It was July of 1985, and the Monterey Historics were just a few weeks away. The featured marque was Alfa Romeo, and for the first time in a decade, I didn't own one. My 1969 boat-tailed Spider with rusty floors had just gone away, and I was desperate.
In those days when my day job was directing the Keith Martin Ballet Company, anything to do with Alfas was a really big deal. And the 75th anniversary celebration was about to be the biggest deal of all. Phil Hill and Fangio would be there. Mysterious cars called P3s would be racing. There would be lots of cars with Zs in their name that I had only read about.
That was long before the Alfa Market Letter, and even longer before the days of SCM. My tiny garage was crammed full of Alfa heads and gearboxes, and my toolbox sported custom-made 13- and 14-mm box-end wrenches designed specifically to loosen the exhaust manifold nuts on 1300- and 1600-cc Veloces with tubular headers.
I had never been to the Historics before; my times at Laguna Seca were spent working as a mechanic (no one thought to call us technicians then) on Hilary Luginbuhl's F-production Alfa Giulietta Spider. We were all a part of the fabled "Rubber Chicken Racing Team," and our banner was immortalized when it was captured in a photo printed in Road & Track: "Faster Than a Speeding Pullet." I still have the T-shirt; our 12-year-old daughter thinks it makes an odd, but functional, nightshirt.
But that was real racing, with multiple engine changes every weekend, no fancy tow rigs (except for the Huffaker and Group 44 boys, whose clean shop coats we all envied) and certainly no invitations to any ritzy hospitality chalets. Not that there were any to be invited to.
HITCHING A RIDE
My search for something interesting to drive to Monterey led to Tim Boerner's Alfa dealership in Berkeley, CA. Formerly owned by Stephen Griswold, who was the font of nearly all things wonderful about vintage sports cars in the Bay Area, Boerner's showroom had room for just one car.
But it was a car I wanted, a 1966 GTC. A factory convertible conversion of the GTV by Superleggera, the GTC had just what I desired, two small back seats for our boys, then five and eight, and a top that went down.
I bought the car over the phone, without an inspection. (Some acts of stupidity never change.) Ms. Banzer and I hitched a ride to Berkeley in a caravan of Alfas that included Bill Daemke in his blue Junior Z ("Don't put your foot on the plastic-covered sill plates"), Dave Salvador in a light-yellow, lowered outlaw GTV with what seemed like a 500-horsepower 2-liter ("If I can just get it timed right, it really pulls strong") and Keith McCormick, on vacation from his work in Saudi Arabia, driving his Alfetta GT ("The a/c is on!").
We picked up the GTC in Berkeley and continued south. Of the thousands of Alfas in Monterey, just four were GTCs. In fact, there were more P3s at Laguna Seca than cars like mine, and I basked in the exclusivity.
I don't remember where we stayed, except that it seemed like it was hours from the track. (Why does the name "Salinas" keep popping into my brain?) At the track, Ms. Banzer insisted I take her picture next to a silver Ferrari 330 GTS. Neither of us knew what it was, but we thought it looked very exotic. Reaching into my pocket for a price guide never crossed my mind.
We'd heard that there was a swanky car sale in downtown Monterey, so we cruised in to see what it was all about. I recall being in the outside viewing area, nose pressed against the chain-link fence, captivated by all of the extraordinary cars inside. Guys with ponytails and jewelry-bedecked "personal assistants" in short skirts walked from car to car, clutching colorful catalogs, opening and shutting doors and peering under hoods. As I couldn't afford to buy a catalog, looking through the fence was as close as I would get to the auction that night.
The cars were being sold by some guy named Rick Cole. I'd never been to a car auction then, but even standing outside, it certainly seemed like there was a lot of excitement inside the hotel. Over the PA system, someone kept saying things like, "This is such a good deal that you can take this car out into the parking lot and double your money tonight!"
I waited around for awhile, but never saw anyone try it.
We also heard there was another big car show at a resort called Pebble Beach, but as it was even more expensive than the auction, we passed. It was back to the track, to watch a succession of Alfas and other old cars drive round and round at what, after being involved with SCCA racing, seemed like very sedate speeds indeed. I thought the guys wearing full-face helmets in old Grand Prix cars looked pretty silly, but since I had neither, who was I to criticize?
FAST FORWARD 19 YEARS
Now, as we aim the SCM armada towards Monterey, it's a different world. We spend weeks planning out the logistics of our attack, from the Jet Party on Wednesday night through the Pebble Beach auction on Sunday afternoon. We'll have seminars to give, booths to staff, books and subscriptions to sell, and tens of thousands of magazines to distribute.
From time to time, I have a longing for 1985, when preparing for Monterey meant packing four Alfa T-shirts and some sunscreen into a duffle bag. When the most serious issue I had to deal with was trying to finagle a way into the Alfa parade around the track on Saturday afternoon (which I did by snagging a pass from a fellow whose Giulietta Sprint had coughed a rod on the way up from Santa Barbara). When the auctions and concours were just events that grown-ups with expensive cars attended.
But the world of Monterey has grown up along with us. We look forward to the old friends, subscribers all, that we'll see during the weekend. We'll indulge in our personal passion for cars in a nearly never-ending 120-hour orgy of sights and sounds, marveling at SCM'ers passions for anything on wheels, from Messerschmitt microcars to Murphy-bodied Duesenberg SJs to Ferrari Superamericas.
Things were good in 1985. Things are even better now. And we
thank each and every one of our readers and supporters for helping to make it so.