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While trends shift, luxury car lovers say the name is Symbolic

Noses press up to the glass of the Symbolic showroom on Prospect Street every day. Outside, cars slow down and some even stop as drivers gawk at the rows of gleaming, sleek machines housed behind the plate-glass frontage of the dealership.

Tourists in Bermuda shorts and sandals pose next to Lamborghinis, Ferraris and 1950s Cadillacs while Symbolic’s salesmen look on unperturbed.

“We get a lot of tourists,” said Sean Hughes, the company’s Lamborghini and Rolls Royce sales manager and a 15-year employee of Symbolic. “Very surprisingly, we get a lot of qualified buyers through the door who just walk through on a daily basis.”

Mike Pedace, Symbolic’s Lotus sales manager, estimates that Symbolic sells at least one car a day. Considering the six-figure price tag attached to practically every one of the vehicles they sell, that’s a surprisingly high turnover.

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But, Symbolic has a number of surprises.

The glossy interior of the building is deceptively large. From the front, Symbolic looks like the average display-case car dealership. Once inside, the premises stretch seaward away from the main frontage into a cool, tiled area that has an atmosphere more like a museum than a car showroom.

In this back part of the building, new cars give way to second-hand classics and a number of quirky, one-of-a-kind machines including a former Formula One racing car. Tucked even farther away from the street is a bar, pool table and lounge where customers can relax, shoot a game of pool and talk cars.

It is the front portion of the building that really shows what Symbolic has grown into over the past few years.

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While the business was started as a trading place for rare, collectible cars, Symbolic now caters more to the ultra-luxury new car market. Symbolic is the only dealership in San Diego county licensed to sell Bentley, Rolls Royce, Lotus and Lamborghini. It moved into its current spot in the early 1990s and has only recently come into its own as a dealer for some of the most sought-after luxury sedans and sports cars.

This shift to selling new cars, Symbolic’s salesmen say, was partly a response to the changing face of the used-car business.

“It’s harder today, and we’re moving out of that business just because one, (luxury collectable cars) are running out. Wealthy guys are buying all the best cars and putting them in storage,” said

Hughes. “And two, the buyer doesn’t necessarily need to come to us any more. The Internet’s basically killed that business.”

Not that Symbolic is feeling the pinch. The La Jolla-based company is expanding into new fields and new locations. They recently re-entered the aviation business and currently have a number of private jets on their inventory.

Symbolic’s Sorrento Valley restoration and service center just expanded into the building next door and has evolved into a one-stop shop for maintenance and repair.

“We have a state-of-the art restoration department,” said Marc Chase, president of Symbolic Motor Co. “We can take an old Ferrari from the ‘50s and do anything to it. ... We can do anything to that car with the equipment we have at that