Sometimes you just need a break. So last Saturday, we pulled out the 1965 Alfa Giulia Spider Veloce and the 2000 Boxster S. SCM Legal Analyst John Draneas and wife Carlyn fired up their Lotus Elise (or would have had it actually started; more about that later), and CM Contributor Michael Pierce and his significant other Linda unleashed their 5-speed Dinan-tuned 1988 BMW 7-series.
Our goal was a boutique wine-making facility, the Carlton Wine Studio, in Carlton Oregon-in the heart of Oregon's Pinot Noir country, about 40 miles from SCM world headquarters.
While the supposed intent of the trip was to taste wine, in fact we all were suffering from sports car cabin fever, and this provided a convenient excuse to exercise our cars. Wendie and I had good friends Rolf and Tamera Agather joining us from Lake Tapps, Washington, near Seattle-the Boxster was an invigorating change from the Suburban they had driven down in.
I drove the Alfa the whole day, and it was both better and worse than I remembered from the fall. I'm a stickler for making things work, but as I drive the Alfa so infrequently during the winter, when small things go awry, I tend to ignore them. Then when I revisit the car, there is generally one more thing that needs attention than there was the last time I was in it.
All of the items are niggling, but in total they make me a little crazy. The day/night switch on the rearview mirror has been broken since July, so the mirror flips back and forth, creating a kinescopic view of the world behind me. The front disc brakes have been spongy for months, requiring a very un-Alfalike mashing of the pedal to get the car stopped.
Somewhere along the way I lost the cigarette lighter, so now I've got an empty socket in the dash reminding me, constantly, of my slothfulness. The black plastic knob has fallen off the passenger-side window winder; it, along with the metal backing, are somewhere under the seat, along with the cigarette lighter, I hope. But window winding is now a chore.
The convertible top has never fit right, and now it seems to be worse: I can see daylight between the front lip of the top and the windshield frame. And there is an annoying buzzing vibration through the throttle linkage under deceleration. Conrad Stevenson, who put this car together for me, told me that disconnecting the (unneeded) choke and fast-idle cables generally cures this, but not on my car.
Of course, cold air still rushes into the car from the misaligned front door, and the seats need to be restuffed. Your bottom is really resting directly on the floorboard of the car, which offers about as much comfort as a racing bicycle seat. Do I sound like a whiner yet?
What's right with this picture?
On the plus side, the freshly rebuilt engine now has about 2,000 miles on it, so it pulls strongly to redline and beyond. The gearbox is slick, and the substitution of a later, 105-series shift lever has removed the vibration that plagues the earlier, two-piece 101-series levers. Local guru Dave Rugh contributed a set of street/competition springs, lowering the car slightly and giving it much better grip through the turns, without compromising the essential nature of the car the way that bigger sway bars can.
So as we went out State Highway 240, through the high-speed turns, the driveline and suspension of the Alfa delivered far beyond what you might expect from any 43-year-old car. Each time I get in the car, I am reminded just how reflective of 1960s automotive history it is, yet it still works as a car today, hustling down the freeway at 80 mph, with some warmth and weather protection and a trunk big enough for two cases of wine. Its exhaust note reminds me of every Alfa I've ever driven, from 1968 to the present.
The Boxster S now has 82,000 miles on it; we've put 7,000 miles on during the last few months. It continues to need nothing. A tribute to how well built cars are today, it drinks no oil, sips just a modicum of gas, and with heated seats, an iPod adapter for the stereo, a power top, and cruise control, it's almost a luxury cruiser. By sports car standards, anyhow.
I continue to marvel each time I see a Lotus Elise. After all the years of unreliable, overpriced, origami-styled cars, Lotus got it exactly right with the Elise. Light, fast, and affordable, as well as being striking in appearance, Draneas's car is nearly the perfect pocket rocket. Nearly perfect, in that for some reason his car seems to enjoy refusing to start.
Last summer, at the Sunriver Festival of Cars, his Elise also had a starting problem, but that was because the battery in his remote had gone dead. And if the remote isn't functional, you can't disable the alarm or enable engine starting. Good thinking, Lotus. This time, the remote was fine, but when the start button was pushed, the engine made a clack-clack-clack sound like a crow smacking its beak. Push-starting it became our group calisthenic for the day. There will always be a strand of Lucas buried in the DNA of Lotus.
I don't have much to say about Pierce's thundering BMW, except to say that it was nice to see a right-sized 7-series, with no pretentious bustle-butt hanging off its rear, hustling down the road at indecent speeds.
The featured tasting of the day was of a limited-production Retour Pinot Noir. At $65 a bottle, it needed to be superior. And it was. But even better was a chance to get back behind the wheel of a variety of cars, old and new, and remind ourselves of just why we do what we do for a living. To borrow from the Chiffons, it was one fine day.