GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Sunday, May 22, 2011

L'art de l'automobile: The Ralph Lauren cars

Yesterday in Paris brought forth a number of special events that would usually be spread over several days if not weeks or months. The first of these was the occasion to finally meet Marc Sonnery, author of the Ferrari Breadvan book Rebel, Rebel. Though I had communicated often with Marc via email and telephone which included being interviewed for his book, we had never met face-to-face. Marc took the TGV up to spend a very interesting day which began with lunch in la Galerie at the Georges V where we spoke of his passion for Maserati and stories of how his father, who worked for Citroën, brought home Maseratis thus setting Marc on the path.

After lunch we made our way to Les Arts Decoratifs by the Louvre where a certain Ralph Lauren has a number of magnificent cars from his collection on display. Walking through the entrance, one is confronted head-on by a stunning Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. The only other time I'd seen one was on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles approaching from the other direction with Jay Leno at the wheel. This one had a hypnotic effect and it was several moments before I could move on to see the object of our visit.

Passing into the main hall, Marc introduced himself to one of the staff and made it known that I was a former owner of one of the cars on display. In recognition of the fact that taking photos was interdit, Marc asked if an exception could be made in our case. Word traveled up and down the chain of command and the result is that a very cordial and enthusiastic staff member snapped the photo you see here.

During our interview in Nice, Serge Dermanian told me to look closely at the headlights of the D-type Jaguar that is on display. One day, when cleaning them, he had discovered a smudge or blur that, when he cleaned it, revealed the words 'Le Mans' molded into the glass lens. Looking closely, I saw it and wondered how many had viewed this car and missed this detail.

As we approached GTO 3987, the sight of it reaffirmed all of the reasons one falls in love with such a car. Its shape is now classic--the iconic Ferrari--and as one takes a tour of the car, it is impossible to find an awkward angle. I have long thought that the weak part of any car design is the 3/4 rear view. From this angle, the GTO looks like a wild cat about to pounce. Difficult to imagine racing around the roads of southern California--going to the super market or looking for adventure--in this car but that is what I did.

Marc handed me a mini tape recorder and I did a commentary detailing how 3987 is now the same or different from when it was mine as we did a slow, methodical 360 of the car. It was an extraordinary process and reminded me of how I would hand wash the car every day before taking it out--feeling as well as seeing the curvatures and nuance of the design.

As we moved through the hall, a man who has long been an idol of mine passed by. This chance moment fell into the category of being introduced to Steve McQueen by mutual friends at the Chez, receiving a late-night phone call from Marlon Brando who had just watched one of my (Interview) shows on cable or having a conversation with Enzo Ferrari and Juan Manuel Fangio in the paddock at Monza. In 1997, I watched this man deliver a one-sentence introduction of an interview guest that was, for me, like watching Marcus Allen's 74 yard touchdown in SuperBowl XVIII. It was a question of the great being greater. As one who has conducted more than 500 interviews for my fictional interview series and real-life interviews with people like General Richard Wilmot talking about his meeting with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the Khyber Pass and with those who have graciously sat before my camera for the Carrera and GTO documentaries, I know that what I saw that night was a man at the top of the game. He never disappoints--my favorite segments were with John le Carré and Mick Jagger--but that night he hit it out of the park. I introduced myself and we talked for several moments. He proved to be courteous and inquisitive as one might expect of a natural-born interviewer. His name is Charlie Rose.

Returning to the hotel, I took up the camera and interviewed Marc Sonnery for my GTO documentary and another project to be disclosed at a later date. We spoke of his experiences in writing books about the Ferrari Breadvan and Maserati. He even showed me footage of Porfirio Rubirosa driving the Breadvan.

All in all, a stellar day.


Mike Gulett said...


What a day!! Great picture too. How can you top that?

Darren said...

Marvelous blog update! A day that is indeed one for the books.

Vic said...

Fantastic! I was glad to read of your re-encounter with your 3987 in Paris. It must have been a truly wonderful experience to see the GTO on display in such a unique setting. A stellar day, indeed!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Mitchell,
I'm 13 and I have a huge passion for cars
I am fascinated by the fact that you drove your GTO every day, just like it was made to. I wish everyone would do that...
Can I ask, where might I find the tape that describes the difference of the car when you owned it and now?
It sounds very interesting to hear it.
Thanks, hope to hear from you!
A kid

Stephen Mitchell said...

Hello Anonymous! I will attempt to obtain and upload the audio file on the blog by tomorrow evening so you can hear it. Thank you very much for your comments.

Stephen Mitchell said...

Here it is: