When my rally brother Steve and I first started rallying together in the late 1990s, we both lived in New Jersey. Steve owned his ’66 Sunbeam Tiger, which was a great car for these events.
After several years of this, Steve took a job transfer to California, but we both wanted to continue participating in the New England 1000. This meant that Steve needed to fly east, and your scribe needed to provide the rally ride. Steve did come back to this area four times between 2005 and 2015. For those rallies, we initially drove my ’68 Mustang California Special. When that car went away, we switched to my ’67 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior.
Throughout this time, I had always informed him that should a left-coast event become available, I’d return the favor and fly west. Besides, the thrill of driving that V8-powered British sports car of his was something I savored to repeat. During the winter of 2016-2017, we found an opportunity that seemed to hit all the right notes.
The rally was called “Drive Toward a Cure”. Scheduled to be held in April of 2017, it would be a 3-day event, starting in downtown Los Angeles, and overnighting in Paso Robles in central CA. Its mission: raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s Disease. We would be driving in its inaugural run. We were in!
With a rally push-off date of Friday April 28, I flew out on Wednesday the 26th, to meet up with Steve on Thursday and attend to any last-minute details. It was great to see the Tiger again. We changed the oil and buttoned up a few loose ends. The biggest difference compared to last time was the installation of a hardtop, which meant no top-down driving.
Friday morning arrived quickly enough. We were up at 4:30 a.m. (my body still on NY time), because we needed to depart his house at 5:15 a.m. to reach our destination, the Petersen Museum in L.A., at 7 a.m.
This New Yorker couldn’t believe the traffic on the highways of southern California at 6 a.m. on a weekday morning! Steve drove in without issue, and we parked at the Petersen to collect our registration papers, get coffee, and meet some of our fellow rallyists.
There were approximately 20 cars with scheduled check-out times one minute apart. One of the unique features of this rally was that there were another 20 cars doing likewise, but starting in Danville, outside of San Francisco. They would head south as we headed north. We would not see those cars until our rendezvous at our host hotel.
We left the parking deck of the Petersen, and drove directly into… downtown LA congestion. We were trying to get to the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), just a few blocks away, but gridlock maximized our time getting there.
Once on the PCH, we were moving along nicely. After a few miles, we turned right, and went straight uphill into the mountains. By this time, there was a lineup of 4 to 5 rally cars behind us, and one in front of us. The lead car was a Jensen Interceptor Coupe, with a Chrysler V8. Another hybrid, just like our Tiger.
The scenery of oceanfront beaches changed to deep canyons full of verdant foliage. The roads were winding, with sharp bends and hairpin switchbacks. For long stretches, there were no guardrails between you and the bottom of the canyon. It didn’t matter. The weather was perfect.
Our first stop was the Mullin Museum in Oxnard. Peter Mullin’s private collection resides here, and it consists of exclusively French automobiles. The museum’s interior design is just as impressive as the cars. The only drawback to our visit was a one-hour limitation, which meant we may have seen about 25% of it.
Yes, we were “encouraged” to keep moving, but it’s important to point out that very much UNLIKE the NE1000, our driving stages were NOT timed. This California Adventure was not a TSD (time/speed/distance) type rally, and as such, it made for a more relaxed driving atmosphere behind the wheel.
Lunch was in the charming town of Solvang (it’s redundant to say “charming” about these California towns outside of the metropolitan areas), and we were back in the saddle to be on time for 7 p.m. dinner at the Allegretto Resort in Paso Robles.
We were very, very late for dinner.
With me behind the wheel, Steve saw it first. The temperature gauge, which we monitored constantly, suddenly shot up well past what had been its normal 200 F. I pulled into a bank parking lot; we opened the hood; and it was a trifecta: the sight of green fluid all over the engine compartment; the unmistakable odor of hot coolant; and a loud hiss as the steaming liquid and vapor tried to escape.
Steve checked the radiator hose clamps for tightness. He had just replaced the factory radiator with an aluminum model to try to stay one step ahead of the Tiger’s Achilles Heel: excess engine heat. Steve reported that all clamps looked good. Because things were so hot under there, we were prevented from further diagnosis.
Our savior on Friday night came in the form of Hagerty roadside assistance, which was part of the rally’s benefit package. Within an hour, a flatbed truck picked up the car, and we rode in the cab with “Junior”. He drove us the final hour to the hotel. We walked into dinner at 9 p.m., tired, hungry, and most upsettingly, unsure of what was ahead for the car.
What transpired on Saturday morning will restore anyone’s faith in human nature. Or, as Steve himself put it, “yes, there is a rally God”. (The details are in the sidebar story below: “Paso Robles Good Guys Rescue Stranded Tiger”.)
While we missed Saturday morning’s driving events, we didn’t miss lunch! After our meal (including a visit from the mayor of Paso Robles, Steve Martin), we were on the road again for the afternoon’s drives. (Another distinguishing characteristic compared to the NE1000: Day 1 is “rallying”; Day 2 is “scenic cruising”.) We drove through the mountainous landscape dotted with vineyards, then out to Cambria, on the coast, before heading back to the Allegretto.
Dinner was at a different nearby winery, and was served family style. You really get to know your fellow rallyists when you must ask the Ferrari driver “could you please pass the potatoes?” The free-flowing wine helped.
Sunday morning started with a surprise visit from the local San Luis Obispo-based AACA club. Several American classics, definitely different from the rally cars, were in the parking lot for us to admire. Soon after, we were headed to brunch at our 3rd winery stop (Paso Robles must have 100 vineyards). After brunch, it was adieus, and we were on our way home.
The trip to Steve’s house was mostly on I-5, a north-south highway in the middle of the state. The ambient temperature increase was noticeable compared to the delightfully moderate Paso Robles, and we were glad for the hardtop. Had we been convertibling, we would have roasted.
The Tiger got us home in plenty of time for a celebratory dinner with Steve and his wife. All hot-running issues were behind us. The car did about 700 miles, and except for the hose failure, proved that you can drive a 51-year-old car in these kinds of adventures. We don’t exactly know what’s next in our quest for another rally, but it’s sure to yield stories.
SIDEBAR: “Paso Robles Good Guys Rescue Stranded Tiger”
After being towed to our hotel on Friday night, it was a non-stop conversation centered around “what do we do now?” While it was necessary to begin to consider options for Sunday (Tow the car home? Leave it in Paso Robles and rent a car? FLY back to L.A.??), we also knew that we had to spend Saturday morning giving our best shot to a repair attempt.
Before breakfast, Steve worked the Google machine and compiled a list of local repair shops. Most of them didn’t open until 8 a.m., so we breakfasted at 7:30, then quickly headed back to the room to work the phones. With both of us making calls, I struck pay dirt on my 3rd try. “Jorge” at Dave Foltz Automotive answered the phone. I must have sounded like a broken-hearted teenager: “Hi, listen, I’m from out of town, we’re driving an old car, it broke down, we’re stranded, WWWAAAAAHHHHHH!!!”
Alright, it wasn’t that bad. Even if I did sound desperate, Jorge was cool and calm. “Listen, I don’t know what it is, but bring it in, and we’ll look at it right away.” “OK, Jorge, but I need it FLAT-BEDDED. Can you do that?” “No, but call Dennis at 123-456-7890.” I called Dennis. “Sure, I got a flat-bed. I can be there in 10 minutes.” Was I dreaming?
By the time we walked downstairs and out to the portico, Dennis and his truck were waiting for us. Dave Foltz Automotive was 1.5 miles away. As we pulled into the lot, I spotted a NAPA store next store. I mean, five paces away.
I jumped out and Jorge greeted me. But every bay was full, and I was doubtful they’d get to it anytime soon. Jorge said, “we’re finishing one up in 10 minutes, then we’ll bring in the Tiger”. Sure enough, the Tiger was next into the shop, and tech Antonio went to work. I sat in the customer lounge, and tried to distract myself with a year-old People magazine.
Within another few minutes, Jorge was in front of me with a blown lower radiator hose in his hands. “Hey, where do you get parts for something like this?” I said I had no flippin’ idea. He said that he’d walk next door to see what NAPA had. Back to People.
FIVE minutes later, the NAPA parts dude shows up holding a new version of the exact hose. I was so beside myself that I wanted to hug Jorge. (But I refrained.) A few more minutes with People, and I heard a honk. Antonio was outside, beckoning me to join him for a test drive. Halleluiah! They did it!
Total time at Dave Foltz: about 90 minutes. Total charges, including California surcharge for handling cancer-causing chemicals (I made that up): $106 (I didn’t make that up). Antonio got his palm greased to the tune of $20. The Tiger was back at the Allegretto by about 11 a.m. Saturday morning.
The fine auto repair personnel at Dave Foltz Automotive of Paso Robles deserve nothing but our highest praise. At 9 p.m. the night before, even my best-case fantasy didn’t have the car fixed THIS quickly.
The rally Gods smiled. “We’ll take care of you this time….”
All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.