Each August and September, the collector car world hits high gear. Everything that happens before just anticipates the explosion of activities that mark the end of summer.
Normally, this is a busy time for me — and the gang at SCM. But this year, hectic, frenetic and “my hair was on fire” seem too-mild adjectives.
My August began by driving the SCM Alfa Duetto down the Oregon and California coasts to Monterey. In the 30 years I’ve been attending Monterey Car Week, I’ve never piloted an old car the 1,000 miles from Portland to the Monterey Peninsula.
It was a perfect trip. The Duetto didn’t miss a beat, and listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” was an auditory and emotional bonus.
Monterey Car Week was the typical series of roller-coaster rides, from the high of seeing row after row of Italian supercars at Concorso Italiano to the unsettling nature of some of the auction results, where discerning buyers were simply refusing to pay last year’s prices in this year’s market. But there will be a meeting point of values soon enough — there always is.
Our Oregon Trail
Three days after Monterey, we loaded up the 1967 Alfa Giulia Super and headed on a 1,200-mile round trip across Oregon to the Wallowa Mountains. The caravanserai was organized by alfista Tom McGirr, and our destination was the town of Joseph, founded 136 years ago in 1880 and named after Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people. Longtime friend and former Lancia Fulvia owner Bill Woodard was my co-pilot, and 9-year-old Bradley and his friend Grayson were in the back seat.
The 50-year-old Italian 4-door sedan has become my favorite Alfa. With the suspension and drivetrain on the button, the car simply motors along like “the family car that wins races” it was born to be.
If we’d been in a modern car, we might have had air-conditioning and satellite radio. We wouldn’t have had to put a quart of 20/50 in the engine now and then. Perhaps one of the armrests wouldn’t have fallen off.
But we also wouldn’t have had the enjoyment of taking the perfect line through a long, sweeping downhill curve. Or we would have missed the thrill of accelerating to redline in 3rd gear and cracking a perfectly-timed shift into 4th as we passed lumbering, badly driven SUVs on two-lane roads.
From Portland to Paris and back
I was barely back in Portland when I found myself boarding a plane to Paris. I was tapped to judge at the third annual Chantilly Arts & Elegance Richard Mille. The brainchild of Patrick and Sylviane Peter, this event has become a fixture on the collector car calendar in just three years. It boasts a delectable combination of an extraordinary location, great cars, and of course, enthusiastic collectors. Best of Show was an old friend, the 1938 Alfa 8C 2900B coupe owned by SCMer Jon Shirley that had also achieved the same top honor at Pebble Beach.
Returning home, I went from the airport to the SCM garage and embarked on the annual “Red Duetto Tour” organized by Alfa Romeo Owners of Oregon members Fred and Lisa McNabb. Their rules are simple. If you don’t have a red long-tail Alfa spider (1966–69), you’re not eligible for the tour. This year there were nine long-tails, and they made an arresting sight as they cut through the countryside.
These long-tail spiders become ever more elegant with age, as their impossibly delicate front and rear ends remind us of an era when aesthetics triumphed over crash protection. Our 300-mile route took us to Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast, where we had lunch at The Grateful Bread, a Grateful Dead-themed bakery. Only in Oregon.
A practical supercar
We had no sooner arrived back from the trip when a transporter pulled up to drop off a brand-new McLaren 570GT, tasty in Blade Silver over tan leather. We had driven a 650S a year ago on the 1,000-mile Northwest Passage tour, and found it to be immensely satisfying and capable.
The 570GT is a totally new design — and it is visually stunning. Its side cutouts run from the front of the car to the back, and cleverly provide a place for the scissor-door openers.
The GT is the “entry-level” McLaren, with a sticker price at around $225,000. It has a twin-turbocharged, 562-horsepower, 3.8-liter V8. McLaren claims a top speed of 204 mph and 0–60 mph in 3.4 seconds. I would have had no problem exceeding the speed limit in any of the seven paddle-shifted gears. The active suspension has three settings — Normal, Sport and Track — with Normal offering a supple ride, and track for when you want to express your inner Lewis Hamilton.
I drove the car to the Oregon Festival of Cars in Bend, a 600-mile round trip that included going over the 5,325-foot McKenzie Pass. The road was built on the route originally used by the wagons of the Oregon Trail immigrants, and it passes through a spectacular 65-square-mile lava field.
Between the McLaren’s sophisticated suspension, powerful engine and various electronic driver assists, the car devoured the road, chewing it up and spitting it out without hesitation. Only on the race track could this car’s full potential be explored.
Although it is a hyper-exotic, the 570GT is also easy to live with — and “practical,” if we can use that term. Its design offers more luggage room than the 570S, and in Normal mode it is a supremely easy car to live with. I even learned how to achieve a semi-graceful flop over the high sills into the driver’s seat.
If you’re looking for a supercar and want something that will stand apart from a sea of red Ferrari 488 Spiders, the McLaren would be a very satisfying and tasteful choice.
As I reflect on the past couple of months, what I remember are the people, the cars and the roads. From Oregon to California to France, I’ve enjoyed the company of fellow enthusiasts.
Serenity and satisfaction come from getting behind the wheel of a vintage sports car. As you put the shift lever into first, let out the clutch and get under way, a new adventure is in the making. ♦