Treat yourself and take a drive on L.A.’s Classic Car Boulevard
The first car we come upon is a red 1964 GTO convertible. The Pontiac looks factory fresh and sits on rare Hurst mags. I shield my eyes from the sun and peer inside; it’s a four-speed. Then a 1967 Cadillac coupe catches my eye… and the silver BMW 2002tii. It’s a late one with the big bumpers. Hey look, there’s a Citroën CV.
We walk inside and find another 20,000 square feet packed with 100 dream cars, ranging from air-cooled Porsches to classic Jags and big-block Corvettes.
Neil Jaffe opened Chequered Flag in Marina Del Rey, California, on Lincoln Boulevard in 1985, and the classic and collector car dealer is now a fixture on L.A.’s once-seedy but now-swanky and beachy westside. Locals still call this area Dogtown, and shades of Dogtown and Z-Boys remain, but much of the grit is gone as Starbucks and young foodies have moved in.
Lincoln is a six-lane artery that connects LAX to Santa Monica to the north, cutting through Westchester, Playa Vista, Marina Del Rey, and Venice. There’s no ocean view from Lincoln, the beach is a couple of miles to the west, but the eight-mile stretch is technically part of California’s Highway 1 and remains a physical and metaphysical home of L.A.’s car culture. Among the countless smog check, auto repair, and car audio shops that line its length are two exotic car rental businesses, several motorcycle stores, and a half dozen car dealers that specialize in classics and interesting collector cars.
Chequered Flag is located directly across the street from Bartel’s Harley-Davidson, one of the largest and most famous hog dealers in the country, and within walking distance of Carroll Shelby’s old Princeton Street shop, where he built Cobras, Daytona Coupes, and Mustangs. Brad Pitt buys custom choppers and bobbers next door at Schwartzkopf Exclusive Customs.
Jaffe, a life-long car nut who has been buying and selling cars since he was 15 years old, moved to America from Bristol, England, in 1981. “I came for a three-week holiday and never left,” he says. Jaffe sells about 35 cars a month to enthusiasts all over the world, but these days 80 percent are in the U.S. And today, although his inventory is diverse and vast, he’s moving a lot of air cooled 911s. “I buy what I like,” the friendly 61-year old says. “And sometimes it’s a little haphazard. We used to do a lot of E-types. And we do muscle cars, although less and less. Our specialty is air-cooled 911s. Over the years I’ve sold about 3000 of them to buyers in Germany alone. I only buy really good ones with low mileage, and I have the best air-cooled mechanic in the country.”
Jaffe has a few dozen in stock, and he shows us a silver, one-owner, 4500-mile 1989 Speedster and a sick-nice ’84 M491 Turbo Look coupe with 50,000 miles, tan interior, and the nicest original black paint I’ve ever seen. The price is $104,500.
Being on L.A.’s westside, Hollywood celebrities are also part of Jaffe’s clientele, but he’s hesitant to drop names. He does offer, however, that race car driver Jenson Button recently came in and bought a 964 and a 993 C4S.
Less than a mile up Lincoln, at the corner of Marco Place, is ASC Auto. Parked on the small 10,000-square-foot corner lot are about 35 classic first-generation Ford Broncos stacked like cordwood and ranging from heavily modified examples to unmolested originals. ASC has been at this location since 1988, and the 4×4 shop began specializing in Broncos about 15 years ago when owner David Ventura saw the market for the classic SUVs heating up.
Now we’re in the heart of Venice, and ASC’s cluttered lot, where parts and tires are stacked everywhere and the homeless guy sleeping on the sidewalk next to an uncut Bronco hardtop with original red paint gives the place an old-school Dogtown feel. This is a working restoration shop. From the street you can hear a grinder tearing into some metal and the clanking of tools.
Full restorations start around $70,000, with ASC’s most-expensive job going out the door for $160,000. “The Bronco market continues to be very strong,” says Ventura, sitting in his tiny office, which is stacked with Bronco parts including an oil pan and a 9-inch rear end that’s holding the door open. “And demand is growing for uncut trucks with stock wheel wells. In fact, we’re converting many back to the original look during the restoration process.” ASC sells about five Broncos a month, including some to celebrities, but Ventura, like Jaffe, is hesitant to say who they are.
A couple of blocks up, at Lincoln at Nowita Place, we stop at Marina Auto Upholstory, which is owned by Michael S. Marks and his son Dan. Like Jaffe and Ventura, the two are friendly and welcoming. Marks opened the small corner lot in 1978 and says it’s now Venice’s oldest living car dealership. Today the business specializes in inexpensive commuter cars from $2000—$12,000, but it isn’t unusual to find affordable classics—from square-body pickups to Buick Grand Nationals—in the inventory. And Marks’ personal Triumph TR3 is often parked out front. They usually stock about 30 cars and sell about 15 a month.
“I’ve probably sold more mid-’60s Mustangs than anybody,” the elder Marks says with a smile. “We’ve also moved a lot of Corvettes and Camaros over the years.” But today the most interesting machines on the lot are an ’81 Fiat X1-9 priced at $3495 and a 1990 Volvo 240GL.
We press on to Santa Monica SUVs, which bills itself as “purveyors of the finest pre-owned Land Rovers.” According to salesman Andy Delnavaz, the business has been at that location for 24 years and recently changed its name from Santa Monica Rover.
The large lot is packed with about 35 modern SUVs, including Land Rover Discoverys, LR4s, Range Rover Sports, and BMW X5s, but there are a couple of gems hidden amongst the chattel. We find a black-on-black-on-black-on-black 1982 Defender 109 and a 1995 Defender 90 Camel Trophy soft-top automatic with a diesel and some cool mods like NATO wheels and Super Swampers. And then, buried in the back, we spot two old Toyota FJs, a red right-hand-drive 1980 BJ 41 with the JDM diesel for $27,995 and a blue U.S.-spec 1973 for $26,995.
It’s easy to drive right past West Coast Classics. The small outdoor lot is sandwiched between two buildings on the west side of Lincoln, just past the O’Reilly Auto Parts. Today the inventory includes a couple of clean Ford Rancheros from the 1970s, a 1978 Corvette, a little Nash Metropolitan, and a ’64 Buick Riviera. “We do a lot of ’50s and ’60s stuff,” says Peter Doody, who owns the business with Simon Thrush. “But we do every generation. I saw you looking at that Riviera. We do a lot of Rivieras, we love those cars. We also do a lot of low mileage Rolls Royces from the ’80s and ’90s.”
Doody emigrated from Ireland and roomed with Jaffe when they were young men in the early 1980s. He’s also friendly with Grant Woods, who owns Cars With Class, which is our next stop. Like Jaffe, he likes talking about cars and has disarming blue eyes. He opened West Coast Classics 10 years ago and has another larger indoor location with more inventory about 10 miles south in Torrance. Between the two they sell about 15 cars a month, mostly online, with about 20 percent going overseas.
“Basically we specialize in anything,” Doody says from behind his desk. “We buy most privately and stick to one- or two-owner cars with good provenance. We like to know who the seller is, and we like to learn something about the car’s history.”
Then Doody tells us Cars With Class has moved from its Santa Monica location on Wilshire Boulevard, which it had occupied for 23 years, to a new location at Santa Monica Airport. Woods has been in the car business since 1971 and says he too has known Jaffe “forever.” After moving to California from New Zealand in the early 1980s, he opened Cars With Class in Van Nuys, eventually moving his operation to Santa Monica.
Cars With Class now occupies a 7000-square-foot airplane hanger, and during our visit there were about 16 cars in its inventory, which is light due to the recent move. Usually Woods keeps about 25 cars in stock. But what’s there is diverse and desirable, including a 1970 Olds 442 convertible, 1952 Studebaker pickup, a 1967 one-owner big-block RS SS Camaro with original paint, a Porsche 356 cab, and a 964 911 RS.
“I sell about eight cars a month,” Woods says. “Usually about 25 percent go overseas and another 25 percent go out of state.” Cars With Class has also sold a number of cars to celebrities over the years, including multiple to Nicolas Cage, who bought a Jag E-type from Woods, as well as a 1959 Impala and 1955 Ford F-100 pickup.
“But my most famous and wealthiest client has to be King Hussein of Jordan,” Woods says with a smile. “He bought the most beautifully restored MG TD from us. It was a show car. I believe it went to his house in D.C.”
Like Jaffe and Doody, Woods is seeing a rapid uptick in young-buyer interest for cars from the 1980s and ’90s, especially cars from Germany. “Today’s buyer wants a car he can drive,” Jaffe tells us. “They want modern performance and air conditioning. They want a car they can enjoy and still hang onto that analog experience.”
The next generation is also changing these neighborhoods. Gentrification is taking hold and property values and rents are skyrocketing. For now, Lincoln Boulevard remains a unique corridor of car culture, and a snapshot of America’s love for the automobile, past and present. But it may not be here forever. So if you’re ever in Los Angeles, skip the freeway and take a drive up Lincoln. Don’t rush, you’ll want to make a few worthwhile stops along the way.