Petrolicious’ Drive Tastefully: Paso Robles Rally Mixed Ferrari Daytonas With Lotus Elites And More On California’s Best Driving Roads
Photography by Thomas Lavin
If you’ve never been to the diverse and populous state of California before, bookmarking it for a future road trip would be a good idea. There’s a reason millions of people put up with some of the highest taxes, gas prices, and property values in the country. It is a massive state with more biomes than one can count. I’ve lived there for most of my life and am still surprised on every drive—cacti and pine trees, deserts and mountain ranges, all in a day’s drive.
Once or twice a decade, sections of California experience weeks of thick rainfall before the landscape explodes with color. Brilliant blue skies, vibrant green foliage, and desert wildflowers with colors stolen from oil paintings are some of the regular views up and down the state in the springtime.
As such, the first Petrolicious rally of year, Drive Tastefully Paso Robles Rally, could not have taken place at a better time of the year. Post rainstorm season, high up in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu, the sun had just finished rising when the cars began to roll in.
First, a group of Germans led by a BMW 2002 Alpina-style rally build fresh from restoration, followed by a selection of cars from Great Britain, France, Italy, and the United States. As the drivers and co-drivers headed inside for breakfast, I took a moment to admire some of the cars that I’d be snapping over the course of the weekend.
Some of my favorites, like the Chevrolet C2 Corvette and the Renault Alpine A110, were joined by cars that I had yet to see in person. A Lotus Elite Type 14, an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale, and a Lancia Fulvia Sport Zagato Competizione were a few of the rarities that I had the pleasure of aiming my lens at. The designs varied wildly among our group, from tiny British and Italian coupes with tires that would look at home on a beach cruiser bicycle, to a comparatively massive 1966 Caprice coupe, which made the 911 sitting across from it look a bit scale-model size-wise.
After rendezvousing at the starting point, we set off north through Malibu through seemingly endless orange orchards on the way to our first coffee stop in Ojai, right off of the fantastic Highway 33. The highway connects the Ojai Valley to the adjacent desert with a consistent display of postcard scenery along the way. Driving along in Afshin Behnia’s Sprint Speciale was a great experience in and of itself, but being surrounded by more than a dozen other remarkable vehicles was a bit dreamy. Bicyclists stop and stare rather than shake their fists as you cruise by, while families on vacation in RAV4s and Honda Odysseys honk and wave their approval. As we ventured further and further from Los Angeles County into Kern County, the roads opened up and flattened out, and for large stretches of time our convoy had the place all to itself.
We continued along to our lunch location, stopping for coffee briefly in a little speck of a town along the way. Although a temporary road closure reorganized our plans a bit, we continued north into San Luis Obispo County, know locally as “SLO,” where I switched from the Giulia SS acting as impromptu camera car to a black wedge of a Ferrari 308 GTB. Having to hold all my cameras on my lap and balanced atop my feet, I gained a newfound respect for those drivers on the rally who’d brought along even older and smaller cars for this 500+ mile journey. Many, including the brilliant red and white Lancia Fulvia Zagato, seem very much set up for short sprints rather than long voyages, but if you’ve got the reliability to make it, why not consider the long trip just a series of shorter ones? On this particular leg, few of us could match the pace of the little Lotus Elite through the tighter sections of the route. The little English sports car sat on some of the thinnest wheels I’ve ever seen fitted to a post-war car, and it still managed to beat us to the final stop of the evening.
SLO County is one of the most unappreciated areas in California for driving. The roads outside of the heavily populated areas are more mountainous than you might expect, and they dart through vineyards, around farms, and through gorgeous swaths of scenery some of which is all but lifted from the south of France. After a minor navigational error on my part, the two of us in the 308 had to play catch up to the rest of the pack before we continued on into Paso Robles. After eight hours of driving, we were all happy to have a moment to relax. From the final location, a shuttle took our group to a winery for dinner and wine tasting.
The following morning we were off again, heading back to Malibu, but this time taking a shorter five-hour route along the coast rather than the path we took on the way up. From the verdant mountains and avocado orchards down to the Pacific Coast Highway to our first coffee stop of the day directly outside of Pismo Beach, the second day provided plenty of photo fodder. After a brief stop and chat with some passersby who’d undoubtedly pulled over for a look at the 1971 Daytona parked out front on the main road, we continued on. In the most technical section of the rally route, we climbed and descended another tangle of SLO’s excellent driving roads, and were again transported briefly to Mediterranean Europe by way of Southern California.
We arrived at our lunch stop in the small town of San Ynez before setting off toward the last stop. For this section I hitched a ride with Brandon Adrian in his 1971 Alfa Romeo Montreal—an empty seat I was happy to fill! We trailed immediately behind the Daytona, offering a rolling side-by-side comparison between two very different interpretations of GT cars from the same country and era of origin.
With Santa Barbara a few thousand feet below our cruising altitude, we darted back down to sea level along a side road that refused to go straight for more than a few hundred feet at a time. We regrouped at the bottom with wider smiles than we’d worn at the top, and our troupe rejoined the 101 freeway, hugging the coastline the entire way back down to Malibu. By five o’clock that evening we reached our the rally’s final destination at Point Mugu Rock in Malibu with a smaller procession than we’d set out with, seeing as a handful of participants had gone their separate ways in Santa Barbara or continued further south to get back home. It was a blitz of a trip for me, having just flown in to cover it two evenings before it began. The cars, locations, and of course the people made it more than worthwhile. The weekend was characterized by analog driving through sweepers and hairpins, excellent food and wine, vistas that looked like screen savers, and the kind of people that morph from strangers into instant friends over pieces of metal put together decades ago.