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 Nigh
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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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