Sometimes we need more than a moral compass!

Nine days to go…

I collected The Egg from my wonderful mechanic, Ed “The Egg Doctor” Rutherford at Klasse 356 a couple of weeks ago, and we flew home.  A full bill of health for the safety inspection, and some tightening of the throttle has given her more pick-up, and even better; it’s instant.  The car will happily cruise at 80mph (apparently), but the first few seconds from standing were always a little lackadaisical.  It felt as if she was considering, rather than committing to, the idea of forward motion.  Not any more….now, it’s literally pedal to the metal and catch me if you can!!

So, with little left to do but wash, polish and give my tool kit a quick re-stock; I’m happily counting the days.

2014 was a good year to be driving in Los Angeles.  Which may sound like an oxymoron, especially if you’re familiar with the 405, but thanks to Petrolicious (www.petrolicious.com), we had a couple of fantastic excursions around and out of the city.

I supplied the car, my good friend Kelly provided the invitation and navigation for the first event “Drive Tastefully: Malibu rally”….which started at a strip mall on the back side of Pacific Palisades, and gave early morning coffee drinkers something far more interesting than a croissant to enjoy with their beverages.  An eclectic mix of cars, that included Ferraris, Alfas, Porsches and even a late 80’s Countach.  After a gorgeous morning investigating the canyons, we found ourselves at the Malibu Family wines vineyard for a relaxing brunch.  The route had been exciting enough to ensure everyone was hungry, but even better – a chance to hang out with fellow Angelenos and talk about driving in a way that didn’t remind me of an SNL skit.

The best part?  It was a chance to meet and thank the team behind Petrolicious.  In a relatively short time, they’ve become one of the most interesting and innovative web magazines focused on cars.  Clearly everyone involved is an enthusiast, and they bring that attitude with them to all aspects of their organization.

A few months later, and their second event.  This time, “Drive Tastefully: Paramount Ranch”.  Another early start, however I was to be travelling solo due to the fact I couldn’t beg, coerce or bribe any of the usual local suspects to meet me so early on a cool October morning.  Their loss!!

A crisp start to the day, heading off to Malibu Outpost by way of the 101 & then cross country through the canyons.  I found myself following a fabulous 2CV for part of the journey and was even happier to find it in the car park as I wandered around with my coffee.  After a few catch up conversations it was time to review our driving instructions and then off to Ojai.

I quickly realized there a some key issues of driving without a navigator, especially when you have a gearstick and nowhere to easily stick the instructions for ease of reference.  Fortunately I know the Malibu canyon roads reasonably well, so only a cursory glance back to the paperwork seemed necessary….until I found myself heading back down towards the ocean and not inwards as intended.  Pulling up to the side of the “reasonably quiet as it’s still early on a Sunday” PCH, I pulled out my phone and reviewed the instructions again.  With no reception in the car, I looked into my rear view mirror before opening the door, only to find a number of cars (and drivers holding their phones forlornly to the sky) parked behind me.  Apparently the directions were easier to misunderstand, and none of the available mobile carriers offer any coverage down by the sea!

We all compared notes, and realised that whatever collective mistake we’d made could be rectified by heading back the way we’d come until the first turning opportunity presented itself.  I opted to position myself in the middle of this group, as I was the only solo driver and wanted to take full advantage of someone else’s navigator this time!

Meandering, wandering, cornering and throwing our way around the hills of Malibu and then on towards Moorpark and then further on towards Ojai.  It was a perfect day to drive and even better, I found myself back on the route I’d taken the previous summer for a short getaway to Santa Barbara.  Route 118 took us through agricultural land, beautiful scenery, and the perfect driving section of road known as Grimes Canyon.  Twists and  turns, plus the gorgeous colours of sandstone accompanied our merry band of travelers, and then finally we came into Santa Paula.

At this point our now successful navigation turned into an episode of wacky races.  Despite all of us having the same directions, there were at least four different interpretations of which way we should be going, again.  Cars headed north, south, east and west along the two main streets for a while, until the popular vote agreed on a direction and we found ourselves back en route to Ojai.

Reaching our final destination for the first part of the event, we all pulled into or around a garage forecourt.  Petrol pumps worked overtime as conversations906 and cameras surrounded an extraordinarily stunning orange Porsche 906.  From Ojai we were to head back towards LA, ending at Paramount Ranch, & I decided the best way to continue the journey would be to follow the orange beastie for as long as my much smaller engine would allow.  Fortunately the first couple of miles were through the town, so my acceleration requirements were limited; but no sooner did we reach the open road again and VROOM, in a throaty explosion of horsepower, it disappeared.

Sixty happy miles later, I pulled into Paramount Ranch.

In the late twenties, Paramount Pictures purchased 2,400 acres for use as a “movie ranch”, and it’s been featured in numerous well known and not so well known Westerns. After World War II the studio sold the property off as parcels to private investors. In 1952 Bill Hertz bought 326 acres that still bear the Paramount name, and turned it into a western town.  Open to the public, and available for various events, it’s also a great reminder of our California cowboy history.

There were cars everywhere!  A cornucopia of colour, carburetors and marques parked in every available space, providing a great juxtaposition to an environment that would have happily provided home to a very different kind of horses.

After lunch (the perfect combination of carbs and more carbs – all that’s needed to refuel the internal engine), the cars were reorganized into a combination of years and marques, for more great photographs to be taken and everyone to agree it was another fabulous day.

 

paramount 2

Good grief, is that the time? I’ve been gone for ages!!

I’m not the world’s worst blogger, but after seeing how long it’s been since my last post, I may deserve the title of “World’s Second Worst Blogger”

It’s not that I don’t enjoy this pastime, the complete opposite is actually true….I just feel obligated to have something exciting to report to my three regular readers (Auntie Colleen, the Cat and some very nice person in the Los Feliz area) to warrant their ongoing support.

It would be so much easier if he'd be a back seat driver.

It would be so much easier if he was a back seat driver.

Fortunately they are in luck (although with said cat staring at the computer as I type, there is additional pressure to make this entry both interesting and typo free (extremely difficult when feline’s head seems to be constantly moving in time to the Stereophonics track playing in the background), as the automotive updates are considerable.

In no particular order –

Copperstate 2015.  We’re in!! Again!!  Woohoo, I AM Penelope Pitstop!!!  Navigationally challenged cousin has already booked his flight from England and I’m considering purchasing socks with L & R stitched into them to help with this year’s map reading.  Or, glue the map book to my arm in a slightly McGuyver fashion whilst he recounts stories of all the really interesting things he can see out of the window that are totally irrelevant to our journey.  Better still, it’s 25th anniversary for the event, so an extra driving day has been added.  What more could a girl ask for?!

Talking of anniversaries –  The Egg and I hit a pretty impressive milestone in the past few months, as we’re both 50.  I know this to be true as I treated her to a certificate of authenticity last year, and I had a big party this past January.  Happy to report that other than minor modifications for each of us (she’s been painted a couple of times since new, I now consider the hair salon a necessity rather than an option), we’re both essentially factory originals.  Can’t help feeling the gap will start to widen in her favour over the next few years, but c’est la vie!

Badger hats?  Just call me an early adopter ;)

Badger hats? Just call me an early adopter 😉

Following Copperstate 2014, I planned to start fixing some of the more cosmetic issues (after all, we are – sorry, SHE IS 50).  Fortunately our Egg Doctor decided to check her in case any other problems may have appeared following the 1000 miles we added to the engine.  After a thorough examination he subsequently made an executive decision to replace the kingpins, due to concern there was just a little too much play as we took the corners.  Knowing enough to appreciate the importance of a round hole versus an oval where this particular car part is concerned, I was only too happy to support the plan.  Once I had the keys back, I was completely overjoyed….because, I love The Egg; and have forced my closer friends to suffer the song I wrote to celebrate this particular fact.

It’s a simple song, consisting of that one line repeated over and over, at the top of my voice with no discernible note in tune and clearly I should not be giving up my day job anytime soon.  On the drive back from Torrence, I not only sang this catchy little number, but had added enough choruses to justify a 12″ extended remix with possibly a second version from Mark Ronson chucked in for good measure…the difference was INCREDIBLE.

Faster, more responsive, no slight wandering irrespective of speed or road surface, she now glides round the corners better than I could ever have imagined.  It’s as if I have my own Outlaw – a brand new car in a vintage body.  The Egg Doctor assured me she was now bullet proof, and with every additional mile I’ve added since; he’s been proven 110% correct.  The only thing stopping me from considering more road trips is finding people to join me, as this car is unstoppable!!!

Additional highlights of  the past few months also included a couple of fantastic driving events by the most exciting addition to the automotive magazine world; Petrolicious.  If you are not familiar, please check them out at http://www.petrolicious.com – as the variety of articles, information and fabulous car photos are superb.  Better still, they not only like to write about driving, they’re happy to organize it for the rest of us!  I’ll expand on both events in future posts, but in the meantime – please give them some support.

Maximus Felines is now sitting asleep next to me, so I’m tentatively hopeful he considers my return to the digital age worthwhile. Auntie Colleen is currently asleep in England (& ” you know how much I hate those computer things, so don’t forget to post me a copy”), so thanks in advance my dear Los Feliz reader and I hope this made you smile.

 

Better late than never……

…..due to this year’s Copperstate being so much fun, with longer driving days and more conversational nights, my plan to blog during the event disappeared almost as soon as we arrived at the Tempe stadium on Saturday afternoon. However, knowing the cat and Auntie Colleen are still expecting an update, I’ll be playing apologetic catch-up over the upcoming days!

Familiar faces, another collection of impressive cars eager to hit the road, smiles, handshakes and welcomes to the newbies. As this year’s rally number was added to the Egg, my cousin and I found ourselves enjoying the realization of what was to come. We spent the afternoon wandering the field and taking in the combination of vehicles we’d be sharing the roads with; before heading off to dinner.

Egg prep

Egg prep

 

Yet again, the event started with a wonderful evening at the Phoenix Art museum, where the successful exhibition “Hollywood Costume” was on display and available for us to enjoy at a leisurely pace; before dinner and happy reconnections with fellow Copperstaters.  Although I’ve worked in the film business for over two decades, I still appreciate the elements involved to create that wonderful make-believe world, and the selection of costumes on show bought back some great cinematic memories.

Our co-chairmen for this year’s event gave an overview of the upcoming few days. As ever, the driving routes promised to give us plenty of switchbacks, undulating curves, spectacular scenery and FUN! The Highway Patrol officers who keep a quiet eye on us and the roads we’ll be enjoying were introduced, and I could sense everyone slipping into Copperstate mode as smiles grew more apparent. It was going to be another great event.

The team involved to give us this amazing opportunity, are truly fantastic. The Men’s Arts Council pulls together an extraordDSCF0146inary group of volunteers – mechanics, luggage transport & tow drivers – some at least we all hope we’re not going to need the support of, but are so grateful to have! A team of enthusiasts, who help to remind all of us how lucky we are to be able to enjoy Arizona in such a unique way.

 

 

 

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Days to go, and we’re looking good!

Happy to confirm my navigationally challenged cousin made it through immigration and was lucky enough to add the delightfully slow combination of a super shuttle and the 405 freeway to his LA experience. Better still, he discovered the delights of our newfound sponsorship as soon as he reached his bedroom! Yes, you read correctly, ’S-P-O-N-S-O-R’. I’m moving into the big leagues and finally being taken almost seriously in my driving ability.

This momentous occasion was actually the pinnacle to an already excellent adventure I had a couple of weeks ago. Due to the retirement of my previous Egg Doctor, another one was necessary to seek out. Luckily for me, they may be rare but not completely extinct; and I have to say this one could be more of a surgeon than GP. Down behind the Orange Curtain, yet remarkably accessible thanks to the LA Underground from North Hollywood – Redondo Beach, I discovered KLASSE 356, and Doctor Rutherford. Although I can call him, Ed!

Ed Rutherford has been working on 356’s since his teenage years, and probably knows them better than the back of his hand. He has a sense of humour that could be mistaken for English (another big plus in this Brit’s book), and was not only intent on ensuring the Egg would pass the safety check with flying colours, but wanted to ensure I had a full understanding of her overall condition. Waiting at my final station for him to collect me, it was only a couple of minutes before I heard the familiar sound of the Egg’s engine. On the way back to his workshop, Ed explained how the car had been factory fitted with a larger sized gas tank, and happily demonstrated the cornering advantages I have with my 911 wheels!

His overall prognosis was reasonably positive. Unsurprisingly for the age, there are three areas of rust we need to address. Not extremely serious, but the kind of maintenance to pay dividends. Additionally , there are rubber sills and boots that have reached expiration; and he’s determined to give me a horn that works consistently!! Options such as a vintage style radio, with modern innards, is something to consider in future, and he’s prepared a list of longer term remediations to ensure plenty of road trips in our future. I love the fact this car is clean enough to warrant a second look a we pootle along the road, but not so shiny I worry about driving her. For me, it’s mechanics over cosmetics…we’re about the same age, and I believe diet, exercise and a smile is a far healthier option than plastic surgery, for both of us, at this point.

About to leave, I spotted the supercool Klasse hats that are for sale. Requesting a couple of those to be added to my bill, I was extremely appreciative when Ed decided to supply us with not only the hats, but matching t-shirts to wear on the event. I may not have the most competent navigator, but at least I know he’ll look good!

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…..at 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.

http://www.conceptcarz.com/z19959/Chevrolet-Baja-Boot.aspx

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

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Out of blogging hibernation once more!

February 2014, and we’ve been accepted to take part in the Copperstate 1000, again.  My navigationally challenged mechanical cousin will be resurrecting his role of co-driver, and I’m optimistic my Christmas gift of “Map Reading for Dummies” was both appreciated and studied.  Third year in a row and the event feels like a favourite leather jacket; becoming more comfortable as time passes.

There were a number of high points from last year; but the best aspect was being locked in a small metal container with a family member.  Although we’ve known each other my entire life, I left England in the mid 90’s; so our time together has been limited.  Without question, my initial excitement was replaced with a nervous tinge of “What have I done?” as his arrival date loomed.  Biology only gets you so far, and can’t guarantee you’ll actually like each other.  I still thought of him as my slightly eccentric teenage touchstone of grown-upness; but our reality was going to be two relative (pardon the pun) strangers singing “getting to know you” under possibly stressful circumstances.

Fortunately, what we both discovered, much to our amusement; was just how similar we are.  I score more points on the style and navigation scale; but the eerily familiar twisted sense of humour and occasional sentence finishing couldn’t be ignored.  Being able to fill in the blanks of our respective lives over the past twenty years since I moved from England ended up being an absolute gift; and allowed us both to be extremely honest about the good and bad experiences that inevitably come with growing up.

And then of course, there’s….the ears!

Please don’t laugh but, I have ridiculous ears. They are far too small to be effective as a permanent hair hook, and seriously limited my piercing options in the 80’s due to the size of the lobes.  Apparently they were supposed to continue growing, but clearly mine never received the memo.  I realise on an important list of things to change, I maybe score a 2.5/100, but nevertheless – they’ve been a source of embarrassment and teasing at numerous times.  The only marginally good news on my auditory horizon, I have one on each side; better news – he ended up with the same model!  Clearly there was a bulk purchasing deal somewhere in the 18 months between the two of us being born, as our lugs could be identical twins.

Anyway, I digress. Back-ish to the original topic…..

I’d planned to try Autocross with the Egg after Copperstate 2012. An idea that never came to fruition, but still remains on the bucket list.  Post 2103, my mind switched to the concept of endless road trips.  Discovering how easy the car could deal with 1000 miles meant CA is really nothing more than a combination of Google maps and willing participants.

The high spot of this plan came last summer, when I persuaded a friend to come with me for a quick backroads trip to Santa Barbara.  Inspired by the route book we have for each event, I spent a couple of day meandering my marker along different roads on Google, paying particular attention to the windier and smaller options.  By the time I’d finished, my spiders web was a thing of beauty, matched only by my excitement to show off this newfound prowess of “Routemaster”.  Or would that be Route mistress?

We headed out early, as the journey was to include Santa Paula, Ojai and Lake Casitas.  Turning off the 118 towards Moorpark, I couldn’t help but notice how impressed my passenger seemed to be as he reviewed my detailed and very specific directions.  Smiling, I confirmed two rights and a left would have us heading towards the 118 and fabulous switchbacks of Grimes Canyon in no time!

Except….the second right was a cul-de-sac, and clearly taking us nowhere.  At this point, I had to also admit I’d forgotten to grab the back-up Thomas Guide, last seen sitting on the dining room table (such a rookie mistake).  It’s a behemoth map book, about the size of War & Peace, and covers all routes available in LA (to my English friends, it’s our equivalent of London’s A-Z, but on way on more steroids than even Lance Armstrong could imagine taking, evah!).  Realistically you’ll only use 10 -15 pages regularly, but it’s always useful to have the other 300 plus available in case you are lost somewhere in the inner or outer limits of Los Angeles.

There was only one option, a quick duelling of technology – Iphone versus Android.   I’m still not really sure who won, but it was certainly interesting listening to Suri and her Samsung cousin giving directions in stereo.  Minor hiccup soon overcome, and we headed in the correct direction towards our final destination.  Snagging the Grimes Canyon section for my own driving pleasure, once we were back to more pastoral vistas I handed the keys over, and settled into the navigator’s chair.

There’s nothing quite like watching the Egg waving her magic on another unsuspecting victim.  Sure enough; it was only a matter of revs before the irresistible combination of smooth gear shift and perfect handling as we headed around Lake Castaic, produced that slightly idiotic grin I’ve seen only too often on my own face.  By the time we reached Ojai, he was completely smitten and I felt almost unkind when I suggested  “Maybe, I could drive for a bit?”

So…as I start preparations for 2014, I’m confident that it’s going to be another great adventure!!

(Editors note: Suri = Tom’s Cruise’s daughter.  Siri = Apple Voice Recognition.  Apologies to Mr. C for any confusion that may have ensued)

Tortoise and the Hare

Wednesday arrived, and with it the final leg of the 1000 miles of this year’s Copperstate.  We had almost made it out of the hotel car park before the mechanical cousin realized he’d left his cell phone happily charging in the breakfast room.  Fortunately I have excellent turning and reversing skills, so we returned, retrieved…and headed off again.

Through Sedona, only to be met with extremely bad traffic.  Living in LA, this is not an unusual experience; unfortunately we soon discovered the cause was not regular congestion, but an accident involving one of the Copperstate Highway Patrol.   All emergency services had come out to help one of their own, a reassuring but still worrying sight.  We later discovered what had happened – turning into a forecourt to check on another entrant, the Patrol officer was hit by a driver who decided to pull straight into traffic without stopping to look first.  There was no time to take any avoiding action, and serious injuries were sustained. A situation I’ll revisit later.

Our ultimate destination was Scottsdale, and the morning route took us out to and through Prescott, and with it more stunning scenery, charming old towns and happy waving people as we drove through.  The weather couldn’t have been better if we’d special ordered it.  Moderate temperatures meant the Egg’s “two windows down” air conditioner was all we needed, as we meandered along small single track roads with only other Copperstaters for company.  It was difficult to believe we’d already covered almost 800 miles in a 49 year old car, she was literally singing like Maria as we cornered every bend; and everything about the performance continued to improve the further we drove.  We kept pushing the distance between gas stops, for no other reason than she was running more and more efficiently; maintaining a speed of anything from 65 – 80 mph was simple, because that’s where the car wanted to be.  “She’ll be bulletproof”, the Egg Doctor  told me, and he was absolutely correct!

The last stretch of the morning took us up and down and through switchbacks coming into Bagdad.  As this section had been included last year, I was delighted to see it again, and just as happy to let my mechanical cousin drive, and enjoy watching him enjoy the experience.  He smiles a great deal anyway, but by the time we reached our lunch spot, I was sharing the car with a human equivalent of the Cheshire Cat.  Good times.

There are some great cars, and some really great drivers on this event. One of which was a professional Porsche racing instructor/racer; who very generously offered to let Harry ride shotgun for the afternoon in his exquisite Jaguar XK150 OTS.  The remainder of the route was easy enough for me to navigate and drive, so I reassured him that I’d be fine.  He left, I continued chatting with friends…but there was just something that didn’t feel quite right.  Sipping coffee, I replayed the late morning….switchbacks, happy cousin, pull into car park, get out of passenger seat…happy cousin locks car and we walk into restaurant…happy cousin has my car keys.  Happy cousin has gone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In less time than it takes to shout “get out of my way”; I left my seat, sprinted (much to my amazement, had absolutely no idea I could move that fast) and found the Jag literally about to disappear into the wild blue yonder.  One “oops” later from the family member, before they disappeared in a roar of engine, and normal service was resumed.

The final leg from Bagdad to Scottsdale was a great combination of open scenery that stretched for low desert miles in either direction, with occasional bursts of small towns.  At one point it was just me and the Egg, cruising happily along a route that was so quiet, I wondered if maybe I’d accidentally taken a wrong turning and stumbled into somewhere the world had forgotten about.  Time has a different meaning in this situation.  No radio, no need or desire to be glued to some electronic device, a watch that I inevitably forget to wind most mornings…all I could do was just enjoy the moment and the environment.  Through Wickenberg, every speed limit was fastidiously observed – as the local constabulary had politely alerted us that any decision not to do that would be dealt with appropriately.  The Copperstate isn’t a race, it’s a rally – but when you’re presented with perfect driving conditions, and long inviting roads, it’s easy to forget that there are limits we’re expected to maintain!

One final section before reaching the outskirts of Scottsdale included another change of scenery; driving through Peoria and the tall pines were back. A few miles that reminded me again of Europe, before coming back into the early afternoon heat and sunshine that everyone associates with AZ.  I pulled into the car park, and was quickly amused to discover that I’d beaten the XK150….which explained the stationary flash of red I’d spotted on the way out of Wickenberg!!  My tortoise to their hare, clearly benefitting from the classic F1 move of the when to fuel.  How often it all comes down to time spent (or not) in the pits 🙂

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The dictionary definition of awesome should simply be, “The Grand Canyon”.

Snowy conditions……my favourite!  That news greeted us over the coffee and croissants for Tuesday’s breakfast, and presented a few more options for all of us than initially expected.  Our route was to take us up to an elevation of at least 8000 feet, so the weather change shouldn’t be ignored.   A quiet review of road conditions with the mechanical cousin, based on the theory:

  • We had The Egg (German engineering)
  • All weather tyres (rain and snow no issue), and
  •  Two drivers born in England (bad weather is synonymous with our cultural identity)

Left us flipping a coin and deciding we’d chance our luck until it ran out, and take the original mapped route.

Heading through Flagstaff, we seemed to be driving for an awfully long time with nothing listed in the route book, showing up on our horizon.  With no visible landmarks, there seemed to be only one option – good old Google maps.  Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to offer the immediately expected result, so I decided that old school was the last resort.  We pulled into a garage forecourt, and I headed inside with the route book and was happy to discover that we had done nothing more than overshoot a turning about four miles earlier.

At this point, I should also mention that my mechanical cousin is many things….all good….but keen navigator is not one of them.  It’s not that he can’t navigate, he just occasionally forgets.  Not a serious problem, but certainly added a level of excitement throughout our entire trip.  By the time we retraced our steps and found the right track, we’d eaten up about an hour and better still, given the sun enough time to start drying out the road.

And what a road…..forty plus miles of gently undulating curves that took us up and over a mountain pass.  Tall pines and the occasional deer our only companions as we headed through some of the most desolately beautiful countryside of the entire rally.  Our plan paid off, as we made it all the way to the lunchtime stop, an airplane museum in Valle.  Now on the other side of a mountain, weather conditions had changed from cold and snowy to just as cold  wind, a not completely welcome change.  Lunch was a welcome break before heading off to our next exploration, the big ditch.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for eighteen years, and am embarrassed to admit that I have not seen the Grand Canyon.  Many trips to Las Vegas, and yet there never seemed to be the time or inclination to add it to the itinerary.  Having seen so many photographs, there’s a sense of familiarity which may be the reason….but all of that changed on Tuesday afternoon as we paraded through the Grand Canyon National Park.

Stopping at the first recommended viewing point, I finally managed to see it with my own eyes, and the only word I could come up with seemed to be “wow”; which obviously falls short of any real description, but if you’ve seen what the locals affectionately call ‘The Big Ditch’, you will understand.  Photo opportunities were perfect as we reached our destination early enough in the afternoon for the combination of sun and shadow to play across this natural wonder.

Our cruise back to Sedona continued the slightly alpine theme, from the vegetation at least.  The last few miles coming back into the valley was breathtaking…..the  layers of red sandstone forming beautiful rocks that are so unusual it’s tempting to expect Tim Burton’s Martians to be hiding in crevices.  Or maybe I’ve been living in LA too long!!!

Story swapping back at base was a mixed affair.  Those who opted for the alternative route were either relieved or disappointed to find out what we experienced.  After all, being in a convertible when the top almost works is not really conducive to winter climates. For a few others, the realization that if The Egg could do it, so should they was a little more bittersweet.  Best news, no real casualties either way; which is all that everyone hopes for by the time cocktail hour arrives.

 

Snow Egg - she looks good at every angle!
Snow Egg – she looks good at every angle!
Yes...there really is snow in the desert!

Yes…there really is snow in the desert!

A very big ditch

A very big ditch

Happy family

Happy family