The Targa Baja California in an Alfa Romeo

•November 11, 2015 • 1 Comment

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A friend says you should do this, it’s fun. I had no idea what I was in for, bring the Alfa… I was about to join in 65 cars screaming across Mexico for the next 4 days.

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Wednesday afternoon I left Los Angeles for our meeting point close to the border, The Viejas Casino and Resort. Its a giant casino on an indian reservation in the middle of no where. Driving down I encountered horrible stop and go traffic, so the headphones went on, with Wings and The Who as my co pilot it made the drive much more enjoyable, now, this Casino, was not easy to find, it was in the middle of no where,  cold and dark, top still down I’m on a single lane road with only my headlights for direction, this can’t be right, Siri, What have you done to me?, and then, from over the hill I see an oasis of modern hedonism. Casino lights, open 24 hours, park right here, welcome to the casino Mr Klein, enjoy your stay, would you like a VIP card? Ahhh, the smell of Cigarettes and booze. I’m directed to park with the other rally cars in the parking structure, its nothing but Porsches, like 30 of them all lined up, Hey, What gives??… Where are all the cool cars? Theres Tony’s Alfa, ok, and a GT Junior is just pulling in. I gather my luggage and head inside. Theres a small table, Targa Baja…  Sign in here, yes its a waiver, what ever you do, you’re responsible, and heres your jacket, its included, See you at the drivers meeting at 7:30am by the cars. I meet up with some fellow Targa Canonballers in the private room of the Steakhouse where the “Hi” “Hello’s” and What are you driving begins.

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Its a cold morning, I’m in the parking structure with 65 cars and about 120 of us, Dave, our fearless leader and organizer has gathered us for the drivers meeting, Welcome, be safe, drive at your own speed, its not a race, keep the shine side up, we’ll meet just before the border to regroup. 120 people make a mad dash for their cars, exhaust fills the air, motors racing, this is more like a Lemans start as everyone tears out onto the public roads. I’m by myself, What are they doing?? I can’t read the map and keep up.. okay just follow the guy following the other guy, dont get lost and keep up.

There is no regard for speed limits, no one really stops at stop lights, stop signs or small children. This is awesome!! The sun starts to warm the air, top is down, heater on, I’m rather comfortable doing 80-90 through the hills. And yes, the Porsches are fast.

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We gather at the border. We’re crossing at Tecate, they have a lane designated just for us, no waiting. The Federales are waiting, we’re escorted through the city, locals stand on the streets waving, greeting us, taking pictures, as we are terrorize everything in sight, once across we go a few miles to Hotel El Santuario Diegueno, in the parking lot we’re given our Targa stickers that we place on our cars, T Shirts, and name tags, with coffee and treats. Inside Dave gathers us around, everyone is still checking each other out, and I’d say probably 70 percent of these guys have done it before, at least 10 of them brought their wives, or at least somebody’s wife. The Mayor stands before us and welcomes us to his town and Mexico and says to have a good time and enjoy our time, the Federales grab the microphone too, I have no idea what he’s says, and we all clap. We’ll be driving to Rumorosa, its a hill climb that 11 miles long, we’ll be doing it twice, up and down, downhill is very dangerous, it even says so in the handbook, its in bold… you don’t have to do it if you don’t want too. The Federales will escort us there, and it will be closed just for us.

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I keep hearing the word dangerous, I’m not really sure what to expect, Its narrow, theres lots of rocks, I’m expecting a donkey path made of gravel. This is not a donkey path, we reach a 2 lane toll road, both lanes head in the same direction, its stunning, it runs through a canyon of rocks like I’ve never seen before, reaching a plateau vista of the entire Mexican desert and down another 5 miles to the other side, this is a superhighway!!!

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Don’t even try to keep up, the cars give their 2 dollars, as the toll the gate rises tires spin with anticipation and launch into chaos, all 65 cars take off down this road, drifting left to right using both lanes, sweepers, switchbacks, increasing and decreasing radiuses, this is amazing, now Alfas are really great in tight canyons, point and squirt, that 30-60 mph range, this is more like 60- 90 mph range. The Porsches are putting out 200 + horsepower, I’m working my 150 as best I can, accelerate on the straight areas, brake and downshift and then turn in,  getting back on the gas just before the apex to keep the car under power, keeping rams between 5500-6200, the Alfas dont like being thrown around at high speed, I’m using both lanes, keeping it as smooth as possible, I’m catching other cars, other cars with more power are catching me, some guys are blocking, theres no real order, BMWs, and Porsches surround me, if I only had another 100 horsepower. Tony and his son Michael are in an 82 Alfa Spider, they’re moving quick, I don’t want to push them, and I’m nervous about them following me, I don’t want this to be a Lets see what your car can do, We’re both on a road we’ve never driven before, and this is not a race, I let them pass, he speeds off into a turn way to fast, oh shit!! I watch him hit the brakes hard, the back end goes up, I’m really hoping his front end grabs, the back end stays planted, he makes it, I know he pushed, In few more turns I see him pull out on a turnout, he catches his breath and rejoins,  I get to the bottom, we regroup, my heart is beating fast, I feel good, no shame, its like those rollercoasters at Magic Mountain, its over before you know it. The cars are regrouping, we’re doing it again!!

Heading up now from the other side now, its a stampede of sheetmetal, I need both lanes, a BMW is beside me, blocking, sitting right where I need to be for entry, he won’t pass me, and he won’t get on line, I mutter some nasty words and get on the gas, I make my way up, I get the Alfa GT Junior in my sights, I follow briefly until I realize I’m faster, this guy is slowing me down, the Niki Lauda in me takes over, I pass and move on, I love this!! I reach the top and the ride is over, Thats it?? I want to go again.

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The group rejoins, hoods go up, what did you break? What did you break? Everyone has a new sense of accomplishment, we are united, we are one. Tony says whats in your Alfa? A little this and that, hmm, it seems pretty quick, Its okay..  We decide to pull aside each other on the highway heading back, put it in 5th at 5000 rpm and see what happens when we mash the pedal. Our first straight comes up quick, Tony and I side up to one another, Our tops are down , we make hand gestures 5 at 5??  yes, okay, 3-2-1,  stomp on it!!  My motor growled and I pulled away quite easily, I slow down, Tony says “Again!!” mind you we’re doing this yelling as we’re blasting down the highway, okay 5 at 5, 3-2-1 Go!!   I leave him again, my Alfa and I are feeling rather proud, Lets go get some lunch. Lunch and the Hotel are in Mexicali, its another dash to the city, but after all this hill climbing I need gas, my spanish is not so good, if I stop I’ll get separated from the other cars, if I dont, theres a good chance I’ll be stranded, out of gas and by myself , I opt for the gas stop, a girl wants to sell me Chiclets gum, I see the other cars speeding by, dont they need gas too?? A BMW pulls in, driver and co pilot, I’m going to follow you guys, we head another 20 minutes, we’re in the heat of congestion 3rd world with roundabouts and no idea where to go. The roads are bumpy and dusty, our maps dont help, I try Siri, Where is Mr Pampas’s? 2 places come up 4.2 and 4.3 miles away, and maps is working, this is the only time maps work while in Mexico. I place the phone and follow, geez, I hope this is right, I’m suddenly missing the 405 and La Cienega, but it works it takes me to the Mr Pampas’s…  just the wrong one, other cars are now showing up, safety in numbers, one of us has to speak spanish, All I can think of is that Brandon Fraiser movie where he wakes up and can speak perfect spanish… A driver talks to the lot attendant and gets directions, we head off and actually find it, theres even a gas station, private secure parking, and the hotel is just 3 blocks away. Mr Pampas serves Brazilian style, a buffet with Meat on Skewers, servers come to your plate slicing steaming chunks of I dont know what, I’m just happy to have found the place, to have a coke and sit.

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Our Hotel the Real inn is really is just around the corner, we check in, drop the bags in our room and promptly head to the bar, 2 Beers please. We laugh about the days events, who broke down and who didn’t , the one thing I do notice, those Porsches may be fast, but they smoke more than Alfas!!

4:15 am a passing train blast its horn for what seems like 60 solid seconds, the elevator sounds like we’re next to an airport with planes departing all night long, so I’m not the freshest come morning but theres coffee, and thats all I really care about. With cup in hand its time for the drivers meeting, todays going to be a long day, over 300 miles to cover, keep an eye on your gas, and keep the shine side up!! Motors roar to life, exhaust is thick, the Federales are there to escort us out of town, escort sounds so nice, we’re blasting past red lights at 80 mph again, oh yeah, this is great, how come we can’t do this in LA??

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We’re out on the open road heading for a Winery for lunch, the Alfas pulling hard, I see 115 on the straight, but dont want to push, its is a new motor, with only 1500 miles on it, the last thing Benny said as I left the shop was “Don’t destroy this one”…. Its a fantastic run, headphones go in and we’re cruising, before I know it we’re pulling into the Winery, no Coke, just Sprite, I’ll take the chicken, Tony wonders about making his Alfa faster, I ask Tony about the cut on my finger and if    I’ll get feeling back in. The warm sun hits my back, lunch is followed by an espresso and the knowledge that the next run of our journey is about 2.5 hours, a quick deduction tells me its going to be dark when we arrive, and where are we going??

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I tuck in behind a black 1980’s Porsche, but they’re going to slow, its a husband and wife team, I think she’s driving, lots of twists, perfect for Alfas, she’s not looking ahead as she enters the turns, braking and correcting again and again, then mashing the gas pedal on the straight aways, its frustrating watching her drive, I don’t dare pass on the twist, the sun is setting, lots of truck traffic from the other direction, some don’t even have headlights, on the straights she’s quicker, if she’d just let me pass.., after an hour or so we roll into a gas station to gather before pressing on, she says why didn’t you pass me?? UGH!!! pulling out of the gas station I’m behind two old guys in a 911, they’re settled at 70 mph, not this again, I pass and catch up to the Lotus, its an 8 cylinder noisemaker, what was I thinking, I can’t keep up with that. The Lotus is following a hotrod pick up truck with something like a Corvette motor and suspension, the three of us pull together all the way to San Felipe, by the time we reach the Hotel is dark and late, lets go find some food.

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The sun rises early, we’re right on the ocean, this is beautiful, our cars fill the courtyard, I go hunting for coffee, the restaurant is open its filled with us, pancakes, eggs, rice and beans, and coffee. And another drivers meeting. We’re heading to Ensenada lets be safe out there…. Michael says “Can I ride with you?” sure get in, ensued by a mad rush for the cars again with clouds of Porsche exhaust filling the air. A few quick turns and we’re out on the open road again. The Alfa’s doing great, running cool, good oil pressure, open desert, top down, cruising at a steady 80-90-100, got a 911 and a couple other cars behind, I’m passed once or twice, we watch a BMW go around us and over the center line into a blind turn, Michael and I look at each other, we know he’s being foolish, we let him go, another few miles I say we must be gaining altitude again, we’re losing power, a gush of radiator fluid sprays from the front of the nose… Damn!!! Damn!!! Damn!!! , we didn’t overheat, it the head gasket, aaaggghhh, I coasted right to the side and turned it off. The cars following pulled over to offer assistance and then the flatbed. All hands on deck, with a bit of pushing and last ditch motor revving we got her loaded and I took the back seat of the Volkswagen whatever it is. My race was over, but, there was an Alfa specialist in Ensenada I was told, maybe we can do something when we get there.

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We’re in the VW heading back, its only been maybe 10 minutes, and theres the 240. Its on a trailer, half the car is missing, the driver side is gone, something bad had happened, we turned around to see if we could help. The Z was following a group of Porsches on the straight, the straight had dips in it, the Porsches pulled into the on coming traffic lane to pass a slower moving car, the Z followed, it was the last car in the line, the Z didn’t see that a pickup truck pulling a trailer was in the low spot of the straight and appeared out of nowhere, they both swerved, 200 feet of skid marks lay mark to the speed, the truck went half off the road, but the Z and the trailer hit. The steel trailer tore through the Z like a can opener, ripping it apart from nose to past the drivers door, leaving a tangled mass of sheet metal, crushing his leg and nothing else, his co driver was in shock. They have no idea just how lucky they are, How lucky the driver in the oncoming truck escaped unharmed. They put him in a BMW and rushed off to hospital to stabilize him, then across the border to an American hospital for the rest. We got back into the VW, silent, rethinking our approach to the giant escapade we’re participating in, and how that could of been any one of us, and making the right choices on the road. Maybe the head gasket blowing was a good thing.

While riding back I’m thinking maybe I can drain the water, and oil, re-torque the head and get going again, I call a couple Alfa buddies to get their opinion, and with a big sigh, I call Benny, at home, on a Saturday, “Whats up?? he says…. welllllll, its the head gasket. He says remove the thermostat and give it a try, I try to crank it and it sputters, I pull the plugs to see what comes out, water, lots of water, a ten foot high geyser, Back on the flatbed it goes, the Alfa specialist in Ensenada, well he’s got to go to San Diego to get the gasket if they have it, thats 2 hours each way, so by maybe Wednesday you can drive home…

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I get to the Hotel and decide one of those extra large Margaritas might be a good way to absorb some of the pain, at least the support crew can get me to the border of Tecate, but, my AAA is spent, its 177 miles back to LA at $5-12 a mile, this is not going to be cheap. I fall asleep wondering how much this is going to hurt tomorrow.

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Sometime the Alfa angel comes to rescue you, with 6 cars broken down and only 2 flat beds, somehow my Alfa managed to be the first on, the flatbed followed with the rest of the cars to the border and pulled onto the American side, Marteen the driver said how are you getting home? I don’t know…. I can take you if you want, Really??? That would be fantastic, we reached a very reasonable towing amount and never looked back, It was late , 9 o’clock as we pulled into Bennys shop, the gate was open, we rolled her off and let her sleep the night.

8:15am, with phone in hand I was calling Benny, soo, what should we do today? Is there time? Come on over lets see what we can do. With work clothes on, a box of pastries I arrived. we got to work, removing the exhaust, intake side, head bolts, draining water and so on, the head pulled right off, and there it was #2 and #3, the gasket had lifted. Luckily no damage was done, both the block and head were good, I cleaned the surfaces and we put the head back on. After lunch I picked up the oil and we started her up, she started, Benny had put some Mystery oil in the cylinders, there was still some water, after the smoke cleared she ran, Benny made the pump a little richer and re-adjusted the thermostatic actuator, the idle smoothed to a nice purr, the 160 thermostat kept her cool, I took her around the block and she pulled hard, on the way home she kept pulling. Its been 2 days now and she’s running better than ever. So I blew a head gasket, would I run down to Mexico again? You better believe it. Theres a Targa California coming up you know….

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1967 Alfa Romeo Giulia Super project

•October 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

67 Giulia Super

We’re car guys,

We say things like “wouldn’t it be fun to restore a car”. We’ll I’ve gone and done it. Going through all those eBay ad’s, there’s that one little car that strikes your eye. It can’t be that hard.. can it, I know a good body guy, interior guy, and my Alfa Guru mechanic, “Benny at John’s Alfa” of 25 years, it should be pretty straight forward….. I placed the bid at the very last minute, the wife was next to me, if she was watching then it almost seemed ok. And then the seconds counted down, you have won the auction. Oh God, What have I done??

 I picked the car up via AAA flatbed, it didn’t run, but thats ok… it had those original Italian webers from 67, a patina that made you look through the dust, thinking how pretty she’s going to be. 144 miles later my virtually rust free, never hit Alfa was at the shop, yes it was 7:30pm, it was dark, Benny had gone home, the wife was calling, but the car was mine.

Art Center Car Show 2015

•October 28, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The Art Center 2015 car show had a great bunch of eclectic treasures this year. They did a fantastic job of bringing together an automotive history of who’s who. Of course Art Center is known for their transportation design department so its no surprise to find yourself hobnobbing with our most talented designers, and of course Jay showed up…. need I even say his last name?? Dave Kunz did a great job of interviewing all the guest, Its really great to see the back courtyard filled with these cars. As an art center alumni myself I spent many days on that hill eating sandwiches and shooting my photo assignments. Its nice to see that back yard put to good use!!

Art Center 2015 The car everyone went "What is it?" Group Shot 2015 Group Shot 2015 Actual size. A Tatra kinda day. Whats a car show without an airplane? Alfas!! Beautiful Porsche creation The Body. Tara in the raw. The Pretty girl at the Party Best Lambo. Very original, very fast GTA. And more Alfa's. Harpo made it to the show. Group Shot 2015 Group Shot 2015 Some Lowey, what a party without an Avanti? Future present and future past. Showcars. Single seater. There's always someone that shows up with a Citroen. They let the Alfa's park in front... ok not really.