My Adventure Through The Carmel Valley Illustrates What It Means To ‘Drive Tastefully’
Photography by Kurt Klingensmith
It all started to make sense amidst the pop and snarl of the ‘67 Alfa Romeo Duetto’s four-cylinder, the old Italian drivetrain pitching a glorious fit as it kept the Alfa within visual range of an unlikely backroad dance partner: a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air.
The shoebox Chevy’s warmed-over 327ci V8 channeled its torque through a four-speed manual, and the blue and white Bel Air played to the straight line performance cliché so rightfully bestowed upon classic American cars. But the owner’s decades of backroad driving experience along with some minor but carefully-chosen suspension upgrades meant it handled surprisingly well. However, it wasn’t enough to overcome the difference in mass, and so in the curves the Alfa reclaimed some of the space it ceded on the straights. Gracefully flowing, pitching, and pivoting, the Alfa was a wholly different approach to a similar problem set. Despite being worlds apart, the cars were remarkably matched on the tight, technical turns of Carmel Valley Road.
The view was equally interesting from the rear deck of the Alfa. A BMW 2002 bobbed and weaved close behind, while a more planted but heavier 3.0 CSi stuck to its bumper. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of vintage 2002s racing, often with one wheel in the air and the other buried under the fender, and am now convinced BMW designed them to corner in this exact way. As the 2002 approached a bend, the car squatted on its outside wheels before propelling itself across the apex, almost as if it were anticipating each turn with a preparatory coiling of its haunches. In contrast, the CSi exuded maturity and composure. More elegant and stately than the 2002, its movement needed to be efficient at speed so as not to scrub off too much of it. And it was a much needed efficiency too, as the big coupe’s rearview was full of Ferrari Dino. And the Dino had its own tail in the form of a ’66 Chevelle with a big block 427 and a pro-touring-style suspension build.
Fans and followers of Petrolicious have undoubtedly seen the motto “Drive Tastefully,” but what does it really mean? Is it a matter of making a specific automotive acquisition? If that is the case, there are numerous Petrolicious articles with ample guidance on exceptional automotive choices. But taste is subjective, and one enthusiast picks the BMW while another picks the Alfa, and another the Bel Air, another the Chevelle, and so on. Some spend all they can getting the best example. Some save extra money and build their vision of a better… well, whatever it is they bought.
Driving tastefully is something different than a matter of vehicle choice then; it is an approach to the automotive way of life that puts the value on the mindset of motoring rather than the specific circumstances of it. It certainly transcends any specific marque or model (no matter how many Alfas and Porsches pop up on the front page!).
As our sports car accordion expanded and contracted along Carmel Valley Road, many of these varied approaches to the common philosophy revealed themselves. Not only was the Bel Air working hard to hold off an Alfa, but it was also fighting to keep a blue GTV within eyesight. And in front of the blue Alfa, a Mustang GT350-H stayed glued to a Corvette Stingray. The normally sleepy Carmel Valley found itself up earlier than usual I would assume, and smelling a bit more pungently of carbon and petrol too, what with all the vintage metal hustling along the undulating pavement, breathing heavily.
The mixed marque gathering only extended so far though, as Ferraris filled out the front of the line en masse—appropriate given the fact that the Ferrari Owners Club organized the drive. Graciously, they had opened registration to other participants of a similar mindset. As the drive approached a turnaround point, a brief pause allowed us a closer look at the Italian participants up front, and I found the all-Ferrari front half of the pack was not as homogenous as I would have thought.
The leader of the group piloted a handsome F430 whose glossy gray paint contrasted beautifully with yellow Ferrari shields and brake calipers. For fans of the older mid-engined-V8 variety, a 328 GTS on polished five-spoke wheels was close at hand. Its removed targa top allowed a full view of the infamous gated shifter, and its flashy color scheme and aftermarket wheel choice perfectly evoked the in-your-face radness of the era in which it was conceived. Not to be outdone by the 1980s though, a fly yellow F355 GTS was in the mix too, showing the transition from crisp ’80s styling to the more bulbous themes of ‘90s car design. The car screamed “Tech Bubble” with its NeXT Software license plate frame complete with the old Apple Logo. A Ferrari 360 continued this decade-by-decade display of mid-engined Ferrari evolution into the 21st century.
Rounding out the stable of prancing horses were a few Ferraris with a history of checkered perception, fair or not. The Dino, a mid-engined V6 sports car built for and partially by Enzo’s late son, was by all accounts a brilliant and engaging sports car. But it was missing 12 cylinders and a prancing horse badge from the factory, causing it to become an inexpensive second-hand car. Those times are long gone of course, and the market recognizes these cars for the brilliant machines they are.
As the engines fired up and cars shuffled into line for departure, a Fiat Dino 2400 snuck in behind the Ferrari 360. Though its curvaceous shell housed a Ferrari Dino V6 of its own, the unoriginal prancing horse badge on the rear wasn’t fooling anyone. The badge didn’t matter, though; this was not a judged Concours d’Elegance, but a spirited drive of like-minded enthusiasts. Welcome to the stable, little Dino.
Soon the pack was rolling again, shifters rowing and steering wheels sawing as the group negotiated the curves once again. Though not driving, I was busy enjoying the view during my ride in an Alfa. Each gear shift grabbed my attention; a very tall shifter poked out of a modest leather boot stuck to the transmission tunnel, and navigating the long linkage appeared a bit trickier than a modern short-shift setup, though the Alfa driver’s foot and handwork exhibited a thorough understanding of the mechanical magic hidden below the floorpans and in front of the firewall. As the changing exhaust note announced each shift, I recalled all of the praise lavished upon these cars by Alfisti in the automotive journalism world. As the open air flowed over the red hood and the top of the windshield, that praise never seemed more deserved.
But while the Alfisti are attuned to something special, so too were the rest of that morning’s drivers. And it’s really quite simple: pick your car, embrace its character, find like-minded friends, a good road, fair weather, and just go drive, tastefully.