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.”

For more information about A Different Point of View and how you can support its mission, visit

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?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Price of Entry

A 1966 Ford Mustang for sale in Santa Barbara
Price of Entry - PDFAn email just hit my inbox, detailing a 1966 Ford Mustang for sale locally. It shows its age through some cosmetic issues and has a few other shortcomings, such as its six-cylinder engine, worn-out front seats and – in the eyes of some – its padded black roof. But this would be an opportunity to own a cool classic car that would prompt thumbs-up from bystanders. The price of entry: $7,000. 

The timing is serendipitous, since it helps to illustrate the point of this column, which I’d already been working on. While “car people” may have a decent idea of the value of classic cars, the views of the population at large are skewed, generally in one specif- ic direction. The uninitiated tend to believe that the cost of entry into the classic car market sits much higher than reality. 

To get some hard data on the topic, I turned to Survey Monkey to craft a questionnaire that would quantify this phenomenon. I showed pictures of four different classic cars and asked what each person would expect to pay for each. To keep it simple, I only specified that the cars were in “good” condition. I then found the value for a Condition number 3 vehicle (“good”) at the Hagerty Insurance online valuation tool (www.hagerty. com/valuationtools). The difference in percentage terms was what I’ll call the overvaluation. 

I’ll admit to stacking the deck a bit in my favor. I mostly chose cars that I expected people to overestimate because of their looks or names, but which happen to be worth less due to their ubiquity or other factors. I also selected the base models of these vehicles, or at least the cheapest model I could find on Hagerty. 

Certainly, one can find hyper-expensive collector cars trading in the range of hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars. If you hang around Pebble Beach enough, you’ll start to think that collector cars are literally worth their weight in gold. But the point of this experiment was to demonstrate that the point of entry is not as lofty as most people think, so my focus was on cars that were both affordable and undeniably “cool.”

Incidentally, one cannot find a value for a six-cylinder ‘Stang from 1966 on that site, since I suppose it’s not considered “collectible.” But take that thing for a cruise down State or Cabrillo, and you’d still feel like a million bucks.

For a sample, I selected 12 of my friends who are decidedly not “car people.” They see me driving nice cars and they think they’re cool, but these people’s lives are consumed by many other things, cars not being high on the list.

While the deck was a bit stacked against them, I had no idea how skewed their perceptions would be. Let’s take a look at these cars one by one, ordered by how overvalued they were.

1974 Volkswagen Beetle
The first was a 1974 VW Beetle. By this point in time, the Beetle looked less classic and a bit more pedestrian, due to items like the headlights, fender lights, chunkier bumpers, and curved windshield, and the interiors suffered similarly from safety regs, but they still retained the essence of the original. While Hagerty puts a ‘74 sedan at around $7,600, the group thought they’d have to pay around $14,200 on average, with guesses as high as $50,000. That’s an 87-percent overestimation.

My friend Annie Huang had such a guess and gave some insight into her thought process.

“I was thinking, really nice cars that are new are usually $50K or up,” she said, “so I thought that older cars would be more, since they’re collectibles.”

Rose Knapp agreed: “I tend to associate anything classic/vintage/antique as something that gains in value as it gets older.” It’s an interesting thought, and it got me thinking about the fallacy of antiquity. Things that are old are often worth more, but sometimes you can get a bit detached from the starting point. 
The ‘74 Beetle started at $2,630, which is only about $12,500 in 2015 dollars. While from the perspective of someone who grew up in the ‘90s there aren’t many around, VW was still selling hundreds of thousands per year in the ‘70s, making it no surprise that these cars didn’t keep up with inflation. 

Fifty years from now, a 2015 Chevy Cruze might be considered pretty cool, since it would be a link with the past, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be worth more than a few thousand space-bucks.

From there, things get much more extreme. Let’s take a look at the 1966 MGB, a car I actually owned until a few years ago. To me, this car is classically classic, a British Racing Green roadster with a lovely chrome grille and bumpers, wire wheels, fenders that rise beside a low hood to hold out circular headlights, and vertical taillamps. 

Formerly the author’s 1966 MGB Roadster
I actually showed a picture of my car in the survey. I took a bath on that car, selling it for $7,650 when the economy was not fully recovered. Hagerty says it’s worth around $11,200, which is a thousand above what I bought it for right before the economy crashed. My friends, on the other hand, figured they’d have to pay more than 35 grand, an overestimate of 218 percent, or more than three times its actual value.

This was the car that revealed to me that classic car ownership was affordable. Even with its legendary Lucasite reliability, I only sank about $1,700 into the car over four or five years of ownership. It certainly helped that parts were readily available from outlets like Moss. A side benefit: I also learned how to tinker on a car without fear that it would explode in my face.

Next on the list is a 1969 Ford Mustang. The styling morphed a bit from the original, making the car a bit chunkier and less graceful, but the headlights outside the grille remained – unlike the ‘70 model – and it’s still recognizable as a classic Mustang. Hagerty value: $10,500. Layperson estimate: nearly $38,000. Even a good-condition ‘66, the last year of the (mostly) original styling, can be had for just more than 15 Gs.

The Mustang is a legendary car, but Ford sold its first million in fewer than 18 months and went on to sell in the hundreds of thousands nearly every year until 2007. The ‘69 was actually the lowest-selling ‘60s model, missing the 300K mark by a mere 176 units.

A ‘69 Dodge Charger, on the other hand, which sold in significantly smaller quantities, would cost more than $30,000, even for a base V-8. Mopar fans looking for a deal could pick up a neutered Dodge Challenger from 1974, when the only V-8 made just 150 horsepower, for about $16K.

And that brings us to the final car, one so overestimated that you may need a floor jack to pick your jaw up off the cement. For 1976, the Chevy Corvette had recovered some of the power it had lost from its engines during the fuel crisis, but the L48 motor still had only 180 hp. And this was well into the urethane bumper days, when five-mph federal regs had stripped the ‘Vette, like many other cars of the era, of its classic-looking chrome bars. Still, the Corvette wore it well, and a ‘76 model still apparently looks expensive.

How expensive? Nearly 50-grand worth, according to the crew. The real value of this car is a shockingly low $8,800. They’d overcalled it by 460 percent. While GM called this car a Stingray, it doesn’t nearly hold the value of the original, two-word Sting Ray models (1963-67), the cheapest of which you can get for around $30,000 in good condition.

As some might expect, the men in the group – the survey takers were split evenly, six to six – had more awareness, averaging only 169 percent over versus the women’s 351 percent. It’s a big gap either way.

So, who got the closest? Jason Austin, a local farrier (he shoes horses), averaged only eight percent over. He attributed his relative awareness to “many years of looking at Trade Express.” He mentioned that he might have gotten even closer had he seen the “good” stipulation. But the fact is that he still overestimated the value of my MG by 56 percent after seeing a picture of the very car.

That car might be considered a “20-footer,” meaning that from that distance it looks pristine. Sure, you could pay a ton more for a concours-quality ride (for a “Condition 1” 1966 MGB Hagerty estimates you’d pay nearly $30K), but then you’d be afraid to drive it or park it anywhere it might get breathed on.

The point remains that classic car ownership is still a largely accessible proposition for many people who may not realize it. Clearly, there are other considerations, like time, garage space, and all the other things life might throw at you. But for me, entry into this highly rewarding world only happened when I finally realized it was possible. And now I’m here to spread the word. 

If you’re interested in a “well-maintained” 1966 Mustang, which spent its life in Santa Barbara, contact Jeff Paley at (805) 687-6173.

If you have a story about a special car or piece of car culture in the area, email Randy at Or follow him on Instagram @rlioz.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Car-Themed Staycation

The campsite comes complete with beach cruisers, Adirondack chairs, and a grill
Staycation - PDFI’ve certainly waxed affectionate on these pages for the strong automotive culture in these parts. Santa Barbara has not only plenty of car people, but also plenty of businesses catering to this crowd.

Recently my girlfriend, Liz, and I had the pleasure of enjoying all the elements of the perfect Santa Barbara area car-themed vacation. She’s got some gas in her veins, too, so she was the perfect partner for a vehicular-inspired adventure. Because we live here, we were able to take our time about it and space it out in a leisurely manner. But if you were to string together these activities into a single weekend or mid-week respite, it would make for a nice, full staycation. 
Let’s start with accommodations, since this definitely involves a for- ward-thinking plan. We’d heard about the Santa Barbara Autocamp, a hotel consisting of five Airstreams, and were excited to try it, but it took some time for them to squeeze us in because of the property’s popularity. If you want a weekend stay that includes a Saturday, you’re probably out of luck for a while.

But since you happen to live in the Santa Barbara area, you should take advantage of your flexibility, and grab a night or two mid-week. It’s a totally unique experience that will light up your Instagram profile with likes.

We also got a chance to chat with Ryan Miller, VP of Marketing and Innovation at Mesa Lane Partners, the property owner. He gave us a little insight into Autocamp’s past, present, and future.

The camp has been around continuously for 93 years
When you first enter the property, you’ll see a sign that proclaims its establishment in 1922. While the hotel has only been around since 2012, the trailer park itself has been there continuously for 93 years. There were some vacancies when Mesa Lane bought it, so the developer’s innovative minds decided to consolidate those and create a novel tourist experience. 
The Autocamp harkens back to the early age of highway vacationing, even before the Eisenhower system lent newly prosperous Americans the ultimate sense of freedom. The Santa Barbara-Ventura route was actually the first segment of Highway 1, and there were many businesses that popped up in the Midtown area, where the Autocamp resides, to cater to the new set of automotive tourists. In recent years, the zone has experienced a bit of a revival, somewhat anchored by Trader Joe’s. 

“There’s actually this great business and community culture that’s here,” says Miller, citing the restaurants and coffee joints that make it a “walkable” area. It might have been a bit more difficult for guests there a few years ago, but the new development, plus Autocamp’s provision of beach cruiser bikes for its guests, makes explora- tion of the area a pleasure. 

We stayed in unit 3, a 26-foot Airstream Overlander from 1959. It contained a comfy full bed on one end, with a convertible bed helping to bookend the central kitchen and bath. It was a charming space that proved more comfortable than expected. 

We enjoyed the patio with some friends early in the evening, with its Adirondack chairs, though there were only two, so it was good that we brought some camping chairs. It was easy to be lazy and not use the electric grill out there, since there are good eateries nearby. We did sushi at Edomasa, and enjoyed the leisurely pace dictated by its late closing time. 

The lounge area was spacious enough for six and converts to another bed
By the time we got back, it was a bit too chilly to hang outside, but even with six people we were comfortable inside. Don’t worry about bringing your own wine glasses, since there are plenty inside, which are cool enough that you’ll be glad you can buy them. 

Some helpful tips: it’s a bit tight inside the bathroom, so the TP roll is hidden inside a cabinet. And if you’re a bit confounded about where to find the light switch in there, check under the counter. Finally, if you flip a switch and nothing happens, wait another second or two, since it might be the very cool LED light strip that makes for some great ambiance inside; there’s a bit of a delay there. 
You’ll also find a card that entitles you to free mimosas at Our Daily Bread the next morning. We crossed the street to redeem, and while our breakfast was yummy, they didn’t seem to have much interest in following through on those mimosas. After much effort, we finally received them well after our meal was gone. 

If you’re lucky enough to snag a Saturday night at Autocamp, the best place to continue the auto-themed jaunt the next morning is Santa Barbara Cars and Coffee, in Montecito. We’ll have a deeper look into the event’s history in a later issue, but suffice to say it’s been bringing together the area’s car-crazy since 2010.

You’ll see a variety of automotive sculpture, from true antiques like a Model T to highly valuable classic Ferraris with racing pedigree, to modern exotics with goose-bump-inducing exhaust notes.

After your cup overfloweth with visions of gorgeous cars, you can find a great place for brunch. Jeannine’s is always a favorite, especially its Bananas Foster French Toast, but if you’re looking to stick with the auto theme we recommend The Shop Café on Milpas, which encourages you to “Get your fix.” 

We put bananas and salmon in our faces
Hit the brakes when you see J’s Tires at De La Guerra, since The Shop still bears this outdated sign. While they’re attached to a service shop, J’s has been gone for years (he still owns the property). It’s a walk-up counter, and on the weekends there will be a line, but it’s worth the wait. 

We talked to Scott Manser, one of the owners, and he told us about the evolution of the establishment. While it was originally slated to be a coffee joint – Manser definitely gives off a hipster vibe – it morphed into a “foodie hub” with the help of chef John Pettitt.

It’s paid off, with our last brunch there focusing on dishes featuring their house-made bread, thick and toasted to a perfect crisp. The Bananas-In-Yo-Face paired it with bananas, local honey, and their own almond butter, coming together to offer a delicious combo that Manser calls a “sleeper” favorite. 

He’s a car guy as well, and we chatted a bit about the ’64 Ford Truck that he fixed up with the help of the adjoining garage. It was his daily driver, though, and it couldn’t keep up with his regular commute from Summerland. His friend later confirmed that the rig had been a “death trap.” 

Manser also talked about future plans for The Shop, which includes a dinner shift – they hope in a couple weeks – and a line of kitchen odds and ends, which could include things like that scrumptious almond butter and “tools for the kitchen,” which are pretty much what you’d think. 
When you’re done at The Shop, you can hop across the street to Milpas Motors to check out their eclectic line- up of pre-owned metal. While we were there, we spied the typical sort of classics, along with more esoteric pieces, such as ‘80s Toyota Land Cruisers – both kitted out and stock – and a Nissan Nismo Juke. 

Whether you have a car-crazy relative in town for a visit or you just want to experience all the autodom Santa Barbara has to offer, this trip should give you all the oil-soaked joy you could hope for. 

Visit to book an Airstream trailer stay. Our thanks to Santa Barbara Autocamp for the complimentary night. Go to for the Cars and Coffee schedule. Visit The Shop Café at Check out Milpas Motors at 

If you have a story about a special car or piece of car culture in the local area, email Randy at Or follow him on Instagram @rlioz.