Thursday, April 28, 2016

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.

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