The Roadster takes a Vacation

(Editors Note: Dave Burton sent me a disc with several of his articles that were previously published in the printed Auspuff Roar. Here is one of my favorites, enjoy and keep an eye out for more. SPG)

From the printed Auspuff Roar 2004

As part of our trip to California for the 50th Speedster Anniversary, Diane and I shipped her ’61 356 B Roadster out to Monterey with a truckload of fellow members’ cars. Dave Peterson did the preliminary organization and Heath Hurlbert picked it up and saw it through. Thanks to both of them, it ran without a hitch. Diane and I felt like rock stars, flying into Monterey Airport, collecting our luggage, flagging a taxi and riding to the other (private) side of the airport to greet her car that had arrived just two hours previously. We dropped the top, threw the bags in the back, and were outathere!

I have two sisters living on the Monterey Peninsula. Julie lives in Monterey and is a Professor at USC Santa Cruz. Mary Beth and her husband, Dennis, are raising their two wonderful children, Emily and Brian, in Pacific Grove. With family in the area, we visit regularly–if not often enough–so we know our way around. We checked into our favorite B&B, the Carriage House Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea and unpacked. The next couple of days would be filled with a combination of 50th Anniversary events and family.

Friday morning at the event registration, I ran into Neil Goldberg, Ted Dunham, Vic Rivera and the gang and got invited to a photo shoot at Pebble Beach with Hal Thoms. I drove back to Carmel to pick up Diane, and her Roadster wound up in the foreground of a photo that ended up in Excellence and a couple of club magazines. The afternoon was spent with Emily and Brian as Emily was leaving for camp in the morning. We enjoyed the kickoff dinner at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of our regular haunts and a place of great enjoyment for Brian, Emily, Mary Beth and Dennis (who also volunteers there).

The Roadster and siblings pose for their glamour shot.
The Roadster and siblings pose for their glamour shot.

While parking for the event, I managed to leave the parking lights on (who knew a ’61 sports car wouldn’t have a chime?) and they were dutifully still shining when we came out hours later. The 6V battery had enough power for the European parking lights, but not the starter. Thank goodness the Porsche is a lightweight as we, with the help of another couple, pushed it uphill to an area roomy enough to give it a push-start. Thanks again to that cheerful couple, I wish I had gotten their names. We drove around town for a while and then returned to the Inn, careful to park on a hill in case the battery wasn’t charged enough.

The next morning, we bump-started the car and headed onto 17 Mile Drive via the Carmel gate. Privately owned, 17 Mile Drive is a must-do, especially in a 356. The event organizers had included a prepaid pass for the weekend and we breezed through the resident’s lane as if we owned the place. We were on our way to the re-created original Pebble Beach Road Course. When we got there, hundreds of 356’s greeted us in the equestrian field adjacent to the Start/Finish line. We took a few laps while the constabulary held up cross traffic and cleared our way. The Roadster felt right at home.

We then proceeded to Laguna Seca Raceway and met friends for our scheduled laps of this famous track. Freeman Thomas was there with his Speedster and Vic Rivera had his Convertible D. Sis and her son joined us for the lapping session as Brian is turning into a real car guy and he likes the Roadster (another generation infected). I had taken a Track Time school here a few years ago and was familiar with the track and the infamous “Corkscrew.” My passengers, Diane, Mary Beth and Brian however, were not. After gridding up, we headed off at a good clip, enjoying the unfolding track before us and the brisk pace. Rounding turn five and heading uphill, we looked off into clouds and treetops while swooping through turn six and continuing upwards. Cresting the hill, we turned hard left into space (whoops and hollers from the passengers!) and flowed down the very steep “Corkscrew.” We managed to goad the pace car into an extra lap by swarming him just before pit entry and Brian enjoyed his first tour of a racetrack.

The Roadster approaching the Corkscrew
The Roadster approaching the Corkscrew
Mary Beth, Brian, Diane & Dave
Mary Beth, Brian, Diane & Dave
The Riveras and Goldbergs at Laguna Seca.
The Riveras and Goldbergs at Laguna Seca

Leaving Laguna Seca for lunch, we caravanned up and over the Laureles Grade and down into the Carmel Valley on the other side. These are some of the roads that California is famous for—and rightly so! We made a great 356 train howling up the grade and round the curves and then plunging back down and around the other side. The gang stopped in the Valley for lunch at a place Mary Beth knew and ran into Dennis with Molly, their Golden Retriever, just in from a hike.

Next up, Quail Lodge and the main Anniversary gathering. Never have I seen so many 356’s together. There have been many articles written about this phenomenal event so I’ll just add my “well done” to the chorus. Vic And Lucy Rivera displayed their Stone Grey “D” and Freeman Thomas his red Speedster with the black Glasspar hardtop. Heath and Cathy Hurlbert posed their Radium Green America Roadster with its siblings in a special corral. Neil and Peggy Goldberg, Ted and Lanita Dunham, Dick and Shirley Gobba and even Jack Chamberlain, John Chatley, Loren Shook and Tim Walls were found wandering around and through the displays and vendors. We ran into fellow Motor Cities Gruppe members and vintage racers from all over. Neil, Peggy, Diane and I retired to Little Napoli, a wonderful Italian restaurant in Carmel for dinner (can you still smell the garlic?).

Motor Cities Gruppe at Speedster 50th.
Motor Cities Gruppe at Speedster 50th

After the swap meet Sunday morning, Diane and I bade farewell to Carmel and pointed the Roadster east towards Yosemite National Park. In our previous trips to California, we always seemed to come in winter. This time, traveling the breadth of the state in summer, we got to see the hillsides in their beautiful gold’s and greens. The center of the state is very pretty, while not as dramatic as the coasts or mountains, and the roads stretch off in great curves over the horizon. We had packed light clothes and short sleeves for the coast and heavier, long sleeved garments for the mountains but we were to find that it isn’t that simple.

Our route found us entering Yosemite from the west through El Portal and following the Merced River up and through the west slope of the Sierra Mountain Range. These fabulous twisting, climbing and diving roads with the unfolding views gave only an inkling of what was to come. Passing under Arch Rock we emerged into the Yosemite Valley. The park was set aside in 1864 during the Civil War. We marveled at the flat valley floor and the abrupt way it met the granite walls around it. Entering the village, the Roadster drew favorable greetings from passerby while we navigated our way to the Ahwahnee, one of two signature hotels within Yosemite. Declining the offer of valet parking, we checked in and inspected our room. Built in 1927 of granite and concrete, the Ahwahnee has 123 guest rooms plus 24 cottages, a great dining hall, huge lounges and public areas and absolutely reverent outdoor patios and lawns. And the views!

Arch Rock at West Entrance to Yosemite.
Arch Rock at West Entrance to Yosemite

Unpacked, we retrieved the Roadster and set off for the Mariposa Grove at the south end of the park. Only 16 miles as the eagle flies (the Roadster flies but is terrain following) but 36 miles by road, we wound around and over and down and through and around some more for over an hour until we found ourselves at the famous grove of Giant Sequoias. Parking, we walked among the deer (nearly tame) and the trees. These trees are among the oldest living beings on Earth and their size is almost incomprehensible. One of them used to have the road passing through its trunk until the practice was discontinued years ago. A footpath now wanders among the trees and offers close encounters with them.

Tunnel enroute to Wawona & Giant Sequoias.
Tunnel enroute to Wawona & Giant Sequoias
The Ahwahnee Hotel.
The Ahwahnee Hotel

Returning to the car, we set off for the Wawona Hotel, the second of the signature hotels within the park—all others are outside the boundaries. The Wawona was built in 1879 and is nothing like the Ahwahnee. Where the Ahwahnee is grand and huge and angular, the Wawona is quiet and demure and unprepossessing. Our dinner reservations were in its renowned Dining Room. Seated in the warm, invitingly divided dining room, we enjoyed another excellent meal of local trout prepared expertly. You sure eat well in California. After dessert, we retraced our route around and through and down and over the same tortured roads and tunnels back to the village and the Ahwahnee—this time in pitch darkness and on 6V headlights! The little Roadster acquitted itself well and earned a nights rest. One note, we were warned not to leave any food or coolers in the car overnight as bears will open the car as if they had a can opener—hardtop or soft—to investigate.

Breakfast in the Ahwahnee’s great dining hall, almost a cathedral, was just what the doctor ordered the next morning. Taking box lunches prepared by the hotel, we dropped the top and headed out for Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass. Yosemite Valley sits at 4000’ and we drove by El Capitan growing straight up out of the valley floor and rising to 7569’ in a sheer wall. As we passed, we gazed upwards and could make out climbers on its face. Climbing up along Crane Flats we had ample opportunity to pass slower moving traffic between scenic vistas and blind curves. Turning on to Tioga Road, we stopped at the gas station just to be safe. Our 356 was not making its usual mileage on these roads!

Looking eastward up Yosemite Valley with El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls flanking Half Dome in the distance.
Looking eastward up Yosemite Valley with El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls flanking Half Dome in the distance
The Roadster contemplates climbing El Capitan.
The Roadster contemplates climbing El Capitan

Tioga Road crosses the Sierra Nevada Mountains and leads to 9945’ Tioga Pass, California’s highest auto pass and the highest paved road in the park. It passes Yosemite Creek, Porcupine Flats and beautiful Tenaya Lake, running between 10850’ Mt. Hoffmann and 10940’ Cathedral Peak on its way to Tuolumne Meadows and the Pass. Tuolumne Meadows is a high subalpine meadow at 8575’ where granite glaciers seemingly grow right out of the flat meadow floor. Driving from the valley to the pass, we started with the top down and had to raise it when we entered a sudden cloudburst. Further on, we drove through falling snow and saw the remnants of the past winter snowstorms on the slopes around us. A temperature differential of almost sixty degrees in a two-hour time span calls for flexible clothing choices and the top went up and down accordingly. We got quite adept at raising or lowering it without even stopping the car. Exiting the park at Tioga Pass led us on a long downhill run out to Mono Lake and within sight of Nevada.

Diane & her Roadster at Lake Tenaya
Diane & her Roadster at Lake Tenaya
A Squall overtakes us.
A Squall overtakes us

Turning around and retracing our path, we climbed back up and through the pass and took our time stopping at the scenic outlooks and taking pictures. Looking for a place to enjoy our picnic lunch we stopped at a creek spilling out over a gravel bar into a quiet, beautiful lake and we had it all to ourselves. After lunch, we poked our way back along the Tioga Road, stopping and investigating scenic outlooks and short detours to other scenic vistas. The many squalls we drove through on our way back across the breadth of Yosemite finally gave way to warm sunshine and we were able to drop the top again for the rest of the afternoon.

The Roadster peers over a scenic vista.
The Roadster peers over a scenic vista
The Roadster waits patiently while we recharge.
The Roadster waits patiently while we recharge

Returning to the Ahwahnee allowed us to rest and freshen up before the night’s dinner in the hotel restaurant. Highly recommended, the Ahwahnee’s Dining Room did not disappoint with exemplary service matching the food. Following a good nights sleep and another delicious breakfast, we hopped in the Roadster for another days adventure on our way to Glacier Point, slightly south and high above the Ahwahnee. Again, as the eagle flies, these two points are maybe a mile apart, but as the Roadster flies (and the roads lead); it’s probably 30 to 32 miles. We started by driving out of the valley and heading back south towards Wawona. Halfway, we turned east and passed the entrance to Badger Pass Ski Area. Twisting and turning, climbing and diving, the road is an E ticket ride in the Roadster. Driving through thick forest, punctuated by spectacular views, we find our way to Washburn Point, at 7591’ the highest elevation this road reaches and nearly 2/3 mile above our hotel. Peering off Washburn Point in the rain, we climb back into the car and continue on to Glacier Point, downhill from here and out of the rain.

Picnic respite near Glacier Point with view of Half Dome.
Picnic respite near Glacier Point with view of Half Dome

Glacier Point is very popular and provides wide vistas of the glacial formations and numerous waterfalls that make up Yosemite National Park. With the Valley and it’s Village laid out below your feet, you can see Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls (a total drop of 2425’), Illilouette, Nevada and Vernal Falls along with the Merced River meandering through the meadows. A bronze relief map shows the topography before you and enables easy identification of mountains and other landmarks. Easy walks lead you to the various vista points. Heading back up toward Washburn Point, we found a perfect spot inside a switchback turn to pull off all by ourselves and enjoy another picnic lunch. Breathtaking views and solitude along with enormous rocks and logs for furniture made a very peaceful respite.

On our way again, we stopped at Bridalveil Falls and walked up for a close look. Named for the characteristic way that the water plays across the rock face under the influence of the constant winds, the undulating falls are mesmerizing. Bidding farewell to Yosemite, we pass Arch Rock on our way out to El Portal and leave the Sierra behind. Angling west by southwest, we pass through Mariposa, Merced, El Nido and Los Banos before skirting San Luis Reservoir. Climbing and descending the Diablo Range we flash by Gilroy (Garlic Capital of the World) and San Juan Bautista as we high-tail it for Carmel and another great dinner.

Bridalveil Falls.
Bridalveil Falls
Bixby Bridge in Big Sur
Bixby Bridge in Big Sur
Highway One south of Big Sur.
Highway One south of Big Sur

Back in Carmel for a couple of days, we rest and haunt galleries looking for paintings that would look better on our walls than theirs. Emily is back from camp and Julie is just in from China so we’ve got catching up to do. Two days pass quickly and then it’s off down the coast on Highway One to Santa Barbara. The stretch of the coast road that falls between Carmel and San Simeon is one of my favorite roads on earth. Big Sur makes for very entertaining and involved driving with twisting, swooping curves and the road alternately rising and plunging under your wheels. Ever changing vistas with classic sheer cliffs above and below the road and the endless Pacific Ocean pounding the rocky shore beneath make you want to stop at the turnouts for pictures. Bixby Bridge is one of the prettiest spans you will ever lay eyes on. Too soon you pass San Simeon, home to Hearst Castle, and the road settles down to ho-hum coastal highway with long passing zones and towns like Cambria, Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. South of SLO, we meet up with Julie and turn inland to take Highway 101 past Santa Maria and Los Alamos. Exiting 101 for Los Olivios at Highway 154, we break for lunch and discussion with the locals about the Roadster. Taking 154 southeast, we pass the Hope and Reagan ranches and drop into Santa Barbara from the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Julie had booked us into an inn above the city near the Mission. From this vantage point we could look down upon the hills, homes and ocean at our feet. The next couple of days were spent touring gardens, museums, galleries and antique shops in Santa Barbara and Montecito. Julie is an historian of the Missions and early California and makes an incredible tour guide. An added bonus was having front row seats on our own porch at the inn on the hill for the 4th of July fireworks in the harbor below.

Mission Santa Barbara.
Mission Santa Barbara

While at the Speedster Anniversary, we had made plans to meet Freeman and Rene Thomas for dinner when we were in Santa Barbara. Freeman called and informed us that we would be joining them along with Jesse and Nancy Alexander for dinner at Lucky’s in Montecito, a steakhouse owned by a friend of Jesse’s. There followed another terrific dinner and warm conversation lasting well into the evening. After dinner, Freeman took the Roadster out for a run up and down the freeway to check the results of Vic Skirmants engine and drivetrain work. The Roadster had come full circle as Freeman was the one who found this car for Diane four years previously not far from where we were.

Leaving the next morning for Monterey, we headed back up into the mountains and enjoyed a leisurely drive retracing our route so we could have one more blast through the switchbacks and sweepers of Big Sur on Highway One. Along the way, we encountered the famous coastal fog. One minute, we would be driving along in bright sunshine and the next in thick, cool mist. California can be hard to pack for. Meeting Julie back at her house we spent the afternoon poking around near Cannery Row and had one last dinner with all the family (do they have any bad or even mediocre restaurants out there?). Waking the next day, we left the Roadster in Julie’s driveway for pick up by the transportation company while she dropped us at the airport. A few days later, it was back in the garage, none the worse for wear excepting the 2000 miles put on it in our 12 days in California.

The Coastal Fog envelopes Highway One.
The Coastal Fog envelopes Highway One

This trip was among the best we have ever taken. The family and friends, events and settings could not be improved upon. The driving was beyond compare—every one of the 290 some miles of paved road within Yosemite were created expressly for the open 356. Big Sur, Laguna Seca and 17 Mile Drive, not to mention the recreated Pebble Beach Road Course, rank right up there too. The mountain and canyon roads are simply a blast. Through it all, the Roadster performed flawlessly (not counting my draining the battery at the aquarium). If this is what 356 vacations are like, I hope the roadster plans another one soon and lets us tag along.


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