American Metal – LA Triptych: Manifest Destiny

Cars Culture

Part One of our Los Angeles Triptych

Los Angeles weaves a strange magic.

You arrive at night. The Atlantic Ocean and the massive continent of America has slipped under your keel these last ten hours. The LA megalopolis appears as a vast patchwork blanket of light set against the blackness of the mountains. Fluid rivers of red and white luminescence wind and twist between pools of colour. As your descent begins it becomes clear that these shifting tributaries are the endless highways of Los Angeles.

LA's freeways defined the American aesthetic

After tortuous immigration it’s out into the future. The automated bus. The vacant bonhomie. The rental lot that occupies the area of a small provincial English town. Soon you’re out there on the numbered highways. Slabbed concrete surfaces beat a rhythm beneath your rubber. You took the upgrade. You’re hugging the central reservation in a bog standard Mustang. Los Angeles is here. It is now.

This city has no right to be here at all. It teeters on the San Andreas fault and on the edge of the continent and of the desert. In denial of this insecure birthright Angelinos live every moment as a self-imagined drama. It’s the fragility of this place that make these dramas all the more enduring. The contrivances of Hollywood are central to the Los Angeles psyche. The entertainment industry and the dream of wealth, sex, speed and fame it propogates are ingrained on the surface and on the inside of everything.

Dandy is no shrinking violet.

We met Daniel K Nelson through a friend. You turn up on the ground in LA and doors open. Especially if you wield a camera and sound equipment. Daniel is a reality star. He’s a cocktail barman. He’s an restaurateur who plies the desert sands between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in a small but select collection of classic cars. 1965 is his preferred vintage – and Daniel was good enough to let us spend time with him and his Lincoln Continental and a Mustang from that auspicious year.

Dandy's '65 Continental is the quintessential land yacht.

But more than a simple fetishist of mid sixties American Metal, Daniel K Nelson is an archivist. He is a curator and preservationist of classic LA culture through his bars and restaurants – and the automotive heritage that crystallises in his cars. These machines are beautiful harbingers of what was once the American Quotidian. Day to day reality here was once as dramatic, powerful and evocative as these cars were designed to be. And though hybrids and full plug-in electrical vehicles now hum their way along the kerbs of Hollywood – these hunks of Detroit metal still hold the central reservation of the American Heartland.

And long may that continue.