Thursday, April 28, 2016

The French Collection

1930 Bugatti Type 46 Cabriolet

Alma-Rose - PDFSure, you’ve been to a few automotive museums. You love the Petersen and its diverse collection of hundreds of cars in more than 100,000 square feet, plus its semi-exclusive basement vault.

This is not that kind of museum.

In fact, this may be unlike any other
car museum in the country. The Mullin Automotive Museum, established in 2010, is borne of one man’s passion for a specific subset of cars. The good news is, it’s a spectacular subset.

Peter Mullin’s collection consists largely of French automobiles from the Art Deco period of the 1920s and ‘30s, though the museum is actually about more than just cars. The interior décor of the Mullin reflects the aesthetic of this glamorous age, with even the elevator festooned in period-reflective ornamentation – though the building happens to be fully modern, with solar roof panels and a LEED Gold certification. 

And the collection even includes period art and furniture, plus a bar reclaimed from 1920s-era Chicago, so you can imagine the barkeep sliding an illicit cocktail across it toward Al Capone himself.

This commitment to the many aspects of the era led Autoweek magazine to rate the Mullin as one of the top five automotive museums in the country in 2012. 

The museum unveiled its Cars & Carriages exhibit two weeks ago, high- lighting the transition between horse power and “horsepower,” including a celebration of the commonality between the two eras that stems from the coach-building tradition of early automobiles. The very same craftsmen who assembled horse-drawn coaches before motorization lent their workmanship and styling touch to the new “horseless carriages.”

In light of this occasion, I headed down to Oxnard with my friend Jason Austin, a Santa Barbara-area farrier (he gives horses their fancy footwear), for a tour of the museum led by head docent Warner Hall.

Hall started with a little background on Mullin and his collection. While there are only around 50 cars on display in the building, Peter Mullin’s assemblage comprises more than 150 cars, many stashed in various storage facilities around the county. He also chairs the board of directors at the Petersen, so Mullin – the man is one of the leaders of the community of enthusiasts who strive to protect the world’s automotive heritage. 

This extensive collection allows for some great variety, even within the narrow category that he has embraced, so Hall says that whenever he’s away from the museum for any period of time, he always looks around for “what’s left and what’s new,” after regular collection rotations.

The first car that he chose to highlight is the oldest motorcar in the Mullin collection, a 1902 Panhard & Levassor Type B1, which Hall called “the Start of the Art.” This car, and its “Système Panhard”, provided a new formula for automotive layout, with the front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels. It also had a steering wheel rather than a tiller, and a pedal and gear level layout that would make it much more familiar to modern drivers than other cars of its age. 

This particular car was restored about a quarter-century ago, and it won the prestigious Charles A. Chayne Trophy at Pebble Beach last year, which celebrates vehicles with the most advanced engineering for their particular era.

Hall pointed out many of the other cars in the collection from various historic French brands, such as Voisin, Delahaye, Talbot-Lago, and Hispano- Suiza (this one doesn’t sound French, but the company started producing its most extravagant models in Paris in the early 1900s). Many of the most valuable models, however, hail from that most storied Italian-cum-French brand, Bugatti. 

In fact, Mullin has a great relationship with the Bugatti family, says Hall. The company itself is, of course, now under the control of the Volkswagen empire, but the family are still stewards of their own legacy.

From the salon, one can survey the entire museum
That legacy extends beyond cars, with the Bugatti clan originally making its name in the art world. Ettore Bugatti’s father, Carlo, was a prominent designer of furniture, jewelry, and even musical instruments. The museum has on display many pieces from Carlo’s workshop, including some furniture with captivating inlay work. It also has some sculpture from Ettore’s brother Rembrandt Bugatti. 

That artistic family tradition drove Ettore to incorporate into his cars some of the most beautiful design in the automotive world, and the marque is still celebrated for its stunning aesthetics. 

One of these stunners that Hall pointed out was the Type 46 Cabriolet, ornamented with such detail that even its powerplant is adorned with an engine scraping technique that, he says, required “a bazillion hours” of work, despite being a relatively invisible part of the design. 
This car is a great example of Mullin and his wife, Merle, not only restoring their cars to full glory, but also customizing them with flourishes that, while not original, are in keeping with the type of design work that would have been executed in their heyday. The couple had the T46 upholstered with a custom woven deerskin that complements the wood-festooned dash beautifully. 

And the Mullins will go to extremes sometimes to realize their design vision on a car. Hall even recounted a story of Mullin buying an entire herd of buffalo to be able to upholster one of his Hispano-Suizas with the rare hide.

Some of the more stunning sights in the museum are cars for which the word “patina” is a vast understatement. Tucked into the rear of the hall is a row of unrestored cars from the Schlumpf reserve collection, a haul of vehicles seized by the French government from a couple of bankrupt textile magnate brothers.

Around the corner sits “The Lady in the Lake”, a 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia that had resided at the bottom of an Italian lake for 75 years. Much of the car had melted away by the time it was raised, but when they drilled into the engine to ensure there wasn’t water sloshing around inside, they found a crankcase full of the original oil, said Hall. 

I could fill countless more pages with the wonders that abound at the Mullin, but instead I advise you to check it out yourself. Although make sure you plan ahead. The museum is open only two Saturdays per month, and you must buy tickets ahead of time. The tickets are $15 – with various discounts available – and the views are priceless. 

Visit for schedule information and to buy tickets.

Let’s Get Ready to Rally

Diana Starr Langley, Monte Wilson, Jeff Henley, and Michael Hammer at last year’s Rally

Alma-Rose - PDFTwo years ago, 30-some cars participated in the first Rally4Kids; last year, there were 50. This year, more than 70 cars – classics, sports cars, racers, muscle cars, fancy cars, and everything in-between – have signed up for the 3rd Annual Rally4Kids, a fundraiser for the United Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara County.

One of the vehicles, being driven by Steve Hughes, may draw the attention not only of car lovers, but of cinephiles as well: it’s a little scamp called the Alfa Romeo Spider, aka Duetto. This is a car made famous by the movie The Graduate, starring a fresh-faced Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock memorably drives his 1966 Alfa down from Berkeley to Santa Barbara to intercept Elaine Robinson’s wedding, running out of gas along the way.

Fun fact: Hoffman drives through the Gaviota Tunnel on his drive down, where we hear the engine echoing off the walls. This was actually the northbound tunnel, since there is no southbound tunnel along the Gaviota Pass. There is, of course, no Vernon Avenue exit here in town, nor an Allan Street where the church was located, so best of luck replicating this famous journey.

Steve Hughes’s 1967 Alfa Romeo Spider Duetto
But you can see what is essentially an identical car if you say “hello” to Steve at the rally. Hughes’s Alfa is a 1967 model; it has different mirrors, but the other details are the same, down to the color. I talked to Hughes about the car and the movie, and he had some other interesting tidbits to share.

“You know why they used that car in the movie?” he asks, and answers, “Because Dustin Hoffman’s uncle was the Alfa importer.” This was a stroke of luck for the brand, because it put Alfa on the map in the U.S. and would ultimately sustain sales of the Spider model through four generations to more than 100,000 units.

While Hughes has only owned this car for a couple of years, it’s not his first Alfa Romeo. He had a 1957 Giulietta, which he says “was really nice but it was original paint, and we figured it was too valuable to drive in rallies. “And also,” he adds somewhat ruefully, “every time we drove it, it broke down.”

Hughes then offered to let me drive the car, so I eagerly headed back up to Santa Barbara and took him up on it. It was a rainy day, but a window of time opened up for my friend Jason Austin and I to take a quick run around Mission Canyon, just as the sun was peeking out.

Luckily, the top is an easy affair, and you can throw it back from the driver’s seat when the chance suddenly presents itself. It’s something that a modern-day Mazda MX-5 Miata is celebrated for as well.

Hughes has been in the car business for 30 years, since moving to the U.S. from England. It was one of the clas- sic stories of coming over on vacation and deciding this is where he should be.

“I don’t know, I just came and never went home.”

Hughes will be at the Rally with his wife, Micheline, and we talked a bit about what the event means to them.

Peter Sperling and Sean McHugh
“Well, we were surprised how important it is, what a good charity Boys & Girls Club is. It really does great work,” he said. “It’s nice when you do something and it goes locally.”

While there are tons of great activities for the kids, including sports, arts & crafts, and even a fully functional recording studio run by nonprofit Notes for Notes, one of the most impactful programs involves serving hot dinners to kids who otherwise might often go hungry.

The drive will again kick off at software company QAD in Summerland. Last year’s route was beautiful and fun, with a great lunch stop at Calamigos Ranch near Malibu, and no doubt the rally masters will again guide drivers and their navigators on a great adventure.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. The after-party at the Nesbitt Estate, also in Summerland, is a grand soirée, and this year the entertainment includes The Tearaways rocking the night with music redolent of the British Invasion, and even wandering magicians from the Magic Castle giving impromptu performances throughout the crowd.

Eric Phillips, Lynda Weinmann, and Charles Ward in 2015
Another big highlight of the after-party is the auction, both silent and live. They’ve gotten some amazing packages donated this year. Some of the best live-auction items include a 4-night villa stay in one of 17 cities worldwide through Exclusive Resorts; Caribbean and Mediterranean cruises aboard a SeaDream mega-yacht; two nights for a big group at the Sunstone Winery Estate; and VIP tickets to any Beach Boys show in the country, which includes backstage passes.

As of press deadline, there were still a few spots left if you have a car you’d like to drive and want to get in on the action. For information, visit rally or contact Kristi Newton at (805) 681-1315.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Middleton Gets in Gear for Motor Classic

Alma-Rose Middleton and her 1955 Thunderbird
Alma-Rose - PDFThe fourth annual Montecito Motor Classic (MMC) hits Coast Village Road on Sunday, September 27, and this year’s show is gearing up to feature more than 150 cars, and dozens of motorcycles, as well. 

In the run-up to the show, I got a chance to talk to one Ms. Alma-Rose Middleton, a board member and participant in the show, who will be dis- playing her automotive pride and joy, Ms. Gina, in the show in a few weeks.

Middleton has been with the MMC since the beginning and has watched as the spectacle has grown in awareness and stature.

“I’m excited about the fact that it’s getting so well-known, and the Petersen is participating in it,” she says, adding that there’s been a lot more interest in the show from not only within the Santa Barbara and Montecito communities, but from out- side as well. Middleton also provides the design for the event’s website.

Ms. Gina is getting revved-up for her role in the festivities, too. This is the name that Middleton gave to her 1955 Ford Thunderbird when she bought it ...ahem, her... eight years ago.

“I loved that body style since I was just about 10 years old... It took my breath away, and I could never shake that car out of my system,” she says.

Before she met her husband, Orwin Middleton, she knew “more so than most men do about vintage cars,” particularly because of her store in L.A. that dealt in vintage car memorabilia. In fact, she had begun pursuing her love of cars after an injury cut short her 10-year polo career, which she sees as a “turning point” in her life.

But she credits Orwin with putting her ultimate automotive fantasy on the road to reality through the use of eBay.

They found Ms. Gina in Ventura, and Middleton immediately knew they were soul mates; the car was born in June 1955, exactly one week after Middleton’s birth. In fact, they even have joint birthday celebrations, complete with cake traditions.

“I always get a little cupcake and put a candle on it, and my husband puts the candle behind the exhaust, and I turn on the car and she blows out her candle.”

The car is in great shape, with all the systems in good working order. Its 292-cubic-inch V8 engine puts out 200 hp, which makes for a strong comparison against the original six-cylinder-only Corvette it was battling against. In fact, the 1955 T-bird was a direct response to Chevy’s sports car. Ford’s approach, however, which it called “personal luxury,” ate the Vette’s lunch that year, outselling it 23 to one.

Of the more than 16,000 T-birds sold in the ’55 model year, very few had the transmission setup that Ms. Gina has, according to Middleton. Only 10 percent of the cars had the manual gearbox, and of those, only a few hundred added her car’s overdrive to the 3-speed floor shifter, she says.

Middleton drives Ms. Gina everywhere, including all over Santa Barbara, as well as to car shows up in Carmel. They’re together so much, she says, that people have taken to calling her “the T-bird lady.”

“I feel very special,” Middleton says about the feeling of driving Ms. Gina. “I feel very much like a lady in that car.”

She also feels like the car reflects her personality, being “sporty and young at heart,” and perhaps she gets to enjoy some of the glamour of its association with the many celebrities who owned one in its heyday.

And Middleton loves the attention and connections that her lovely steed draws, with everyone from young kids to old ladies complimenting her on Ms. Gina, particularly the Thunderbird Blue color.

Ms. Gina has seen her fair share of glamour, being regaled with various awards at car shows over the years, and she lives a pampered life, under the protection of both a garage and a car cover; you can never be too careful!

Theirs is very much a car-loving home, with Orwin caring for some incredible cars, including the 1961 Corvette he’s had since he was 19 years old. And for nearly 40 years, he’s had a Ferrari 250GT Lusso, whose average value has skyrocketed in the past four years to roughly $2 million. But the car he may show at the MMC, she says, is his 1957 Corvette racecar, which is a regular participant at historic races like the recent ones in Monterey.

He also happens to be the designated mechanic for Ms. Gina, and he knows the car in and out, she says, but Alma-Rose herself has the skills to work on the car as well. In fact, she even keeps a few tricks up her sleeve for quick fixes on the road. 

Well, maybe not up her sleeve. Middleton always keeps a pair of pantyhose in the car, which trace back to an experience she had when she was 22. She was driving an old Audi when it had alternator issues. When she got the car off the highway to open the hood, she saw that the alternator belt was “hanging by a shred,” and would need replacing. Because she was wearing pantyhose, she was able to rip off one of the legs and tie it around the alternator to generate just enough charge to get her to a gas station. 

Hearing that story cemented her “car girl” status in her husband’s mind, Middleton says.

“I think that’s when my husband fell in love with me.”

You can see Ms. Gina and 150 other beautiful classics at the Montecito Motor Classic on Coast Village Road, Sunday, September 27, 8 am – 3 pm. The event benefits the Santa Barbara Police Activities League (PAL) and the Santa Barbara Police Foundation.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Monterey Starts Its Engine

Sir Jackie Stewart, a regular fixture at the Concours (photo by Erick Bech)
Pebble Beach - PDFEach year, for practically an entire week in August, the car-crazy elite of these United States (and many eager and well-connected foreigners) descend upon the Monterey Peninsula in an orgy of cars and money.

The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the only other automotive events in the world that can rival Monterey Car Week in terms of the concentration of those two things. While Monaco may have the edge in terms of attendees’ net worth, Monterey most certainly has the edge when it comes to the value of its rolling participants.

August 11-16 was punctuated by charity galas, ultra-high-dollar auctions, and car shows, the flag- ship event being the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. (If you want to establish your automotive bona fides, it helps to know that this type of event is pronounced CON-cor dele-GANTZ.)

Peter Eastwood brought this 1911 Pope-Hartford Model Y Roadster from the L.A. County Natural History Museum. The car was donated to the museum in 1937 and it has full documentation. It is one of the few 6-cylinder versions that exist. (photo by Erick Bech)
While it’s called Car Week, the few of us attendees who aren’t independently wealthy have to work day jobs and cannot spend an entire week achieving carvana. So my photographer, Erick Bech, and I headed up on Friday to catch the weekend festivities. 
One particularly useful piece of information: if you plan to head to Pebble next year, book your hotel room now. Rooms on the Monterey Peninsula are a hot commodity, and are often over $1,500 per night, even if you book early. Since we secured our media credentials fairly late in the game, our options were limited. Luckily, a kindly host on took us in, giving us a perfect home base in downtown Monterey. 
Lemons of the World
Our first adventure also happened to be in Monterey, and we strolled to the best free event the week has to offer, an offshoot of the rollickingly fun cheap racing series, the 24 Hours of LeMons ($500 value limit for race cars!), not to be confused with the nearly 100-year-old 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in France. The Concours d’LeMons (pronounced Lé-mons, as in “lemons”) is a self-described “celebration of the Oddball, Mundane, and truly Awful of the automotive world.” This is the sixth year of the LeMons event, and while the organizers have great affection for the prestigious blue-blood events that abound across the peninsula, they recognize the need for a sense of humor. Evidently, even the Pebble organizers agree, as the Concours d’LeMons appears on the official slate of proceedings that they publish. 
I’ve been to this show three years in a row, and it never disappoints. Sights included a pair of pristine Yugos, a full lineup of orphaned AMC products such as Pacers and Gremlins, a Nash Metropolitan equipped with a flame-thrower with which to roast hot dogs, and even a London dou- ble-decker bus offering free tours.

The show gives out a number of awards focused on the terribleness of the entries, such as the Unmitigated Gaul Award, which goes to the most god-awful French car in attendance – this year a 1964 Citroen. The commensurately titled Worst In Show went to a ‘64 Ford Galaxie that had been kitted out as a desert racing special, complete with spare tires obnoxiously ripping through the trunk lid. 

Five-time Le Mans-winning race driver Derek Bell (photo by Erick Bech)
The Races at Laguna Seca
From there, we headed to the famous Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, aka the Monterey Historics. Each year, owners of classic race cars gather to recreate the golden ages of motorsports. One of the most entertaining classes, if not necessarily the fastest, is the pre-1940 class, which had cars from as far back as 1911 putting down their best lap times. While the 1st through 3rd places in this race were grabbed by an Alfa and
Lagondas from 1939, 4th went to a 1916 Auburn-Sturtivant. 
We were positioned at the famous Corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, a serious left-right-left sequence that also throws in a gnarly drop that can be just as much of a challenge as the corners. 

La Crème de la Crème
To round out the day, we headed to one of the many events geared toward owners of luxury marques held during the weekend. The Ferrari Owners Club holds their Barnyard Ferrari reception at a shopping cen- ter in Carmel, offering delicious food samples from the restaurants on site, wine tastings from local vintners, and live music, to accompany the parking lot full of Italian exotics.

We turned in early that night in anticipation of covering the main event.

While you may have been to many car museums with many famous cars, the event at Pebble Beach is purely incomparable, being the confluence of not only the most valuable cars in the world, but also some of the loveliest scenery and throngs of people that include the most influential names in the business, mingling democratically with the herd of commoners.

Celebrated designer Ian Callum has worked at Ford, Aston Martin, and now Jaguar. He was game for a fun chat inside the judges’ quarters at Pebble. (photo by Erick Bech)
We’ve assembled a gallery of some of the more interesting sights at the show, including words from some of the entrants who beamed with pride at being included at this prestigious event. 

One special aspect of our experience at this year’s Concours was our ability to talk to judges. We were grateful for the help of Roy Miller, a beloved member of the Santa Barbara enthusiast and collector car community, who has been serving as a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours for many years. Roy is always generous with his time, and this event was no different, as he connected us with a few other judges to get their perspectives.

Pebble Beach has been called the most prestigious concours d’elegance in the world, and it seems that everyone in the automotive world regards it with a sense of awe. For most collectors of rare and high-dollar vintage cars, the prospect of displaying a car at Pebble is what dreams are made of. Indeed, many collectors spend several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars buying and preparing vehicles in the hopes of selection. It can be an intimidating and daunting world. 
Jeff Brynan once had a chance to talk to Sir Stirling Moss about this car, which Bruce McLaren beat him with in an FIA race at Sebring in 1962. Asked if he remembered the car, Brynan recalls Moss replying, “I certainly do, and if I would’ve had more horsepower that day I would’ve beaten that bastard McLaren.” The green ribbon on the car indicates that Brynan took part in this year’s Tour d’Elegance, a rally open to all Concours entrants. His son made him practice driving it beforehand on back roads to make sure the tricky racing powertrain didn’t create any embarrassing moments on the tour. (photo by Erick Bech)
The Fiat Abarth Coupe
Jeff Brynan talked to me about his 1961 Fiat Abarth Coupe, a car previously owned and raced by the legendary Briggs Cunningham, and which happened to be featured in an epic racing battle between Bruce McLaren and Stirling Moss.

Brynan’s appearance at this year’s Concours appears to be the relatively unlikely outcome of a series of serendipitous encounters, and he entered the car against the advice of his son, who works for the Gooding and Co. auction house. The car is not considered super valuable, and the family’s ultimate goal is to secure a spot for an Alfa Romeo Sprint Zagato currently being restored; Jeff’s son encouraged him to wait for that restoration to be completed to take their big shot at Pebble.

But Brynan entered the Fiat on a
lark and heard the news from his wife of a big envelope from Pebble.

“And it reminded me of college,” he laughs. “They don’t send you a big envelope to tell you no.”

Jeff Brynan’s 1961 Fiat Abarth Coupe. Brynan, of Beverly Hills, says the race team propped open the car’s engine
bay lid to try to get better cooling for the rear-mounted motor. That didn’t actually help cooling, but it did help with the aerodynamics of the car, creating a useful vortex and better air separation. (photo by Erick Bech)
Regarding the aura of unattainability that surrounds Pebble, Brynan sees it as somewhat “self-imposed.”

“It’s a little bit intimidating,” he says. “’I don’t really belong here’ kinda thing.” But his experience has belied that first impression. He’d always considered Pebble the domain of folks like Bruce Meyer, owners of “world-class collections.” 

“So in my mind, it’s always that’s what Pebble Beach is about, not average guys like me. And the thing is, I was wrong,” he says, adding, “every person I’ve connected with at the Concours is nicer than the next.” 

Michael Heffernan (left) and his judging team, about to set out to inspect the O-2 Class cars (late postwar sports cars). Says Heffernan of judging at Pebble, “It is the honor and pleasure of representing the Pebble Beach Concours and providing what might well be the most rigorous and demanding judging of any concours in the world. Many of those owners have worked for years to get their cars to this event, and it’s our responsibility to see them all get a fair review.” They gave their best-in-class award to a 1954 Fiat 8V Supersonic Ghia Coupe.
The Judge Selection Process
My conversation with Michael Heffernan, one of the judges at the Concours, revealed a similarly “democratic” story regarding his entry into the world of Pebble. His tale starts in 1955, looking through the fence at a Jaguar XK120 winning one of the first races around the Monterey Peninsula. 

“I could hear that sound and smell those smells forever,” he proclaims.

Around 1990, Heffernan finally got the chance to recreate this scene by buying and race-building his own
Northern California, including the vaunted Monterey Historics, where a Concours judge asked him if he wanted to display his car at Pebble. 

Eventually, he was asked to help select cars himself and reveled in the opportunity, since he understood what a thrill it was to be asked.

He would approach drivers in the grid, who were shaking with nerves before the races, and drop the line, tongue-in-cheek, “After you’re done with this race, if you live, would you like to bring your car over to the Concours?”

He did that for a few years, but eventually the organizing committee shifted its methods and decided that more emphasis on authenticity was needed. Rather than relying on enthusiast racers to select the cars, they wanted marque experts who could place more weight on originality. 

After a few years, the organizers asked Heffernan back to judge, but on their terms. He was quite reluctant, he says, since it would be by different standards than he usually kept.

“You go to guys you know, and you say, ‘Great car, I’ve always thought it’s a great car, and here’s what’s wrong...’” 

But Heffernan was eventually persuaded that it’s bad form to say no to the Pebble Beach organizing body. His judgeship of post-war sports, GT, and race cars is complicated, though, by an issue that is common to many concours entries, but is particularly acute among the racers. 

One of several du Pont vehicles that comprised a featured class at Pebble this year. The company, created by a member of the famous industrialist family, built 537 ultra-luxurious cars between 1919 and 1931. The Pebble Beach Concours often has entire classes for cars that most of the general public has no idea event exist. Several of the du Pont cars are still owned by members of the family. (photos by Erick Bech)

History, Restoration, and Preservation
Many of these cars have long histories, including competition. And race cars in particular are constantly being tweaked to develop an edge. So the important question becomes, to what state does a faithful restoration return a car? Its original build? Its final configuration? Something in between with historical significance? And often the documentation by race teams does not include the kind of detail preserved by mass-production factories. 
The conversation brought to mind others I’ve had with Roy Miller about the duty of concours judges to fill out the historical record. Both judges attested to doing extensive research on their entry field prior to the event. And there can often be reams of documentation and history written on each car. But sometimes there are gaps, and it’s at these times that a judge’s job can be not only the most difficult, but also the most important. The determination the judges make on the “correctness” of a restoration essentially writes the history books on that vehicle, and they take the responsibility seriously. 

Miller’s involvement at Pebble is through the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA), the U.S. outpost of the Fédération International des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA), a body that focuses on preservation. In fact, FIVA gives awards each year for vehicles that have been preserved remarkably well. 

I talked to HVA president Mark Gessler about a recent overhaul by his organization of its classification system. They found that their old system was encouraging behaviors like removing authentic period modi- fications in favor of pure factory con- dition. While that idea may appeal to some, it can cast aside the state in which the vehicle actually lived its life. 

“We want to get out of the classification business and into the documentation business,” Gessler says. If the state of a car has been sufficiently documented, it can be just as much a contribution to the automotive canon as one that exhibits pure factory spec. 

Car People
Of course, Pebble Beach isn’t just about the cars. Walking the lawn of the famous golf course, one can run into just about every car-related celebrity on Earth. We bumped into Camilo Pardo, the former Ford designer who penned the achingly gorgeous Ford GT, the modern reinterpretation of the legendary GT40 racer. 
Ever gregarious and enthusiastic, Pardo gladly obliged our questions about the official definitions of the words spyder and speedster. In fact, he seems to be always at the ready for such an engagement, and he grabbed one of the Sharpies in his pocket and proceeded to sketch out his interpretation of a speedster on a cardboard trash can lid. Since it was still there hours later as the staff was tearing down the event – no one quite realized the artistic gold sitting in plain sight – we decided this particular piece of infrastructure was removable.

On top of that, while we chatted with Miller in the judges’ dining room about the Jaguars that won the early competitions at the Concours, in strolls Ian Callum, the legendary Jaguar and Aston Martin designer, who joined in on a casual conversation about the cars on the lawn, as well as our own.

Suffice it to say, our experience at Pebble Beach was pretty magical. While the cars contributed to the gorgeous scenery, the people provided the special potion that makes Monterey Car Week the most thrilling automotive event in the country, and perhaps the world.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Bird’s-eye View, on Point

Jacob Glasson and Mike Linhart at Above All Aviation
Rally Wrapup - PDF
Greetings, Montecito and Santa Barbara car communities! It’s been a few months since you’ve heard from me, and I feel like you’re owed an explanation. Well, here it is: in late June, I moved from Santa Barbara to Irvine to take a job with Kelley Blue Book. 

Unfortunately, once my former employer left town, there weren’t many auto industry jobs to be had here outside of the retail and service sectors.

Now that I’m settled in my new home, I’ve resumed working with the written word, and I hope to appear in these pages regularly once again. While I don’t anticipate resuming the weekly schedule that I maintained previously, I’ll try to stay in front of you, dear readers, at least once a month. And I’ll try to get back into town whenever possible.

Without further ado, I want to talk about a great organization I discovered while still in Santa Barbara. It’s called A Different Point of View (ADPOV), and its focus is not actually cars, but rather airplanes.

The idea behind ADPOV, and its Aviation Career Program, is to expose students to the world of aviation at the perfect age – roughly 14 to 19 – when they’re old enough to work on engines and mechanical systems, but still fresh enough to be open to influence when it comes to a career path. The program targets at-risk youth, or those who have limited exposure to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, showing them a whole world of opportunity that they might have otherwise ignored.

I got a chance to visit Mike Linhart and Jacob Glasson at Linhart’s facility, Above All Aviation, 1523 Cook Place, to find out more about the program. Linhart is an FAA-certified airframe and power-plant mechanic, and Glasson is a student who has been working with him since the end of last year.  

They gave some insight into ADPOV’s origins, which was birthed in 2012, with Linhart as one of the founding board members. The brain- child of Lynn Houston, an airline pilot, flight instructor, and marketing coordinator for the Santa Barbara air- port, ADPOV got off the ground after Houston watched Linhart explain the systems on a plane to a student who’d just finished his first flying lesson. She could tell his enthusiasm was contagious and knew he was the man to help her realize her vision.

Since the program kicked off, roughly 300 students have been involved, and Linhart generally has two students under his wing at a time, the low number dictated by the deep involvement he has with each student’s work.

“I double-check every nut and bolt that [Glasson] tightens,” he says. “I’m signing off his work, so I have to make sure that everything is up to speed.”

Glasson is working toward his airframe and power-plant (A&P) license, which will take him at least 16 months of sustained work at the hangar. In fact, since graduating high school, he has increasingly focused on this career path, with the ADPOV program essentially being his full-time vocation.

“My goal is to get him his A&P license,” says Linhart, “because after that, he can go anywhere in the world and have a job.”

This sentiment reflects the increasing reality that specialization in engineering and mechanics is becoming more valuable in the global economy. While many manufacturing jobs are being shipped overseas to low-cost countries, the occupations that maintain our increasingly technical infrastructure cannot be off-shored.

And Glasson is gaining experience that can not only help him in aviation but also translate to careers in many fields. In fact, much of what he learns in the hangar is applicable in the garage.

“It’s been amazing,” says Glasson, “because since I’ve started here, I’ve learned how to change starters, and just a couple of months ago I actually changed the starter in my own car.”

Upon my arrival at the hangar, I was struck by the similarities between the engine in one of the prop planes
they were working on and the VW air-cooled flat-four that powers my Speedster. The big difference is that for most prop aircraft there’s no transmission, the propeller being driven directly from the engine’s crankshaft.

Linhart gave me a bit of education about the state of technology with these machines, and the overriding theme is “Keep it simple.” For this reason, the air cooling, as well as carburetion, endure for most of these types of aircraft, though in recent years the Rotax brand has introduced liquid cooling for cylinder heads and fuel injection. This Rotax 912 engine also has a transfer case to reduce its RPM from a quite high (for an airplane motor) 5,800 to a typical prop speed (roughly 2,400 RPM).

But Glasson is not learning just how to work on a flying machine or its ilk. Part of what makes the ADPOV programs so special stems from the nature of the work of an aircraft mechanic, and of flight itself. At 10,000 feet up, failure is not an option. Car engineers and mechanics can reduce the failure rate to a reasonable level, and for the most part it will help ensure that few people are stranded on the side of the road. But if something goes wrong with an airplane, it tends to end badly.

My former roommates are engineers at Green Hills Software, which makes embedded software for avionics systems, and their explanation for what they do revolves around the necessity for 100-percent reliability. If you need to reboot, you fall out of the sky.

Becoming an airplane mechanic teaches the sort of attention to detail and mindfulness that can apply to so many other aspects of life. Glasson was even able to provide an example from his experience mentoring kids at Santa Barbara’s local skateboard park; he’s now skateboard director at the parks department.

“It goes down to safety for them,” he says. “I make sure the pads are tight, everything’s in shape, there’s no big cracks in the skate park, and everything’s all swept up. Little details like that can really save a kid.”

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rally with a View Rolls Along the Coast

Cynthia Howard’s 1958 Porsche 356 Speedster... the real thing is a rare treat
Rally Wrapup - PDFYou may have seen mention of the Rally 4 Kids in last week’s Montecito Miscellany – and several times in my columns. The event supporting the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County was run for the second time, this year with modifications to leave the results less to chance.

The organizers, including Diana Starr Langley and Monte Wilson, invited me to participate, and I was accompanied by my lovely navigator and girlfriend, Liz Baker. The initial plan was to pilot my Porsche Speedster replica, but for the sake of comfort – we would be on the road for close to five hours – we chose my 2002 911 coupe.

The route began from Summerland software outfit QAD, which offered an excellent starting point, not only for the location, but also for the views. A brief peek inside the building displayed impressive vistas overlooking the hills and made me want to take up a career in software development.

After a brief photo-op, we set off along the back roads toward Carpinteria, where we hit our first stop, the local Boys & Girls Club. We were given a chance to hit six free throws in the gym, where our combined skill resulted in precisely one made shot, though that wasn’t far below the average. Along the way we were answering trivia questions, and one of the first involved a racetrack that used to be nearby. It turns out the Carp Thunderbowl was a dirt track whose fate was sealed by the Highway 101 expansion project. The freeway didn’t actually go through the track’s property. Rather, as it passed nearby, the Thunderbowl was used as a depository for all the excavation dirt.

Our journey continued up the 150 toward Ojai, a great driving road, replete with tight switchbacks and marvelous views. We were given strict orders that the rally was not a race – our driver’s licenses were even officially sealed in an envelope so that a traffic stop would result not only in some unpleasantness from Johnny Law, but also in disqualification. But for some reason my right foot was a bit itchy on this stretch, so we may have done it a bit more “efficiently.”

We next gathered at the Ojai Valley Museum, where we got to some trivia and learned that the original name of the town was actually Nordhoff.

From there, we ran down to Oxnard, with a stop at the Painted Cabernet. We were told to snap a pic of our car before going in, so you can imagine what we’d be painting. The results were predictably varied, with efforts that ranged from kindergarten finger-painting to MOMA-worthy. Luckily, Liz’s art-major background saved our effort from falling into the former category, and our collaboration will no doubt be lauded in the motoring art world for years to come.

Also in Oxnard, we dropped by a Go-Kart track run by Jim Hall Kart Racing School – Jim was a rally participant as well. We got a chance to post the fastest lap time, a competition in which I placed seventh overall. I’m fairly competitive, but I had little cause to argue that I had a slow kart, since I jumped into it right after David Green jumped out, having set the pole for the day.

Our final driving stint was toward Malibu along the PCH, and then up Mulholland Drive. Again, this famous road offered some incredible opportunities for spirited driving, with a full dose of exhilaration priming us for lunch at the Calamigos Ranch.

We gathered at the Malibu Café, an open-air venue that feels almost like a mini-amusement park, a great place for families to gather. We took our time having some cocktails and listening to the band before heading back down toward the PCH for the ride home. 
The afternoon was a nice leisurely amble, since we just needed to end up at the Nesbitt Estate by the late afternoon to line up our cars at the event-ending gala. We managed to get through the day of driving with just one instance of raised voices, a pretty good result for an affair such as this.

At the gala, there were live and silent auction items, as well as the typical paddle raise, run by Boys & Girls Clubs of America board member Jeff Henley. He challenged participants, if they had any doubt about the value of their donations, to head to a club location and see for themselves where their money goes. So, I decided to take him up on this.

This past week, I went to visit United Boys & Girls Clubs CEO Michael Baker at the Westside Santa Barbara location. This is the area of town where he says the need is greatest for the services that his clubs provide. Naturally, Santa Barbara is an expensive place to live, and many of the low-income families in town, especially in this neighborhood, share houses with other families.

There can be as many as three or four families in one house, he says, but though some families are dealing with adult challenges that life has put in their way, he asks, “What does that have to do with a 6-year-old?” Kids, in his opinion, should always have access to the safe surroundings of a place like the Boys & Girls Club.

Because there are many families near the poverty line in this area, Baker says that 97 percent of the kids here are on the subsidized school lunch program. The clubs supplement that assistance with dinners, and they serve around 200 meals per night, a program underwritten by the Santa Barbara School District.

The game room of the Santa Barbara Westside Boys & Girls Club
When I visited, there were kids playing soccer in the gym, and pool and foosball in the game room. We went upstairs to the room dedicated for younger kids, where they were learning some hip-hop dance from a local volunteer. We saw the art studio where kids were practicing their yarn work, and then we went into the Musicbox.

Amazingly, the club is equipped with its own fully functional recording studio, courtesy of nonprofit Notes for Notes, which operates in clubs here and in L.A. and Nashville.

“The days of the school music program are gone,” says Baker, noting that La Cumbre Junior High has been bringing students to the Musicbox to replace some of the programs that used to be on offer.

Baker and I talked about his goals for the club, particularly the ability to be open for more hours. They’re currently open from 2 to 6 pm during weekdays, and they do have Saturday hours as well. He’d like to be able to extend that to 8 pm, and also to be open all week.

His leadership at the clubs here has tried to focus the staff on being “relentless in finding kids that need our services,” he says. He also wants to make sure that the staff of the clubs is familiar with all of the agencies in town to be able to help connect families in need.

My visit to the club impressed with the scope of their programs and the level of participation. It’s been great to be involved with the rally, and now that I’ve seen the organization in action, that sentiment was reinforced.
The event itself was certainly worthy of the money that was raised, with drivers and navigators having a blast.

Chris Eberz and Lark Cobb won the Rally 4 Kids
Chris Eberz and Lark Cobb, a charmingly enthusiastic couple who are regulars at Cars & Coffee, were declared the winners, and they had nothing but glowing praise for the event, particularly the format that included a great mixture of skills and trivia, along with the driving. 

“It was one of the funnest days I’ve actually had rallying,” says Eberz, and given his extensive rally experience, who could argue with that?