City dwellers: as an enthusiast, what is the best big city for owning a car?

As many of us know, not all places with bright lights are the same when it comes to being an enthusiast car owner, with factors such as the cost of parking, availability of independent service shops, public transportation (ironically rather important, as good rail and subway options open up the possibility of owning a car that’s perhaps a little more interesting than a reliable but mundane daily driver), and proximity to nearby race tracks and “sports car roads” all contributing to the feasibility and general enjoyment (or alternatively, dissatisfaction) of owning a car in a metropolitan area. Cities like New York and London seem to score low in that regard, while (though we could be wrong on this) places like Seattle and San Francisco ostensibly seem to be more ‘car-friendly’.

So let’s hear it from you: as an enthusiast, what are the some of the best big cities in which to own a car?

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~ by DL on March 13, 2013.

13 Responses to “City dwellers: as an enthusiast, what is the best big city for owning a car?”

  1. Jalopnik did a piece on these best big cities to own a car (and also on the worst) and even though I’ve lived in LA, SF and drove in NY and LV, I have yet to see a less car friendly city as SF (as jalopnik also said, btw).

    Potholes are the size of your car, Impossible to find parking (and when you do it’s EXPENSIVE!), very easy to get a parking ticket (at least in my experience), the strain on transmissions, engines, and tires suffering on the steep ramps, humidity, cold weather,… and the only close by race track is Sonoma (1h drive + toll for the GG Bridge), which isn’t the most “trackday” active track by any means compared to any in SoCal.

    Sonoma’s still pretty good for assisting as an enthusiast to car events, and drifters and drag racers get a meet every week during 9 months a year, but for tracking your car, you’re better off going to Thunderhill, which is quite a drive, almost three hours from SF, or more than two hours south to Laguna Seca, which is also an awesome track and an historic venue, but has the 90db limit (not even stock GT3 will make it) and trackday prices usually are around $400…

    Whereas for LA which is, IMHO, the most car friendly city, thanks to the car culture that is EVERYWHERE. You get car meets on a daily basis, which is pretty sick, but makes sense, once you figure out how many people live there. Then there’s the amount of racetracks that you can pick: Willow Springs in it’s own way has four different layouts (Big Willow, Streets, Horse Thief Mile and, if we count the drifters playground, AKA the “balcony”). Then you have Autoclub Speedway at Fontana for faster cars (very bumpy though). And finishing with the more close tracks, the small kart track of Adams Motorsports Park, at Riverside. This is used on Tuesdays nights for Time Attack and Thursday nights for drifting. On the weekend they usually have some events that combine these two activities.

    Then you have the Orange County, where I have never been able to keep up with traffic in the freeway doing less than 75… It’s like: no speed limits!

    Finally, to pick some of the best canyon roads I’ve done, I have to speak about Glendora (AKA GMR) and Los Angeles Crest Hwy as the most well known, but there are a gazillion of amazing roads all around the LA/OC counties. Just get google maps and see how the mountains that surround the area are crowded with twisty roads…

    For criticism though, you have to deal with a stupid amount of traffic jams at certain hours and with so many cars comes a lot of possible pricks driving like what they are… And the potholes and roads in general, which are still not as bad as in DT SF, but still, when Toyota test the road comfort of a car, the roughest roads they ever found are in some place near LA…

    And that’s just in California… I could also speak of European roads, but don’t want to be a bore anymore… wait til Friday arrives, LOL!

    • Interesting, I will need to look up that article.

      As far as LA, I know it’s a “big city” in absolute terms, but I wouldn’t consider it as such for the purposes of this particular inquiry. I see it more as a sprawling collection of suburbs with a poorly-defined core or “center city” — it’s basically impossible to get around anywhere without a car, so car ownership in LA is the norm and thus unremarkable; in fact, it’s living without a car that’s unusual and remarkable. But in any case, I do agree that it’s a great place to be if one loves cars.

  2. I used to live in NYC, and now live in Seattle. I have to say, Seattle is a pretty great city for car enthusiasts. While our public transportation is merely “okay”, it is usable, and getting better. It’s also a very bikeable city, so that helps. There are tons of really great independent service and performance shops, and there is a pretty robust car culture here in general. North America’s largest car museum (LeMay) is just 45 minutes away in Tacoma, and we have Pacific Raceways also about 45 minutes away. The Ridge Motorsports park is INCREDIBLE, and when finished, will be one of the nicest medium size tracks in the country. Of course, Portland International Raceway and Spokane Raceway are further away, but within driving distance for special occasions. Bremerton Raceway is also a good place for auto-x and drag racing. The area also hosts dozens of really great car events annually, and the club scene is big here. Tere are a lot of great European, Japanese, and domestic car clubs, and so there really is something for everyone.

    Parking can be difficult in certain areas of Seattle, but you can usually find a spot if you’re patient. And since Seattle is more or less a network of residential neighborhoods, if you don’t live in Ballard or on Capital Hill, parking where you live is usually not an issue at all.

    Beyond all that stuff, since we have major mountains on all sides, there are some truly epic driving roads to be explored when you get outside the city. Some of the best driving roads in the world are to be had in the PNW.

    Finally, one very nice thing about Seattle when it comes to being a car enthusiast is that despite the rain, nothing rusts here. AT ALL. It’s crazy. It hardly ever gets below 40* here, so no salt is used on the roads, and since we aren’t directly next to the ocean, there isn’t any salt in the air like other coastal cities. As a result, you routinely see cars from the ’60s and ’70s being daily driven, often with very original looking paint (albeit faded), and not a spec of rust. What’s even more amazing is how often you see stuff from Japan which was built in the ’70s and ’80s still cruising around without rust, since those cars rusted out at a rate probably four times the industry standard of the time…

    • Nice comment on Seattle. I’d happily relocate to there if personal circumstances allowed!

    • As a fellow Seattle-ite and transplant from Boston, I couldn’t have said it better. Only minor bummer is an odd and passive driving culture. But there’s a lot to love. PS — for all intents and purposes, the track at the Ridge is done. Not much in the way of facilities yet though.

  3. Interesting question. As a city planner I spend a lot of time trying to reconcile my car enthusiasm with my urbanist ideals. What it comes down to, for me, is that a car is not the appropriate response for every trip. When you’re freed from the auto commute you can put your car-dollars into something really interesting.

    I have only owned cars in one (North American) city, which is fairly small Ottawa. The climate is terrible, road salt is a serious issue, and I tore off a lip spoiler in a pothole last June. On the bright side, Ottawa is close to two tracks-Mont Tremblant and Calabogie- and some nice sports car roads to the west in the Ottawa Valley and to the north in the Laurentians. Cars are integrated into a number of broader cultural events; “Italian Week” has the best parades, for reasons you might guess. Traffic isn’t ever very bad, and the city has a decent (and improving) transit system and cycling network.

    One thing that interests me, and must be an element of car ownership in a city, is storage. A house with an attached garage is just not going to be a reality for me or other people living downtown. The availability of a safe place to keep (and work on) a car is going to be a big issue for me, and I wonder how other city-dwellers have approached this.

    • If you insist on doing your own work, I think the best outcome you can hope for is to find a shop or garage in town that will let you use their space and tools for a reasonable fee. I admit that this is somewhat of a tall order— maybe other city dwellers can comment.

      The bottom line is that as an enthusiast car owner, there are compromises to be made in choosing to live in the city, for sure.

    • I think that most of us city-dwellers park our daily drivers on the street. But I think that one can rent a garage in just about any city. I know that my car-guy friends in San Francisco and NYC have found spots.

  4. Well, if Detroit still qualifies as a big city, I think it’s probably Detroit. Wide open spaces and you can buy a shop/warehouse with a lift and air for pretty much nothing.

  5. Not New York City. I sold my car before I moved here and it was a good decision. Even where I am in Brooklyn it would be a pain in the ass. I would not mind having a beater car to get around the Borough (transportation around Brooklyn is terrible, all lines lead to Manhattan) but who knows what the insurance cost would be like. I would never want to own something I really cared for here. It is going to get abused, and possibly vandalized and stolen.

    It actually kinda sucks because it would be a great part of the country to set off for road trips. I would love to drive further northeast and then into Canada.

    Previously I lived in Atlanta, which is a pretty good car city. Parking is not too huge of a hassle and there are plenty of race tracks in the south east. Also it is not too far of a drive before you are deep in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. North Georgia has some great roads also.

    • I have to say that as far as the deep south goes, it doesn’t get more compelling than Atlanta. As far as legitimately urban areas go, its proximity to world class driving roads is probably only rivaled by California.

  6. BTW, this blog is why I mentioned SF as a possibility for an enthusiast car owner:

    http://streetparkedsf.com

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