A Drive Down The Whole Length Of Sunset Boulevard In 1973

You’re twelve years old, and your uncle who lives in LA and works in the entertainment business—natch—has invited you out from Nebraska for a visit. And to show you a bit of the sights after arriving at the airport, he and his girl friend have decided to drive the whole length of Sunset Boulevard, from the Pacific Ocean to near downtown LA, almost 22 miles.

You’re a car nut, so you’ve got your eyes peeled out the left side rear window, taking in every car that you see. Fortunately, you’ve got a photographic memory, and you remember them all, even though there’s 821 photos. And of course you identified each and every one—including this early Excalibur—even though a whole lot of them you’ve never seen in the flesh before.

Note: if you want to refer to a specific photo, the way to identify it is to click on the image, and then the number (1-821) will appear on the browser line at the top).

This took a bit of doing, copying all these images from Ed Rusha’s Archive at the getty.edu website. Ed started driving down Sunset with an automatic camera mounted on a truck or van in 1966, and then repeated it every so often until 2007. His interest was not in the cars though; it was in the built environment, and how it changes over time. Since the cars were a distraction, he made the drive on Sunday mornings, hence the low traffic volume. You may also notice that some buildings are duplicated with different cars in front; he made duplicate trips, to ensure maximum coverage.

I have skipped all the images that didn’t have cars, and after a while, I skipped some cars too, but quite few, maybe 10% or less. There’s only so many Cadillacs and VW beetles one can take…   These two brands are very highly represented, as this was peak Cadillac and VW time. Actually, Cadillacs were already quickly being replaced by Mercedes in 1973, and you’ll see a lot more of them here than you would have in any other American city by far. 1973 was actually a couple of years after peak VW Beetle sales (in 1970), but the cumulative totals are quite remarkable.And the rapid influx of Japanese cars that quickly supplanted the VW is all too obvious in these pictures.

Obviously, this part of LA is not very representative of the rest of America; it’s a place where foreign cars had been common for some time, and were now in the process of dominating the streetscape. And the demographics of this area are of course different too; it encompasses some of the wealthiest neighborhoods/towns of the country, including Holmby Hills, Bel Air and Beverly Hills; just affluent ones (all of the West Side) and then ends in much more downscale and ethnic neighborhoods as it passes eastwards from Hollywood. The extreme contrasts in the cars brings that to life, even early on Sunday morning.

This drive—and this era—is very familiar to me, as I moved to just south of Beverly Hills in 1977 and spent quite a bit of time traversing Sunset. So it’s a bit like going home.

The drive starts where Sunset meets the pacific Coast Highway, in Pacific Palisades.

Sweet old fire trucks.

I passe don most non-car shots, but there were a number of ones that included people caught in various activities, like these firemen doing a bit of landscape maintenance.

Two Fiat 850s.

This is Pacific Palisades “downtown”, such as it is.

Austin America.

The era of Honda was just starting.

Honda Z600.

Looks just like my Dodge A100 van, but I didn’t arrive for a few more years yet.

The leaning tower at Sunset and the I-405 (San Diego freeway).  Ed’s camera seems to want to level the roads, which makes the buildings lean when the road is actually on an incline.

Check out the light traffic on 405. The good old days. Of course it is a Sunday morning.

Bel Air West Gate

Maserati Ghibli

I’ve come to realize that many women, especially older ones, tend to sit really close to the wheel. It’s very noticeable in many shots.

Looks like we’re entering Beverly Hills

Fiat 128 Coupe

Fiat 1100D

An interesting assortment in the driveway

I was a bit surprised at the number of VW 411/412s. There’s several more yet to come.

Jag XK-120

We appear to have crossed the city line into West Hollywood

That Dart is taking that turn a bit briskly, from the looks of its lean.

Hmm; do I want this Gremlin?

Scientology – the early days.

Now this is an interesting British pairing

Maserati Quattroporte between those two little offices.

One Adam 12

Fancy something a bit out of the ordinary? Nice Mercedes 300 sedan back there

Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini dealer

One of my favorites: Quite the three-some

I love this: the front of an old Greyhound Scenicruiser passing on the left lane.

And here’s its back end. This was very much the tail end of the Scenicruiser’s career with Greyhound.

We’ve passed through West Hollywood, Hollywood, and now are into LA proper, what seems to be called Little Armenia.

An early Chinook motor home.

What happened to all the Corvairs? There were so many in the 1966 tour. I guess they weren’t generally very long-lived, at least in some folks’ hands.

I’m not exactly where we are, but this might be near Silver Lake or Echo Park, both areas that are now very gentrified.