Thursday, April 23, 2015

The List

Painted Cave Road offers some fun corners and scenic overlooks
The List - PDFHidden away among the notes on my phone, but always accessible, is “The list.” Are you a car person? Do you have your own list? 

The title atop mine reads “Cars I Will Own”. The title is purposefully optimistic. Like Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World gazing through the window at the lustworthy Fender Stratocaster, it’s my way of proclaiming, “It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine.”

And as a relatively young guy, I count myself extremely fortunate to have owned at least a few of these cars. Top on the list is a Porsche 356 Speedster. While mine is a replica, it still gives me much of the experience of owning one, including the endless smiles and compliments it generates from passers-by. For me, this satisfies the line-item on my list, especially since the current cost of the real thing is positively stratospheric.

I also own a Porsche 911, which is the realization of one of the more vague entries on the list. Interestingly for cool cars, few of them (especially on my list) bear the same name for more than one generation. But like the Toyota Camry, the 911 has kept its moniker for decades. What I’d love to own is a 911 from the ‘60s, but I went the easy route – once again – and got one of the cheapest 911s available, a 996 generation from 2002.

Prior to the Speedster, I had a 1966 MGB, my first classic. It was a joy to drive, and, for me, it embodies the look of the prototypical “classic roadster” better than just about any other car. And of course it was British racing green.

On top of what I’ve owned, I also have secured a BMW Z8 as my birthright, having convinced my dad to buy one a few years ago. He recently declared publicly in newsprint that it goes to me when he can no longer drive it, hopefully many years from now.

But that’s where my luck runs out. I present here, in more or less the order the cars were added, my list: 

Cars I Will Own
Porsche 356 Speedster
Aston Martin DB9
Aston Martin DB5
Chevrolet Camaro SS RS (late ‘60s) 

Porsche 911
Volkswagen Karmann Ghia cabrio 
Mercedes-Benz 280SL Roadster 
BMW 507

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider 
Audi R8
Ford GT
‘60s Ford Bronco

LR Defender
Lamborghini Gallardo
Ferrari 308
Pontiac GTO (2nd generation) 

Honda S800
MGB (pre-1970)

I have thusly embarked upon the task of acquainting myself more closely with these cars. My goal, if possible, is to meet someone with each of these cars and find out what it’s like to own one. Driving it would be a bonus but not required; I know how protective car people can be of their pride and joy, and I feel the same way.

As luck would have it, though, the owner of the first car on this list that I approached was graciously willing to let me behind the wheel.

Robert Giaimo’s 1958 Alfa Romeo 
Giulietta Spider overlooks Santa Barbara
Like my MGB, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider perfectly embodies the classic roadster presence. But it kicks it up a notch with stunning Italian bodywork that in my mind makes it the most beautiful Alfa even produced.

Robert Giaimo has owned his ‘58 Spider for around seven years, having acquired it from a guy in Laguna Beach who restored it from the ground up. 

“He was a true Alfa guy,” said Giaimo. “He was restoring a racing version of a Sprint.” No doubt the Giulietta’s renewal was done right.

The car is not completely factory true, as the 4-speed was replaced with a 5-speed transmission, and the engine doesn’t happen to be the one that came with the car, but it’s the same spec.

That 1.3L I-4 runs like a top, proving that the Italians can even make a four-pot motor sound lovely. We took the car up the 154 and on some side roads to enjoy a sporting jaunt. 

The clutch is fairly light, though its floor-mount does give it a bit of a different feel. The 75-hp engine feels spritely at higher revs, but it does require you to downshift in anticipation of tighter curves, lest you find yourself below a boil, where the engine is a bit sluggish. 

The Alfa’s 1290cc engine offers more power 
than many comparable engines of its day
Since it’s not a numbers-matching engine, Giaimo is considering upgrading the car with a Veloce-spec powerplant, which would be around 1.6 liters. This would probably help things on the low end somewhat.

Without power steering, the wheel does get fairly heavy around low-speed curves, so some muscle is required, but it lends precision to the handling. You get a classic experience from the wide, thin-rimmed wheel.

But the most impactful part of the car is its styling flair. This thing is a rolling sculpture, and the signature
shield grille makes an unequivocal announcement: this is an Alfa.

The color combo is striking as well, with the gray paint darker than what is often paired with the bright red leather. It’s close to the original color, but it contains a slight purplish hue to draw out the interior color, and the combo is stunning. 

Giaimo and I also talked about the other cars in his life, past and present. Currently, the pride of his collection is his 1967 Lancia Flaminia Super Sport Zagato, of which there were only 150 built. You’ll see that at Cars & Coffee occasionally, and he usually has some ‘splainin’ to do to curious onlookers.

He also has a ‘67 MINI Cooper S and a new Fiat 500 Abarth, his daily driver. His past includes such hits as an Audi Quattro, Alfa GTV, and Aston Martin V8 Vantage. And if the stars align, his future may hold a Renault Alpine rally car.

Giaimo has been a presence in Santa Barbara for around 18 years, having grown up in Pasadena and spent time in Santa Monica and New York. His New York stint is unsurprising, considering his background in advertising.

The interior is true to the original, but a valuable classic should always carry a fire extinguisher
While he did work on the Mitsubishi account in the early ‘90s, when the brand was doing well in the U.S., his client portfolio actually ranged about as widely as his current passions, which include fashion, food, art and travel, among other things.

And he seems to fully embrace the “lust for life” ethos that is so characteristic of the Santa Barbara area.
He and his wife “belong to these wine clubs out in Santa Ynez, and it’s an excuse to take this car, pack a picnic and go out there and pick up wine,” he says.

Rather than business cards, Giaimo carries what he calls “avocation cards,” with photos of the things that bring him joy in life. While the pursuit of cars is certainly a worthwhile endeavor on its own, it’s that much more enhanced when mixed with great experiences.

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