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The Great La Costa Bumper Car Mystery Solved

The research elves are out in the solarium toweling off from this marathon caper. They're beat. Grandma Alice is making a batch of Gatorade-tofu-Red Bull smoothies to get them back in fighting trim. Here's the remaining skinny on the bumper cars.

They're owned by one North County family and originated at a local paint shop. Usually, the drivers you see are relatives of the owner, who is a lifelong car tinkerer and has done the conversions himself with the help of a build team. Modesty prevents him from revealing personal details; he won't sell what he has or build any more, so please don't ask. What you see is all we'll get. And, odds are, we've got the only way-cool, tooling-around bumper cars in the country. Another perk of living in Dago.

The whole thing started a few decades ago, when the Long Beach Pike amusement park closed. A car collector bought one of the park's bumper cars, planning to renovate it into a conversation piece for his family room. That idea went the way of most expensive, elaborate, guy-type brainstorms. The car just sat in his collection, collecting dust. But along comes our particular North County tinkerer. The bumper car reminded him of his growing-up days on the ride at the Pike. He spent many happy hours bashing into friends and strangers there, maybe in that exact car! Of course, there's no use fighting nostalgia. He takes the bumper car off the collector's hands, intending to turn it into a conversation piece for his family room.

Here's where we separate the ordinary thinkers from the visionaries. The collector was just a collector; but the tinkerer was a true car nut and decided the bumper car had to be reworked into a self-powered fun ride for the grandkids. Fifty thousand dollars later, he had his car and the kids had the coolest grandpa on the block. It was so much fun he made seven more from cars originally used at amusement parks in Petaluma, Coney Island, Atlanta, Detroit, Germany, and Austria. They're powered by Yamaha and Kawasaki engines; the original Harleys shook the cars too badly and had to be replaced.

If you haven't seen them at a local car show, check out the pictures from the first 101 Beach'n Cruise: http://www.drivethe101.com. Click on the images link, then find the link to pictures taken at the Oceanside Pier. In batches 4 and 5, you'll find the bumper cars, including a woodie version. Thanks to N.D. Webster for the site.

Reader Efren and a reader in Clairemont who apparently goes through life without a name alert us to some vehicles that you might mistake for our real bumper cars. Each one is about the right size, with a windshield and two roll bars. They're three-wheeled, open-top, two-seaters painted bright primary colors. They're rented out by a company called Tour Coupes, on Seventh Avenue in downtown San Diego and licensed as motorcycles. (The drivers will be wearing helmets.) Check them out at http://www.tourcoupes.com, but don't confuse them with the genuine article.

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