobile is simply an extension of this.

Industry Influence

What would a Car Buff Capital be without some official industry presence?  While our state’s unfavorable tax rates have driven the likes of Nissan and others out, many big players still have influential operations here.  Ford, Toyota, Hyundai-Kia, Honda, Fisker Automotive and others all have offices here.  Publications such as Road & Track (Newport Beach), Kelley Blue Book (Irvine), and Edmunds (Los Angeles), each have headquarter operations in Southern California.  What’s significant is this is not just a haven for those who drive, it’s also a nesting ground for those who design, build, innovate, and report. 


As mentioned before there is certainly something for everyone here, including motorsports fans.  Autoclub Speedway in Fontana is home to big NASCAR races among other events, and open-wheel fans can get a front-row seat in the Long Beach Grand Prix, held every year on the streets of Long Beach.  There are also such gems as Buttonwillow and Willow Springs near Bakersfield, along with a score of Baja-style off-road races in the legendary Mojave Desert.  What better environment for a car enthusiast than one that fosters some great racing as well?

Daydreaming on the Road

At the end of the day Southern California, to me as a car nut, provides my fix of automotive Zoloft every time I get out on the road.  As a frequent business traveler I find myself in awe at just how many simply beautiful cars there are in just the parking garage at John Wayne Airport.  This place is a bona-fide Mecca for the car guy, and one that puts a smile on my face every time I hear the burble of an Italian-built V12 off in the distance as I sit in my living room.  More often than not it’s probably some lucky guy fulfilling a childhood dream by exercising his Lamborghini down Newport Coast drive on the way to a dentist appointment.  This scene is one that many Americans will never even witness in a lifetime, but to me it is just another day in the life around here, and why Southern California is so worthy of being dubbed the Car Buff Capital of the World.

Tesla Newport Beach

Brabus USA

Willow Springs Raceway


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