GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Friday, January 2, 2015

Ferrari GTO: Left at Old Topanga Road

As I was looking at the image of me in the GTO passing Peter Helm in his SWB California spider on Mulholland Drive, I was reminded of another occasion when I made an illegal pass (crossing a double yellow line) on a narrow, winding canyon road during the same era. As those who knew me well can attest, I always obeyed all traffic laws at all times except sometimes.

I was going up Topanga Canyon from the beach in the GTO taking a maximum of pleasure from the winding road and enjoying the sound of the V12 engine as it reverberated off the canyon walls. The mechanical noises inside the lightly insulated cockpit were a perfect alternative to any music an FM radio or tape deck would have supplied and the sound of six twin-choke Webers sucking air through twelve unfettered velocity stacks always made me smile. It was a good day.

Topanga Canyon is, for the most part, a tighter course than Malibu Canyon further to the north and there are few opportunities to make use of fourth and fifth gears. Slow moving traffic can impede the most adventurous spirit especially in the tighter sections where passing opportunities are rare and a double yellow line is offering the suggestion that passing other cars might be frowned upon even on those stretches where the road seems to be encouraging the act. On those occasions, first and (maybe) second gear is commonly used resulting in a build-up of frustration at the opportunities being squandered by 25 mph cruising speeds. It felt more like loitering than cruising.

It seems I had joined a processional of cars whose drivers were content with what can only be described as a funereal pace. Finally, after dawdling along for miles at minimal revs in second gear hoping not to foul the plugs, we approached the village that is downtown Topanga. This section of road that goes past the Quonset hut market is one of the few straightaways in the canyon that allow for a clear view of the road ahead and what I saw was free of oncoming traffic and inviting if one were inclined to execute a passing maneuver. I was.

I engaged first gear--back from second, left against the spring and back into first--and let it rip. The noise was exquisite! A quick, unrestrained run up to seven thousand rpm provided a sensation of speed and sound that was intoxicating. I had selected a gap between two cars near the head of the procession where I would safely complete the passing maneuver and return to my lane. It was a brief yet joyous few seconds of exuberance. The canyon amplified the sound of the Ferrari engine the way the setting of the Greek Theater enhanced the music of Chicago during their concert there. As I resigned myself to a resumption of the processional, I discovered what had been causing it. Four cars ahead of me was a black and white Dodge belonging to the California Highway Patrol. It had been setting the funereal pace for the rest of us.

Whether the CHP officer had spied my maneuver in his rear view mirror or whether the canyon's acoustical properties conveyed those few exciting seconds to him like they were the last bit of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (with cannons) I'll never know. What I did know was that he waved the car that was immediately behind him around. Then, he made a similar motion to the next car that was behind him. A pattern of behavior on his part was emerging.

Before any further developments could develop, we reached a curve in the road where Topanga Canyon continued onward towards the San Fernando Valley and the magnificent Old Topanga Canyon Road veered off to the left. The CHP officer carried on, no doubt intent on arriving at some location in the Valley.  For my part, I had seen quite enough of the San Fernando Valley and it had been awhile since I had traveled the old road...

No doubt, the CHP officer would like to have gotten a closer look at the GTO--who wouldn't?--but he had already committed to staying on the main road whereas I was traveling a different road that day and have continued to do so ever since.

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