Quick Stats: Carlos Mencia, comedian and actor
Daily Driver:2009 Range Rover (Carlos' rating: 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: 2008 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, 1967 VW Karmann Ghia, 2005 Dodge Ram 2500, 2006 Mercedes-Benz ML500, 1993 Nissan Pathfinder (see below for his ratings)
Favorite road trip: East Los Angeles to Huntington Beach
Car he learned to drive in: 1978 Ford Pinto
First car bought:1970s Datsun 510
Comedian Carlos Mencia has been busy touring 80 cities this year, and he's working on a new film "Family Wedding" in which he's a lead, opposite Forest Whitaker and America Ferrera.
In between gigs, he's been making time for cars -- amassing new ones and racing at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. As the self-described equal-opportunity offender sounds off on the auto industry and tells his own car stories, it's apparent the naturally funny Mencia could create a whole stand-up act about cars.
The newest addition to his car collection is the 2009 Range Rover, which he rates a 9.5, just short of a perfect 10. "I love its driving flexibility, the fuel consumption, the comfort and space of the interior," he says. "The only thing I wish it had is 50 more horsepower. If it did, it would be a perfect car for me."
Before that, his daily driver was a 2008 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, which he rates a 10 because it's the best value for the money. "I love that car. It's as fast than any of the fast sports cars, 0 to 60. The horsepower is sick." Before he switched to the E63, he had an E55 AMG, and he's upgrading to the new E63.
He says his E63 can take on any sports car, yet it's also a comfortable four-door family car, so it's the best of both worlds. "When you roll up in that, people that know AMG performance, they're like, 'Hey that's an AMG, oh my god, that's awesome!' It has everything to offer that cars in its class don't."
1967 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
Mencia's other head-turning ride is his restored silver Karmann Ghia, which once belonged to his wife's grandmother. "I didn't trick it out big time. I was going to put a Porsche engine in there, and we didn't do any of that. It's a cool little old relic. It's awesome. I love driving that car."
It's hard to rate a classic. "That's the kind of car that, when I drive it around -- I've had people in Ferraris pull up and go, 'Damn, that's a nice car.' It's got the little Volkswagen engine in it, but it's a Karmann Ghia."
In that same era, Mencia would give a perfect 10 to a 1964 Porsche convertible, for which he is always in the market. "That one's the only car that makes me say, 'Man, if I ever get the opportunity, I'm definitely going to get my hands on that one.'"
2007 Dodge Ram 2500
This brawny pickup is the dream machine for Mencia, especially when hauling his motorcycles. "That thing has all the power, it's got the turbo engine, it's quiet," he says. "It's an unbelievable machine. I love, love driving it. My father has the diesel, an older model. It's really loud. You can hear it from two blocks away, and it goes 'click click click.' You know what's funny? I turn mine on, and it's almost like a car."
2006 Mercedes-Benz ML500
This is the ultimate family car and with trite nouns such as "driveability" and reliability," Mencia makes up a new word to describe a car - his ML500 has "get up-ability." "You don't need that kind of power, yet my wife loves it," he says. "When I get in there, I don't feel like I'm getting into a minivan or a family SUV. It's not too big, it doesn't use too much gas. It's a really great car. I don't want to kiss Mercedes' ass, but I'm telling you, man, they build good stuff."
1993 Nissan Pathfinder
Mencia bought the Pathfinder when he made enough money from his comedy career. "It's a piece of crap," he laughs. "But it's sentimental to me. That's the car I lend to my family whenever they need cars. It's a car that floats around and in that respect it's a 10. Only because it stops me from having to rent cars for people. And my family ends up loving me so much, because I will always have something for them to travel in. Except for my one sister who's a little arrogant. I tell her to come get the Pathfinder, she'd rather not. 'Why can't I drive the pickup?' I say, 'Because I'm using it. It's the Pathfinder or nothing!'"
Car he learned to drive in
Mencia, who is the 17th of 18 children, learned how to drive on the streets of East L.A. in an older brother's car, a 1978 Ford Pinto. "It was a stickshift hatchback," he describes. "Ugh, it was horrible; it was ugly. There's only one car worse than that -- the Gremlin. That's the only car that I would look at and say, 'Well, at least it's NOT a Gremlin!'" But he passed his driver's test in a manual 1981 Toyota Corolla hatchback.
Back then he liked manual gearboxes, but upon reflection, the automatic transmission has its merits. "When you're 16, you don't drive very far, you're never in traffic, there's no commuting, so there's nothing negative to the stickshift," he expounds.
"It's only when you get old enough to commute and get on a freeway in Los Angeles that you realize, 'I can't have a stickshift,' going from first to second, first to second - neutral, first to neutral, first to neutral, first to second - neutral - I only have half a mile!" he yells, as if on stage. "It's only when you get old enough that you can appreciate an automatic. With responsibility comes an automatic."
First car bought
Mencia drove the Pinto until the engine blew. He alternated between the Pinto and the Corolla. They were so old, that when one was in the shop, he would drive the other.
He then bought a used 1970s Datsun 510 in 1985, and he was just happy to have a car. "The Datsun 510 looks like a little box; it has that square Scion feel. It was made for little people. Anybody six feet couldn't fit in the front or the back." Luckily, at the time, he was young and all his friends were still thin. "One of my friends was six feet and he was like [mimics a voice in agony], 'I can't get in the back of that car, it's crazy, it's tiny!' Well, then you can't come to the beach. See ya!"
Right after his first HBO special, Mencia bought his first new car, a red 1990 Geo Storm with a moonroof. "It was one of those roofs that you unlatch and take off. I didn't have a little button that made it slide. It had a little latch and the whole window would come off, kind of like a T-top," he says. "It was pretty cool because it was kind of a hatchback, but it didn't look like one." The Storm was an economical buy, although the Pathfinder was the car he coveted. But he didn't want to make car payments. "There is no feeling in the world like buying a car and what was great was I paid cash for it. Buying a car with cash and owning it, knowing that it's yours," he says.
The Storm represented financial freedom for Mencia, a rite of passage into adulthood. "It's the first time you feel you're independent, like I don't have to ask my parents for a down payment or talk to my parents about this. It was the first time I felt like a man. In the culture I come from, the Latino culture, it's like 'Yeah, I'm a man. I've got my own car. This is my car.' I don't think there's a better feeling in the world other than when you see your wife having a kid. One of the better moments in life is when you get your own car."
Favorite road trip
Some of the best memories are the simple, sillier ones of one's youth. Mencia's favorite road trip was in his old Datsun 510 on one very memorable drive with four of his buddies from East L.A. to Huntington Beach on the 405 freeway. It was so funny, he laughs till he cries.
"I think its Huntington Beach Boulevard, and while we were getting close, my friend Angel says [in a thick accent], 'You know I don't think the beach is going to be good because of the f-ck. We're like, 'What?' He's like, 'Yeah the beach, it's not going to be nice because of the f-ck.' We're like, 'the f-ck?' He's like, 'Yeah, it's going make it nasty.' We're like, 'Dude, what are you talking about?' He's like, 'The f-ck!'"
Mencia relishes reliving this memory as if it were yesterday. "When we got there, we realized he was trying to say 'the fog,'" Mencia laughs. "On the way back, we couldn't stop laughing about 'the f-ck.' It was the hardest 'g' ever and it sounded like he was saying something bad, but it wasn't! And it WAS foggy! So the whole time we were there, 'You're right man, look, the f-ck! It's ruining everything!'"
Mencia recalls it as the best time he's ever had in a car. "I've never laughed that much. I've never hurt that much. I've never cried that much," he recalls.
The mind of Mencia on automakers
Mencia's take on the U.S. auto industry's downfall is that it's their own fault. "They flood the market with SUVs, and then they whine and complain that car sales are down," he says. "Ever since manufacturers from Japan have been making four-cylinder, smaller engines, American carmakers have known this is a trend, this is the way it would go. You haven't implemented change with hybrids, and now all of a sudden they want to call me unpatriotic because I want to buy a Mercedes!"
Mencia wants to see more fuel efficiency, adding U.S. automakers could have used their time more wisely by creating such vehicles. "They've had time to make those fuel-efficient four-cylinder cars that look decent and have good performance," he rants. "Don't throw me a three-cylinder Ford Festiva type of car. Come on now, seriously."
He says they knew the trend and should have addressed it. "Now they're paying for it," Mencia says. "We're buying the best products out there or what we perceive to be the best products out there. My Nissan Pathfinder, I've had it since 1993 and it has over 280,000 miles on it, still working! On the other hand, the Pinto, it ain't working anymore. My sister's Ford Tempo, it ain't working anymore."