A Chill, Damp, Wonderful Drive
December 18, 2012—It was warm and dry when I awoke at six forty-five Sunday morning. Condensation on the window meant it was cold outside. The sun was up but hiding behind clouds it merely cast a glow. Having showered and dressed, I ate a quick breakfast and excitedly headed out. It was cold, about fifty degrees and the clouds hung low.
For some reason, all regular weekend SoCal car meets begin around dawn. It’s like car guys and gals have to sneak out before their significant others awaken or they’ll catch hell. More likely it’s just because there is less traffic and therefore the drive just a bit more enjoyable.
Exiting the garage just before seven thirty with the seat warmer on, visions of shiny rosso corsa, Zermatt silber and British racing green danced in my head. The plan was to be at Supercar Sunday in Topanga around eight, meet up with Jeff and his friends, then drive down to Neptune’s Net to meet with a large Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ crew from Torrance and run the canyons. For some, run means drive. For others it means trying to commit suicide with your car. I hoped Jeff was of the former mindset, never having ridden with him.
It started drizzling while making the climb up the Santa Monica Pass on the 405. The ramps to the 101 were closed and the detour led through the Valley via Victory Bl. I was going to be late, but no big deal because drives NEVER begin on time. Never. The rain was a bigger issue however because it meant limited attendance at Supercar Sunday and, more importantly, slippery roads during the run.
I pulled into the Westfield Promenade in Topanga where Supercar Sunday is held every week. There were only a handful of diehards: a gorgeous red Jaguar XK120, a clean Datsun Roadster (top down) with a Silvia engine swap, a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Nissan 280 built on a Ford Bronco chassis (?!), a Nash Airflyte and a few others. At one point, a silver Maserati Bora came roaring in, stopped for a few minutes, then left. It’s amazing how Italian cars from the 70’s still look futuristic.
The thin rain kept falling gently but still the hardcore gearheads remained, telling stories, trading information and getting wet. Jeff showed up about a half hour late, his friends trailing by another half hour. But he introduced me to the owner of the topless Datsun Roadster, “it was dry when I started out,” he explained. A friend of his, a Brit in a Pebble Beach/Bentley jacket chimed in, “Anyway, over fifty miles per hour the rain just flies over you," then turning to the owner and adding, "but I can’t stand sitting in a wet seat. You should have put the top up when you parked.”
The Supercar Sunday emcee turned on his bullhorn and thanked the few who turned out, dismissing himself as much as the enthusiasts. We walked over to the Starbucks or Corner Bakery or whatever and had coffees and hot chocolates, continuing our conversations and occasionally checking phones (making sure that significant others didn’t need us).
Stomachs warmed and driving plans reiterated we headed back into the rain for one last look at modifications, a bit of bragging and finally, to get going. I jumped into the dummy seat of Jeff’s Subaru BRZ as he switched off traction and stability control, “I always turn it off.” A roll bar limited the backwards movement of my seat and the trunk and rear seats were gutted.
A quick gas up for Jeff’s friends, Vic and Martin, and we headed south on Topanga. They both drove Nissan 370Z’s. Martin’s was about the dirtiest black I’ve ever seen due tofrequent track use and infrequent (read: never) washing; in startling contrast was Vic’s pure pearl white that looked freshly waxed. The convoy rolling, we turned on to Mulholland and the traffic disappeared. Immediately, Jeff downshifted and gunned the throttle as we climbed into the cold, damp Santa Monica Mountains.
This drive wasn’t new to me. I ran SoCal’s mountains before I even moved to California, having ridden Mt. Baldy with the Honda S2000 club once during a visit. After moving to Pasadena, I spent weekends chasing faster speeds, tighter turns and the exhilaration that comes with miles of high-revs and empty mountain roads. I’d seen people drive into cliffs, over edges, and lowside their bikes when they overcooked a corner. Once, a passenger pulled my handbrake because he was frightened in a turn. We spun and tagged a guardrail backwards. At least there was a guardrail. The danger is always present, whether it’s dry, wet or icy (above five thousand feet on Angeles Crest in the winter), but so is the thrill. So with my faith in the seatbelt and Jeff’s ability, I held on and enjoyed the g forces.
As we ascended, the mountains became foggier and the road wetter. In the mirror, I could only see Martin, immediately behind us. From Mulholland we made a left onto Stunt Road taking a few extra moments for a donut in the soaked, empty intersection. And from Stunt we stopped briefly for some photos and then continued temporarily upward and to the sea along Tuna Canyon Rd. The drive was mesmerizing with so much fog. You couldn’t see past the scrub pines lining parts of the drive. There were no houses, no lights, no Valley, nothing but cottony, grey fog and the piercing road. There were no distractions. Appropriately, it felt like a scene from Initial D, “hachi-roku!”
The summit came and went and soon we were flying back down, engines wailing and Jeff heel-toeing and braking at what seemed the last possible moment. We’d be tossed against the seatbelt, then sideways opposite the turn and finally back into the seat as we accelerated. Nearing the Pacific and our altitude dropping, the fog cleared and the canyon almost looked like a lush east coast forest. Every few turns the tail squirmed exiting a corner. Reaching the Pacific Coast Highway at the bottom of Tuna Canyon we headed west.
Cell phone service available again, we checked the Torrance BRZ/FR-S crew’s position (they kept posting photos on Facebook) and discovered that we were about fifteen minutes behind. PCH was a leisurely drive but some clown in a Mercedes-Benz AMG G55 wanted to race us. Realizing that neither Jeff, Vic nor Martin were biting, he took off. We passed a bunch of people running along PCH dressed like Christmas elves. Much like us, they were actually having fun despite the weather. Crossing county line, Neptune’s Net finally came into view a mile later and we parked among the Scions and Subarus. Amazingly, some ribbons of sun were slashing through the clouds while we ate clam chowder and ceviche. To our right, one of the Scion guys had a rabbit hiding in his sweatshirt pocket, “I take him everywhere!” the guy beamed. Maybe the little bunny was a good luck charm.
As we finished, a group of motorcyclists from Venice showed up. They all had VVMC patches and stickers. Several were hipsters and somebody within our group wondered aloud how long the café-racer fad would last. The Scion crew leaders raffled off some car detailing kits and HID headlights and lunch was over. Jeff knew some of them and one, Brian, was going to follow us for the drive back to the Valley.
We went up Yerba Buena and the glimmers of sun quickly vanished. In their place vapor and rain returned. The ride continued as before and somehow we passed another contingent (or was it the same) of running Christmas elves. We climbed and the fog thickened, soon the cars were like ghosts grinding through corners and screaming through apexes.
On Little Sycamore Canyon Rd. we happened upon a turnout where a few young guys had parked to smoke cigarettes. They were also out driving on this chill, damp, wonderful day. We huddled beneath the trees next to the road and talked about nothing. Every once in a while the sound of a shrieking engine would announce a car and the mist would yield headlights and then some sports car or another. Wishing each other fun and safety, we continued to the Snake and then past an apocalyptically vacant Rock Store.
We arrived back at Topanga mall at a quarter to three, where Jeff drove me around till I spotted my car (I swear it moved) with Vic, Martin and Brian all following. Tired, I finally made it home. It had been a long time since I ran or rode the canyons, but this was a great way to return. Sure the weather could have been warmer and clearer but there was no traffic on roads that mattered and regardless of traction control settings, nobody stuffed their car. Who’s coming next weekend? [kiWO]