Ferrari Mondials and snow-packed roads don't mix very well. That was just one of the many thoughts that crossed my mind as we slid sideways towards the edge of the mountain road.
I hadn't planned on using the Ferrari as a snowmobile, but Martin Swig has a way of rearranging reality to suit his priorities. Initially, he had offered to store our newly purchased metallic green 1984 cabriolet at his facility in San Francisco until a trucker could bring it to Portland.
But when Harry Hart dropped off the Ferrari, Martin called immediately. "I like this car a lot," he proclaimed. "And if you're not man enough to fly down and drive it back, I think I'll just keep it for myself."
Shamed, I recruited good friend Steve Sargent, a nice fellow even if his idea of a sports car is his 2000 BMW 3-series cabriolet, as my co-pilota and boarded a plane south.
The Ferrari was in better condition than I had expected; the minuscule, electrically operated glovebox was a source of amusement to Steve.
Following colleague Cory Farley's advice (see his AutoWeek column of January 28) we vowed not to sleep in any motel, or eat in any restaurant on our trip that was part of a national chain. Squeezing one overnight bag into what is optimistically called the trunk, and tossing the other behind the front seats, we set off across the Golden Gate Bridge and up Highway 101.
The Mondial has an enormously tall, raked windshield, giving an unusual feeling of spaciousness to the interior of the car. The hood drops away sharply, the road seemingly disappearing under your feet.
Not enormously powerful, the four-valve, 3-liter V8 still pulled strongly. The relatively short gearing, which provides an indicated 20 mph per 1,000 rpm in fifth gear (3,500 rpm at 70 mph) gives the car an edgy feel. Trained by today's generation of fuel-economy specials, where a gutless top gear provides low engine speeds on the expressway, both Steve and I kept reaching for another gear past fifth.
The Eureka Inn, a visually grand but shopworn hotel in what is euphemistically referred to as "downtown Eureka," was our stopping point for the day.
Our dinner at The Seafood Grill on E Street was extraordinary. We knew we were in good hands when, after ordering a bottle of 1999 Napa Valley Turnbull Cabernet (at just $31), our server said, "Of course, you'll want the larger glasses with this, to properly enjoy the nose."
We awoke to find the Mondial covered with sleet, the result of a once-in-a-decade snow-bearing winter storm that was pummeling the northern California and Oregon coasts. Perhaps in response to this rude change from its pampered existence in sunny Belmont, a belt began to squeal. I hoped that once the engine warmed up, the slight expansion of the metal would quiet things down. The noise did soon disappear. A good omen, I thought-a self-healing car. But we kept a close eye on the temperature gauge the rest of the way anyway.
The Mondial offered superb handling. It tracked like a go-kart, staying flat, accelerating easily and braking smoothly on the winding coast highway. We motored at near triple-digit speeds, delighting in the unusual combination of the bright, early morning sun highlighting the snow-capped Bald Hills on our right, and the thunderous storm-brewed surf crashing into Humboldt Bay on our left.
A blizzard struck as we passed through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and the road was quickly covered by snow. We made an unlikely trio, the Mondial sandwiched between a Chevrolet Suburban and a Ford F-150 pickup, as we picked our way through the pass.
We were going about 30 mph when the brake lights of the truck ahead flashed. I backed off the throttle, and the compression immediately caused the back of the Mondial to yaw viciously to the left, then even farther to the right. Quickly steering into each slide was to no avail, as the rearward weight bias of the car increased the oscillations. Visions of my new green toy sliding rudely into the mountainside danced in my head. I put the clutch in, the rear end immediately straightened out, and we were no longer in need of an espresso to be wide awake.
The next hour was spent tip-toeing, Prancing Horse style, through the white stuff. Finally, at Gold Beach, Oregon, we were greeted by sun and dry roads. The Ferrari, released to run at 4,000 rpm, regained its raucous, assertive personality and gobbled up the highway.
Neskowin Village, Oregon, where we are renovating a beach house, was our final stop before Portland. The locally owned Hawk Creek Café beckoned, and after a typically satisfying pizza from its wood-fired oven, we began the 80-mile home stretch.
An hour later, our 750-mile journey was finished. We live on the crest of a hill; Cindy remarked that she could hear the Ferrari coming as we wound up the streets below. I took Steve home, and as we arrived, his three young sons tumbled out the door to find out what was rumbling in the driveway.
When I sold exotics for Ron Tonkin, I used to envy the guys who would buy Ferraris long-distance over the phone and arrive to pick them up wearing jeans and sweaters. They'd hop into their newly acquired 328s or Testarossas and set off across the country.
Now, a decade later, I find myself a part of that club. And I've discovered that even when it's a used Mondial that costs less than a loaded Toyota Camry, there's a certain lightness to your step, and con brio in your voice when you say, "I'm here to get my Ferrari and drive it home."
Thanks, Martin Swig. It was the right thing to do.
ON THE COVER
Frank DiMartino has an affection for pre-war Alfas. "Alfa Monza," on our cover this month, is an oil-on-linen depiction of an 8C 2300 Monza that participated in the 1937 Mille Miglia. In the background is a representation of a section of the painted wooden wheel found on Sicilian carts.
DiMartino, whose work is no stranger to the cover of SCM, was born in 1947 and now lives in New Jersey. He grew up in Sicily, where his father was involved in motor racing. His next showing will be at the Hamptons Concours this May in Long Island; previous exhibitions have included Meadow Brook and the Cavallino Classic.
This painting has been sold, and there are no prints available. To view other prints, visit www.hometown.aol.com/mille1mile. Phone 973/427-7578. (NJ)