Imagine a car collection to be like a well-stocked wine cellar, with each flight contributing its own particular palate, body and boquet. During the past few months, I've had the opportunity to drink deeply from three quite different appellations, that of the Ford GT, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing.
I was just 17 when I got my first Alfa, a 1963 Giulia Spider Normale. During the last three decades, I don't think there has been more than a cumulative total of two weeks when I have been without an Alfa of some sort, ranging from a 1946 Freccia D'Oro, to a 1951 Matta 4WD, to a 1958 Spider Veloce vintage racer, to a 1987 Silver Edition Milano.
I've had the chance to race a Ti Super, GT Junior and GTA in Europe too-you might say that the cross and the snake are in my blood.
So when SCM Legal Analyst John Draneas asked if I'd like to
accompany him on a weekend trip to Central Oregon in his 1957 Giulietta Spider Normale, I didn't hesitate.
Red with a black interior, the car is surprisingly authentic. It still has the mechanical fuel pump mounted on the front of the head. The tunnel case transmission was swapped for an early-style split-case four-speed, and the horrible original Solex carb has been replaced by a superior progressive two-barrel Weber. Otherwise, to my practiced eye, the car is as it was when it left Arese nearly 50 years ago.
We drove 600 miles over the course of three days, exploring both the two-lane roads and the geologic features around the John Day region. Behind the wheel, I thought about the many miles I've spent in Giuliettas, and how, when the cars are in fine fettle, they seem like well-trained Australian Shepards, responsive, energetic and eager-to-please.
By their very design, Giuliettas are perhaps the most perfectly
balanced of all small displacement sports cars. If you don't have one in your collection, you should.
THE PAST AS FUTURE
When I was 19, I took my 1967 Duetto on a coming-of-age journey up through Yosemite National Park, down the backside of Nevada, across Death Valley National Monument and back up to San Francisco. Thirty-four years later, I was to repeat the trek, but this time behind the wheel of a prototype Ford GT. Once again, my co-pilot was John Draneas.
Those of us of a certain age can recall how we anxiously waited for Road and Track to arrive each month, to read its chronicles of the titanic struggle between Ford and Ferrari. It was an epochal battle, the shrieking V12s of the P3s and P4s competing against the thundering, brute force of the 289- and 427-cubic-inch V8s. When the GT40 won Le Mans, it was a high point for the entire American auto industry.
Most replicars are feckless tributes to a previous model, with little more than a shared nameplate between them. Not so the GT. While being a thoroughly modern car, it is true to both the shape, the mechanical layout, and the performance of its predecessor.
On Highway 6, heading from Benton, California, towards Tonopah, Nevada, we touched 160 mph several times (in fifth gear, with another left to go), and at one point cruised at 140 mph for half an hour. On one morning stretch from Death Valley to Baker, California, I averaged 125 mph over a 90 minute period.
My feelings of exhilaration and terror were equally mixed. The thrills came as we took turns marked 45 mph at nearly three times that speed, the GT absolutely flat and glued to the ground, its huge underneath venturis sucking it to the pavement. The limiting factor in its speed was clearly the driver; the car was ready to go as fast and as hard as you wanted it to.
The terror came as we thought about how much kinetic energy we were carrying in a 3,485-pound car traveling 150 mph. Visions of the 917 wreck in Le Mans rotated through our heads. With modern supercars, the limits are so stratospheric that should you exceed their capabilities, you are traveling at such a high rate of speed that your opportunities to recover from a driver error are slim indeed.
But at just $139,995, the GT is a bargain, and SCMers like Gary Bartlett, Keith Crain and Jay Leno are snapping them up. If that price doesn't faze you, you should as well. Though projections that over 3,000 will be built means they will never be first-tier collectibles, as a living, breathing, superperforming tribute to an American icon, the GT is worth every penny.
THE BLACK FOREST
As a part of the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Gullwing in the U.S., I drove a 300SL through the Black Forest in Germany, courtesy of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. This wasn't the first time I've been behind the wheel of one, and I was instantly reminded of how powerful and predictable the cars are, even at half a century old
I also had the opportunity to see the black 300SL formerly owned by legendary photographer David Douglas Duncan. I had dinner with him and the man to whom he gave the car, Claude Picasso, himself a long-time SCMer and the son of Duncan's great friend Pablo. This issue includes some of Duncan's memories of his car, as part of our special section on the Gullwing. It has remained in the forefront of collectible cars since it was new, and when you drive one, you will undoubtedly understand why.
Great cars combine beauty and mechanical capability, and represent automotive high points of their respective periods. If you're thinking of starting a collection of your own, you could do far worse than to begin with a Giulietta, a GT and a Gullwing. All come from fine stock, and will only get better with the passage of time.