Monthly Archives: March, 2014

Obesity – it’s not just a people problem!

With a week to go, the Copperstate excitement is inevitably mounting.  I collected the Egg last Saturday, following her quick once/twice maybe thrice over to ensure that all aspects of the Safety check would be passed, and enjoyed a glorious drive back from Klasse 356 (more of that in another post!)

Wanting as much driving as possible before the event, I pulled her out again for a quick jaunt over the hill, today.  Traffic reasonable, weather idyllic, it was almost possible to forget we had another earthquake here a couple of days ago!  Waiting to pull away from an intersection, I was suddenly overtaken by a really unattractive, big, black, thing.  Unfortunately for the car, I then spotted the unmistakable prancing horse in the middle of the boot….and mild amusement was immediately replaced with abject horror.  THAT was a Ferrari??

In less than a couple of blocks, I found myself sitting behind this automotive mistake.  The tail lights glared accusingly as I mouthed “UG-ER-LEE” in response.  Clearly the designer had been quietly and unsuccessfully breeding BMW Z4’s with Jaguar F Type’s in his garden shed.   And then I saw it…the worst angle of all!

Car and driver turned left and, for a moment, I had a perfect shot of the three quarter, haunch to nose.  Except, the length and rather odd curves immediately made me think of a low rider jeans and muffin tops….probably not the image one should attach to a $300k plus price-tag.  I realized I was looking at their contribution to the family hatchback four door market, which is supposed to take you from grocery shopping to racetrack without breaking a sweat; but this thing seemed as uncomfortable as middle aged men still trying to pull of skinny jeans when they are not fit, thin or in a really successful rock band (and even then, it’s a stretch).  Worse still, it’s called the FF; which I can only translate into “F***ing Fail”

Fortunately I was able to re-calibrate my Ferrari world a couple of hours later, when I updated the brilliant Copperstate app (available for iPhone and Android – check it out) and viewed a collection of fabulous models that will be enjoying the roads of Arizona with the Egg, next week.  Call me a traditionalist, or maybe a car design Luddite; but there is something so elegant and timeless when you combine Pininfarina with the mid 60’s!

fff puffer-fish2

Bad boys are good…..batteries? Not so much!

Entry into the Copperstate requires a safety inspection, hopefully ensuring the car should at least make it the starting line without any issues other than possible driver error!  Much like a physical, this involves a thorough review from the Doctor, with an appropriate signature to confirm all parts have been investigated as necessary.  My new specialist is located in Torrance, so in between a hip-hop cardio class (I’m confident to report  I WON’T be appearing on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ any time in the next millennium) and Billy Connolly’s one man show last Saturday, I managed to persuade my good friend, Helen to follow us down to the OC for a doctor’s appointment.

The weekend was already resembling an army maneuver due to our over packed schedule – I forgot to mention the Elizabethan cocktail tasting that included Possett and Sack – but I was relatively confident the drive should take no more than an hour each way to reach and return from said location.  Garage door open, driveway clear, GPS navigation entered into the phone, personal friend taxi ready to accompany and then bring me back; all I needed to do was start my engine…..

And. Nothing.

No cough, burp or lights. Nada, Rien, Nienete.

Opening the bonnet, I confirmed the battery terminals were connected; but noticed something dangling from the positive lead that seemed to require attaching to somewhere. Unsure of what I could be looking for, I poked around for a bit and then resorted to my standard mechanical default, “Brenting”.

This is a simple and often successful tactic, requiring nothing more than a phone.  I dial a number, Brent answers, I grizzle for a bit, he listens, either makes a suggestion or comes over and fixes. Last year had him crawling into the passenger footwell, but I was pretty confident he would be able to stay outside the car for my current dilemma – instant improvement!  Unfortunately my idea started going immediately haywire when I realised Brent was already dealing with mechanical issues of his own.  We chatted for a bit, I sent a photo of my extra thing, and was happy to find out he was fairly confident that whatever my rogue attachment may be, it shouldn’t stop the standard procedures.  So, we pulled out  jump leads and started towards Plan B.

Cables attached, Jeep revving with all it’s 3.6L might, and still nothing.  Well, that’s not strictly true; I had the slightest glimmer of a light UNTIL turning the key in the ignition and then all signs pointed to the Egg being as dead as a dodo.  Back to the phone, this time calling the new Egg Doctor, Ed Klasse.  We ran through the current lack of current despite two attempts to jump start her, checked fuses, pulled at the terminals again, and conceded that this Egg was looking more like an omelette.

On to Plan B V2.  Ed and his partner would drive up to me, see what they could find and then take the Egg back down to Torrance – not really the way he’d intended to spend his Saturday afternoon, I suspect.  Fortunately for him, I have smarter friends than me, so Helen suggested we try another pair of jump leads just to be sure that option could be ruled out completely.  Cables reattached, Jeep revving again… which point there was a noticeable improvement in the strength of the ignition lights.

Now convinced and relieved my issue was limited to the battery, we pulled it out and headed to the local autoparts store.  They offer a free re-charging service, which seemed the logical place to start.  One charging station later, my extremely helpful salesman confirmed what we begun to suspect – “it’s not resting, it’s dead”.  He agreed to give my old battery a decent burial, and handed over a brand new replacement.  Within ten minutes the Egg was also revving with all it’s might, I’d reassured Ed he didn’t have to venture north and we were imminently en route as planned.

Despite the inevitable 405 traffic, we reached our destination in just over an hour.  Ed gave the Egg a cursory once over, and reassured me that not only would she be rally ready in a couple of weeks, I will have a detailed and comprehensive breakdown of just how good (or maybe not in some places), her condition really is…..!!

A Quiet Gentleman

It’s an overcast day here in Los Angeles, which seems sadly fitting.  In the early hours of this morning, we lost a quiet gentleman, and I can’t help feeling the sun has chosen not to shine as a mark of respect.

Drino Miller was born in 1941.  A Los Angeles native, who ventured up to Monterey in Northern California  for Junior College  at a time when the area was known for its rural charm rather than a valley of silicon.  His fascination with engines appeared at an early age; purchasing his first car before the age of eleven, determined to understand how it worked. This passing phase never completely disappeared; and by the time he reached his late teens, Drino was exploring the South Pacific with his brother, following a year spent in Tahiti working on a not so large yacht they intended to sail back to California.

drino boat

Returning back to Newport Beach, Drino continued to work with boats until he decided it was time to finish school.

A remarkably clever man, who never forced his opinions on others.  Drino was well-read & well-traveled, with a wealth of knowledge and information.  His educational background reflecting all of those attributes as he first studied Political Science at UCLA, and once he’d graduated then turned to Law School.  Despite his intellectual interests, he combined his love of vehicles and travelling whenever possible; exploring such areas as Baja when there was a break in the educational action.  The terrain was grueling and regarded as motorcycle, rather than car friendly.  However, in 1967, the off-road racer Ed Pearlman invited Drino to join him in the attempt to set a new speed record through Baja.  Although the plan to beat any records was thwarted, their experience set wheels in motion for what was to become the Baja 1000.

Drino’s involvement with Pearlman led to a meeting with Vic Hickey; a designer at GM who was to become synonymous with such iconic vehicles as the Chevy Blazer and Humvee.  This was 1967 however, and Hickey in the early stages of developing his future.  He offered Drino a job, to join the GM team as they started development of the first purpose built off-road racing vehicle.  A temporary blip on the horizon, when General Motors decided not to move forward with the project – however Hickey managed to obtain private funding and immediately called Drino to rejoin his team.  The result of their partnership was to become known as the infamous Baja Boot.

Drino’s involvement with this new approach to off-roading sparked more of his own ideas for designs, and was to be the beginning of a remarkable career.  He also met world class motorcycle racer, Bud Ekins; and the two men enjoyed a friendship that lasted until we watch Bud ride off into the sunset in 2007.

Drino was an engineer, an enthusiast and a racer.  That combination ensured he both continued his development, and tested his theories off-road.  By 1970’s he not only entered the Baja 1000, but earned overall victories in that race as well as Baja 500 and Mint 400.  This passion for success expanded into his own business, Miller-Havens Enterprises.  Working with another engineer, Stanford Haven; they specialized in engine, transmission and conversion kits for Baja Bugs (the Boot being a based on the VW Beetle).  Their idea was clearly successful, as it spawned a number of other companies offering similar kits for other cars.  The off-road market has continued to grow and develop, without question owing a great deal of thanks to Drino’s early imagination and determination.

In less than a decade, Drino’s business & expertise had expanded to include sports cars and midgets; as he worked towards his plan to build Indy Cars.  By the mid 80’s, it became apparent to his peers that Drino had as much talent with people as vehicles; and based on his success at Le Mans and Indianapolis 500 he was invited by Andial, the high performance Porsche tuners, to join their sports car program.  From Germany to Japan, joining the team at Toyota to manage their TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Program.  Here, Drino joined forces with Dan Gurney; supporting his race wins in the four main categories of motorsports – Grand Prix, Indy, NASCAR & Sports Car.

Leaving Toyota in 1996, Drino focused his attention back towards motorcycles, working with ProCircuit to develop engine parts, and support a number of successful riders.  It also gave him more time to enjoy the other aspects of his life – exploring Europe with his wife, Lisa; heading over to Ireland with Bud to explore the delights of the Irish Rally, racing in a more gentlemanly style.

So, why am I sharing this story with you?  Because Drino was always so humble about his experiences, knowledge and success; and because I was lucky enough to consider him a friend.  Sadly, the more recent times we spent together were overshadowed with his illness; but both he and Lisa shared enthusiasm and support for my small attempts to contribute to automotive history with the Egg.  Hanging with Drino and Bud, listening to them recount their stories and adventures?  Truly special memories indeed.

DRINO MILLER     July 30, 1941 – March 4, 2014