GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Ferrari GTO and Norman Jewison in the rain

It isn't every day that one can indulge two major passions in a single day but when it happens, a memory is created that lasts a lifetime. The photo of me in my GTO at the top of Benedict Canyon reminded me of just such a time. One of my favorite directors, Norman Jewison, was to give a talk at a screening of his film In the Heat of the Night presented by the Writers Guild of America in a small, private theater on Melrose Avenue one rainy Saturday back in the late 60s. I was looking forward to the occasion as the film had become an instant favorite of mine for its acting, direction and unforgettable score by Quincy Jones. Haskell Wexler was the director of photography whom I had met when I looked at a dark blue Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso he was selling.

In those days, I had two cars from which to choose when I left the house to go someplace; the first was a Ferrari GTO and the second was a 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider Veloce. I would usually take the Alfa when I knew I would be leaving the car unattended for long periods of time or when I wanted to enjoy some top-down driving but my first impulse was always to take the GTO. On this rainy Saturday, The GTO won out.

The route I took was the Ventura Freeway to the San Diego Freeway southbound to Sunset Boulevard eastbound. Notice that people who grew up in Los Angeles in those days rarely used the numerical designations like 'the 101' or 'the 405'; we said things like 'the San Bernardino Freeway', 'the Arroyo Seco' or 'the coast highway'. Neither did we ever say things like 'the OC' (for Orange County) until that television series came along and imposed the absurd moniker on southlanders. Try saying 'the VC' and people in Ventura County will think you've gone all Walter Sobchak on them.

My GTO came to me with a set of Goodyear Blue Streak racing tires, though it may not be quite accurate to call them a set as the front and rears were different sizes; the rears being much wider and higher in profile than the fronts. All four were of the dry compound/dry tread pattern (very close to being like dragster slicks) which meant the car stuck to the road as though the tires were made of Super Glue--in dry weather.  Wet weather was another matter entirely and though Albert Hammond says "It never rains in southern California", by the time I made the transition to the 405 southbound (I know) it was pouring buckets thus contributing to a memorable quality of this day.

In subsequent years, grooves--known as tining--have been routinely cut into highway pavement which facilitate water draining and minimize aquaplaning. No tining combined with slick, dry compound racing tires meant that aquaplaning was not a risk but a certainty. As I steered the GTO down through the Sepulveda Pass, I was aware that certain movements of the car did not correspond with my movement of the steering wheel. It was the slightest of perceptions at first but within seconds, it became apparent that any connection between my steering inputs and the direction taken by the GTO were entirely coincidental. Picture kids sliding down icy, winter slopes on snow discs and you will get the idea of how much directional control I had as I tried to guide this magnificent race car down the road. Somehow, like a good horse returning to the barn, the GTO seemed to find its way knowing which of the curves could be ignored and which needed to be navigated so as to avoid disaster.

I managed to make it as far as Sunset Boulevard without incident by which time the downpour had let up a bit and I was able to get off the freeway and make my way along Sunset to Doheny where I turned right to Melrose no worse for wear but feeling like the pilot of an F-4 Phantom who had survived a particularly harrowing run over Vietnam. My senses were on high-alert and I enjoyed every minute of Norman Jewison's film and his talk.

Did I ever change to wet weather tread and compound tires as a result of this experience? No--"It never rains in southern California."

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