We were sitting outside a Porta Potty near Tenmile, Oregon. Our unlikely four-car caravan had traveled about 200 miles from Portland before our first catastrophic failure.
Our group included a 1966 Citroën DS-21 décapotable (cabriolet) owned by Greg Long from Seattle, a 1972 Alfa Berlina that belonged to Brad Miller and his wife Nancy from Portland (and Paris), the SCM 1967 Giulia Super with me driving and son Bradley as my companion, and the SCM 1992 Autozam – a 660-cc, turbocharged 3-cylinder Japanese Kei-class car.
The direct flight from Portland to San Jose, CA takes about two hours. For years — decades —I always picked up a rental car in San Jose and 90 minutes later I was in our rented condo on the Monterey Peninsula.
I never worried about the Kia or Hyundai or Toyota we picked up from Hertz overheating, or the head-gasket self-destructing or the brakes failing.
But starting in 2016 I decided I should drive an old car the 1,000 miles to Monterey each year.
It’s become a tradition. I leave from Portland on a Saturday. I drive an Alfa, usually a model that is going to be featured at Concorso Italiano. Three years ago it was our 1967 Duetto, as we helped celebrate 50 years of that convertible. Two years ago we drove our 1967 step-nose GTV.
This year, SCM was sponsoring a class at Concorso that celebrated Alfa Romeo 4-door sedans from all years of manufacture. Hence, the two Berlinas in our group.
Joining us on the trip were SCMers Luke Chennell from McPherson, KS, and Richard Lincoln from Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Proving that some people simply don’t learn from their experiences, both Luke and Richard had been on an SCM Road Trip before. They had driven the SCM Bradley part of the way across the United States, as it journeyed from Miami to Monterey.
They both agreed it was the worst car they had ever driven, but they still wanted in on this year’s trip.
We had stopped at the Porta Potty because the Autozam was overheating severely. We diagnosed it as a blown head gasket, arranged for the car to be towed back to Portland, rearranged our luggage and continued on in three cars.
The next day the Alfa brake pedal began to sink to the floor from time to time, the Citroën started to overheat and the Giulia Super puked its liquid guts into the radiator overflow tank.
Our trip was not devoid of adventure.
We had the brakes attended to in Berkeley, CA and the cooler Bay Area weather solved our temperature problems.
During the next week, we had the pleasure of having our own vintage cars to drive during Monterey Car Week.
Earlier, as I was driving along the Lost Coast in California, the brake pedal having no effect now and then, and looking at several-thousand-foot cliffs along the highway, I briefly wondered why I was doing this to myself.
After all, I chose this way to get to Monterey. No one made me do it. I could have taken a plane or rented a modern car.
But some people like to jump out of airplanes, and others ride a kayak over waterfalls.
I happen to like driving old cars on road trips. They never fail to surprise, and they never fail to fail — but always in different ways.
Part of the allure of a road trip in old cars is you never know what you are going to have to deal with. My roadside assistance package consisted of baling wire, duct tape and a $19.99 Walmart tool kit.
And we made it.
I have memories of phoning SCM World Headquarters in Portland, OR and telling them to have someone come and get EITHER the Porta Potty or the Autozam — I didn’t care which.
I recall spending a heart-stopping hour of using first and second gears — along with the handbrake — keep from plunging off a cliff when the brakes failed.
We also got to stop at the Enchanted Forest and see Babe, the Great Blue Ox as he towered over the Alfa Berlinas and the Citroën cabriolet.
Bradley got to walk along fallen redwood trees. We all visited the famous drive-through tree south of Eureka, CA — just as I had when I was Bradley’s age over half-a-century ago.
If we had driven a new car down I-5 to Monterey we would have had none of these experiences.
For these three days we were kids again. We escaped from the ordinary. We expected our cars to provide us with unscripted adventures, and they didn’t let us down.
Why do we put ourselves in these situations? Because facing the unexpected and having to cobble together solutions appeals to the MacGyver in all of us.
I’m already looking forward to the 2019 Monterey Car Week —Concorso Italiano is celebrating the cars of Zagato, and I have the perfect vehicle to drive from Portland to Concorso in Monterey. I’m sure it will create its own adventures. And I have leftover duct tape and baling wire in my trunk.