How the $1.1 million Youabian Puma won the Los Angeles Auto Show

I feel bad for the auto industry. Hundreds of executives from around the world descend on the Los Angeles Auto Show to talk up their newest models and engineering feats — only to have a home-grown competitor crush their dreams beneath a hardtop, four-seat convertible coupe that costs $1.1 million.

Yes, for all the glamour of a new Porsche or Jaguar or video-game Mercedes, the car everyone couldn't stop talking about was a 20-foot-long piece of zaftig fiberglass that looks like no other car ever created — the Youabian Puma.

The brainchild of Los Angeles cosmetic surgeon Kami Youabian, the Puma has been under development for seven years. Project manager Onnik Hovansian said the goal was to build a car that would be mistaken for no other, with plans to build only to order, taking 18 to 24 months from a customer check to delivery. "It's a very unique design that he dreamed and decided to put into reality," Hovansian said


Built atop a steel and aluminum chassis with a fiberglass body, power comes from a 505-hp, 7-liter Corvette V-8, yoked to a six-speed automatic driving the rear wheels. The 20-inch wheels carry 44-inch tires designed for cruising the desert as much as the boulevard, although on pavement the Puma claims a 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds and, most shockingly, 22 mpg highway.

2013 Los Angeles auto show

If you look closely enough — under the gaze of a painting of a puma hanging above the car like a spirit animal — you can spot bits of the Puma borrowed from other vehicles; the Buick Enclave donated the taillights, and like every new model there's a hexagonal grille surrounded by chrome. The interior takes far less risk, using mostly off-the-shelf components and promising all the standard luxury-car accoutrements, with a few unique touches like a push-button transmission shifting. But from any distance greater than one foot, the Puma transforms into the jackalope of automotive industry, from its front winglets with extra fog lamps to scooped-out doors and a rear fender that could be used as a four-person lifeboat.

Custom-built luxury cars often turn out awful, and a professional vehicle designer who suggested a car like this would be given a drug test and told not to operate machinery, but the Puma galumphs through the valley of ugly to fascinating. In a time when regulations and business demands force designs into an ever-tighter envelope, the Youabain Puma demonstrates a passion for cars that most billion-dollar automakers only experience from memory. What else could anyone want from an exotic car other than being unforgettable?