What A Week—Part II

After picking up a Nissan 370Z at the airport, a concours condition Alfa 1900 SSZ awaited at the trip’s first destination. What a lovely piece of machinery, to look at and on the move!

Last week’s blog entry highlighted a main reason for a recent, several day trip to California—the “All Silver” shoot of a Ferrari 250 SWB, LaFerrari, and Porsche GT2 RS. Experiences with the sterling shade of color actually started the day before, as the friend I was staying with for the first night had an unexpected pleasure waiting in his driveway when I arrived.

Alfa Romeo made approximately 40 1900 SSZs from 1954 through 1958, and this particular silver car was in immaculate mechanical and cosmetic condition, and has been exhibited at many of the world’s great shows. With warm sunshine beaming away, that curvaceous, lightweight machine seductively sat there, just begging to go for a drive.

A Stroll Through the Hills

The Nissan 350Z captivated when it first came out in 2003, and the 370Z still makes me smile today. The interior is a little small for my 6 foot-plus frame, but it sure is engaging on the road.

The owner and I happily obliged. For the next 30+ minutes we were wailing through some southern California hills,

the marvelous twin-cam constantly on song, eagerly pulling to redline. When we hit some Saturday traffic the Alfa didn’t miss a beat, smoothly idling away with no overheating issues whatsoever. The head- and legroom was exemplary, the seats and ride comfortable, all-around visibility excellent. Should you want a great event car and have a pocketbook that can afford a check with two commas in it, an Alfa 1900 SSZ is a marvelous place to start your search.

That drive was actually my second brush with silver on the trip. When booking a rental car, a “specialty vehicle” was only $10 more for the week than a full-size sedan, so with that large double-digit sum hanging in the balance, financial caution was thrown to the wind! Rather than finding the expected Mustang or Camaro waiting, there sat a Nissan 370Z. I road tested the 350Z when it came out and have very fond memories so even though the Z package has been around for 15 years and it’s getting on in years, it’s still a very enjoyable, smile-inducing sports car with good handling, precise steering, zippy acceleration and more. Plus when you keep your foot out of it, it delivers 30-plus miles per gallon—meaning it was only filled up twice in several hundred miles of driving.

Next on the List

The concept behind the trek to California was the “All Silver” car shoot that was covered in detail last week. The 250 SWB Ferrari seen on the left is going up for auction later this month, so it was best to get some shots done in case it sells.

On the following day, once the Ferrari/Porsche Silver Shoot was in the can, it was off to hook up with friends John and Linda not quite two hours away. A good friend of theirs is Freeman Thomas, a talented designer with stints at Porsche, Audi, Ford, Chrysler and more. He’s absolutely delightful, a walking encyclopedia of automotive knowledge, and stores his two-previous owner Porsche 356 Speedster at John and Linda’s home.

He joined us for dinner that night but before doing so, said he wanted to exercise the Speedster. I asked if he’d like some company, and over the next 30 minutes did I ever get an education on Porsche’s engineering and design philosophy, the how and why it continued through the decades, insights into Porsche history from his conversations with the old time colleagues who were in the thick of things in the 1950s and ‘60s, and more.

A Bit of a Learning Curve

Noted automotive designer Freeman Thomas owns this Porsche 356 A Speedster. He’s just the third owner, and the car is in mostly original, untouched condition.

The Porsche learning curve continued the next morning when John and I spent several hours in his son’s immaculate 2007 Carrera S. Jeff’s 355 horsepower 997 has less than 40,000 miles, and was a marvelous contrast to the front engine Z as he purchased it for around the price of a fully loaded 370 or Nismo. The flat-6 engine is a sweetheart, singing that lovely Porsche song when you get on it and having enough power to engage you, but not enough to scare you silly. Like the 356 there is a robust feeling to the car’s overall structure and mechanical components, the underpinnings are supple but communicative, the greenhouse nice and airy…in sum, this is a sports car that can truly be used as a daily driver, just like the Z.

Afterwards we ended up going to Hillbank Motor Corporation in Irvine, and if you’ve ever wanted anything in regards to Shelby, this is your place! Company president Lance Stander greeted John like a long lost brother, and for the next 15 to 20 minutes the conversation was interesting as we strolled amongst every variation of Shelby 289 and 427 Cobras, Cobra Daytona Coupes and GT40s you can think of, plus a few you probably haven’t imagined.

Another Great Move

I’d never driven a 997 Porsche until this trip. It was definitely worth the wait.

After dinner John suggested we drop in to see if a nearby neighbor friend was home. That turned out to be a good move, for in the garage was a lightweight Jag E-type, Ferrari 275 GTB, and a ’66 Shelby GT350—one of which was being prepped to head up to Monterey for car week.

The next morning it was off towards San Diego to spend time with other friends who have a very nice collection of contemporary and collectible Ferraris and Porsches. They were just finishing up an incredible nuts-and-bolts restoration on a 1973 Porsche Carrera RS, and showed me their latest acquisition, a Nissan GTR.

This four-wheeled “Godzilla” has always been intriguing, but I’d never spent with the current version. Their 2018 was a nice shade of red, and the color showed off its form much better than the traditional grey, silver or black car one typically sees. Sitting next to the Z, there was definite family similarity in proportions, greenhouse and lines.

Through the Paces

Hillbank Motor Corporation is definitely worth a visit, should you be in Irvine. Most anything Cobra and Shelby you will find here.

The GTR fires after a few chugs of the starter, and settles into a smooth idle with the most fabulous (and constant) turbo whistle. That soft, high pitched tone says this is no ordinary GTR or even a Nismo, for Nissan thought so highly of the owners that a number of weight saving measures were done before it was delivered, and the engine was tuned to produce 700 horsepower, or 100 above the Nismo GTR.

Put the car through some fast and slow turns and two things are apparent—the tenacity of its all-wheel drive grip, and the mass. Yes it’s tossable and sticks to the road, but not in the joyful way like the 911 or the Z for its performance envelope is in an entirely different league. When the owner engaged launch control and ran it to 60, acceleration is so furious it’s like being punched in the face. When you hit that magic number in the mid- to high 2-second range, there’s no real lasting experience to savor, no bombardment of subtle noises and vibrations that engage you like good, stimulating conversation when dining on a fine, multi-course meal. Rather, you are hanging on for dear life while the car’s impressive software and mechanicals do all the work.

But riding that cruise missile was a thrilling way to end a perfect week. I’m already planning my next sojourn to southern California for a proper drive and shoot on the GTR, and a whole lot more…

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