Keith’s Blog: Finding New Experiences in Paris — and with Cars

 

When my daughter Alexandra and I go to Paris, our dinner the first night is always at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte. It’s a European chain that is known for its steak and fries (frites) — and its savory green-tinged steak sauce.

Your only choices are how you want your meat prepared, and which wine you wish to accompany your dinner. You know exactly what you are getting and how it will taste. The restaurant never lets you down.

It’s always delightful.

However, there are plenty of other places to eat in Paris, and we would be well served to get outside of our own box and try more of them.

The same advice applies to me and my cars. Since I was 17, I have had Alfa Romeos. I am comfortable and at home with 4-cylinder Alfas from 1956-74.

I know how to have them set up properly for the type of driving I like to do — speed-limit touring on two-lane backroads.

It’s time for me to explore other automotive possibilities. While driving a stick is not an option at the moment, it doesn’t mean I have to give up being behind the wheel of a classic. After all, with nearly 34 years of publishing SCM under my seatbelt, driving and ruminating about classic cars has been my day job and my career.

I experience cars, try to understand how they fit into the larger collector car experience, and share my insights with you. In my acquisitions, I have lucked into some very good cars. Fortunately, I have avoided economically disastrous poor ones.

To my surprise, the automatic-equipped cars I previously looked at with disdain have turned out to offer lovely driving experiences.

I have discovered that most of the time when on the road you are in top gear, cruising. An automatic doesn’t reduce the amount of power you have available, it simply reduces your acceleration.

Last weekend I drove the SCM 1965 Volvo 122S up Washington State Route 30, a curving two-lane road along the northern side of the Columbia Gorge. This drive is a 100-mile round trip from Portland. It’s also a route I often take when putting a classic car through its paces.

The Volvo has an unsophisticated, 1,800-cc pushrod engine that produces 86 bhp and 103 ft-lb of torque. It weighs 2,403 pounds and has a top speed of 92 mph. Zero to 60 mph is accomplished in 14.4 seconds. Dual SU carburetors give the engine bay the pretension of sportiness.

Despite these far-from-impressive performance specs, I had no trouble keeping up with modern traffic on SR 30. I was reminded that in most circumstances, much of the performance of a car results in a satisfied ego rather than getting to a destination any quicker.

As I shift to two-pedal cars, I have decided it is time to part with some of the Alfas in the SCM collection. I had seven, and they all offered very similar variations on a performance theme (do you want your steak medium-rare or rare-medium-rare?).

I had brought the cars to the specs I had wanted, and done everything on my list with them – tours, rallies, family vacations, cars and coffees and local concours.

Consequently, the 1967 GTV, the 1958 Sprint Veloce, the 1967 Giulia Super and the 1961 Sprint Speciale have found new homes, all with SCMers.

These new owners are already starting to make their own adventures with these cars. They have been spared the agony of restoration, rebuilds and fettling — and can focus on appearance items and just enjoying the cars.

I will continue to adjust the SCM collection to reflect my driving capabilities and my near-insatiable desire to learn about cars I am not familiar with.

As modern cars are so homogenous — and so capable — it is only through going back in time that we find cars that still speak in a unique language.

I still have three Alfas (the 1967 Duetto, the 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce and the 1971 Junior Zagato), so I haven’t stopped visiting Le Relais de l’Entrecôte on a regular basis. But there is room in the garage for new four-wheeled experiences. The sale of the Alfas has facilitated these purchases — and has set a budget.

I’ve also made the decision that I will only look at “done” cars. I don’t mind a front suspension rebuild or a major tune, but no more stripping a car to bare metal to undo 50 years of ham-fisted bodywork. No more total rebuilds of engines, gearboxes and rear ends to bring them into a reliable and road-ready state.

My mentor “Uncle Raymond” Milo would always hold court at Les Deux Magots Café in Paris, and he offered his wry advice about cars:

“I only collect my mistakes,” Milo proclaimed.

I’m leaving the Alfa comfort zone of Relais and headed over to Les Deux Magots. I look forward to finding out what automotive curiosities they have on the menu tonight.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market, now in its 33rd year. Keith has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and had his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity. He has received many honors, including the Lee Iacocca Award, the Edward Herrman Award, was inducted into the Concorso Italiano Hall of Fame and more. He is on the boards of directors of The LeMay Museum and Oregon Ballet Theater, and was formerly the chair of the board of the Meguiar's Award.

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  1. Time for you to try a Mercedes SLK320 (not the 230). Mine is a 2001. Maybe this is too new for you? 215HP and 230 feet of torque and a five speed automatic transmission. Great engine, great car.

  2. …hope to see you again at “Paris Retromobile” in 2021 !
    Make sure you stop by and meet Christophe Marchal at his booth, who can set you up with a French made car.
    I bought my 1955 Peugeot 203 from Christophe , two years ago;
    My pal, Fred , and I, are now set to drive the “ Targa Florio” in 2020. Join us !

  3. Although I am an Alfa and BMW guy at the core, the four speed automatics offered by Mercedes since the 1960s really make them desirable cars. A good friend has a Pagoda 250SL with the auto and ice cold AC. A bit soft, but a lovely car. I recently purchased a “youngtimer” on BaT, a 1991 560 SEC, also with the excellent Mercedes four speed auto. It’s fun with all four windows rolled down, and it makes you feel like a king for 12 grand.

  4. Hi Keith, I enjoyed your article from Paris. A few years ago we stayed at the Hotel La Tremoille just two blocks from Le Relais. A fantastic area of Paris. Thanks for bringing back the memories and happy motoring!

  5. Keith, I would suggest you consider an automatic, 3.0 liter Citroen SM. Solid comfort, stunning looks, and very fast on the open highway. I’ve owned mine for 2 1/2 years and it’s given me such pleasure. It’s near the top of my list of over 50 years in this hobby, and I’ve owned some great cars including 300SL’s. 250 GT Ferraris, R-R Silver Ghost, E Type Jag, and even a Morgan to name just a few.