Starting when I was three years old, my grandfather would perch me on the nose of his Ford 9N tractor. It was a ritual we repeated every Saturday morning at our family’s small farm in Novato, California (about 28 miles north of our home in San Francisco).
My engagement with all things motorized stretches back to those moments. Holding on to the radiator cap and my legs dangling, Gramps would spend an hour or so cultivating the Bartlett pear orchard, and talking with me as he did it. I recall him explaining the difference between discing and plowing.
I can still feel the heat and vibration from the low-rpm torque of the engine.
Last weekend Bradley had his first stint behind the wheel of our 1991 Alfa S4 Spider.
I would describe the car as harmless. While it’s not nearly as solid or reliable as a Miata, what it has going for it is a sense of style. The svelte shape, with its distinctive cuttlebone inserts, was first produced in 1966. Fifty-seven years later, it is still visually striking and proclaims, “I’m an Italian car.”
After practicing in the family Hyundai Elantra Limited, Bradley decided it was time to try the Alfa. As it was a sun-drenched day, the top went down. He learned how to carefully remove the anti-rattle straps across the top clamps, then tuck the canvas between the bows as he folded the top.
We pulled into traffic and headed to the nearby six-lane Vista tunnel.
As we entered the tunnel at 50 mph, top-down, our world exploded into a cacophony of engine sound and wind noise.
“Dad this is like being in the Allard,” Bradley exclaimed.
On last year’s SCM 1000, Bradley spent a day in an Allard J2X, navigating for Kevin Blount. Blount loves driving his cars, and his stable also includes a 300SL Gullwing and an Alfa Giulietta Spider Veloce.
When Bradley returned from his day in the direct, brutal machine, he had a large smile. “Dad, that was great!”
I’m sure there are not many teenagers who have a J2X as a reference point for their drives.
He did well with the Alfa, his only challenge being to adapt to the sensitive steering. Small inputs to the wheel cause the nose of the car to move, so for a while the front end of the Alfa looked like a hound on the trail of a fox as it went from one side of the lane to another.
There are equal parts stress and reward each time we drive. City and freeway traffic don’t offer rewarding experiences. But when you are starting from downtown Portland, those are your transit choices.
We’re planning a 170-mile overnight road trip to Florence, on the Oregon Coast, in the near future. There are several lovely routes.
We were discussing which car to take. The V12 Jag has just been serviced and is ready to go. But the SL55 AMG is his choice. He reminded me we drove over 3,000 miles to Yellowstone and then again to White Sulphur Springs, Montana in the silver bullet, and it was the perfect road-gobbling car. It has the added bonus of the top going down if you wish.
He needs seat time to develop driving instincts that transfer to any car he is behind the wheel of. Game on!
Thank you, Mr. Blount for providing Bradley with a visceral experience that is now a reference point for every car he drives for the rest of his life.