Valt Auto Club proves Monterey is more than auctions and racing

Brandan Gillogly

Monterey Car Week encompasses all of the sensational events that occur on the Monterey Peninsula, in Carmel Valley, and at Laguna Seca during a very special week each August. The Concours d’Elegance is the subject of the most fanfare, the Quail Motorsports Gathering is the place to be seen, and the Rolex Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca is the best place to scope out scorching hot vintage racing action. But here’s what even seasoned Car Week goers may not realize: On the periphery of these top-flight events is an experience that makes the entire northern Monterey County come alive with cars of all make and vintage—and you don’t even need to buy a ticket.

While en route to the track to catch vintage racer cars in action, we came across a bustling car show, set up in the parking lot of a Chili’s that was not yet open for business. On location was a full serving of baby-back metal, with everything from late-model pony cars and vintage trucks to Japanese sports cars and mid-engine Italian classics. We had to drop in.

There we found Joe Ottati, who seemed to be the ringleader of this booming show, under a pop-up canopy near the huge vats of free coffee the attendees were buzzing around. Ottatti is cofounder of Valt Auto Club, which plans shows and events all over the San Francisco Bay Area.

“In the Bay Area, it’s all about diversity. We get about 2000 cars at the big shows,” Ottati said. When space is limited, Valt Auto Club will curate the cars to create themed events and invite some standout cars. Those smaller shows typically have a $5 entrance fee that includes coffee (provided by Peet’s) and often some food. Valt’s larger events, like the monthly 2000-car first-come-first-shown Cars & Coffee that Ottati mentioned, are free (and still include free coffee).

One of the cars that drew us in was Henry Gong’s 1956 Chevy Nomad. You’d never guess by looking at it, but this car was completed 20 years ago. Gong bought the car as a project in 1985 and it sat for years. When he met Cole Foster in 1999, the two began hashing out a plan for its customized revival. Gong said Foster, who runs The Salinas Boys custom shop, talked him out of a lot of the wilder ideas he had and the two instead devised this understated off-white and blue combo powered by a clean big-block Chevy V-8. When we asked Gong how often he drives it, he just pointed to the rock chips on the front end. They’re tough to see, but they tell the tale of lots of weekend drives and more than a few yearly road trips, totaling thousands of miles worth of cruising each year.

Sal Buffo brought out his 1972 K5 Blazer—a work in progress. The project began with a derelict 2007 Duramax work truck with a blown head gasket. The truck’s body was in sorry shape, so Buffo decided to look for a new home for its rehabilitated engine. He found the Blazer, sans axles, sitting on its frame on the dirt. Considering the Duramax truck was running and driving with a perfectly good chassis he decided to swap not just the engine, but the entire drivetrain, chassis, seats, and gauge cluster into the K5. Buffo shortened the chassis at a factory seam, removing almost 40 inches from the wheelbase. That solved a whole bunch of problems, but it meant the factory fuel tank would no longer fit. Instead, a GMT400 Chevy Tahoe fuel tank was swapped in. The Blazer, now using an independent front suspension, rides on 35-inch tires using custom offset steel wheels from Stockton Wheel. That fitment didn’t require any lift, just the factory Chevy 3/4-ton springs in the rear and a bit of pre-load on the torsion bars up front. Buffo reports that the fuel economy is “in the high teens, at least, but I don’t drive it very nicely.” Those drives include five-hour highway blasts while easily keeping up with traffic, thanks in part to a Banks Six-Gun tuner and intake that boost power considerably.

If you plan on visiting the Monterey Area for Car Week, try to keep an open schedule; opportunities to see all sorts of great rides like these pop up unexpectedly. However, if you’d like to find out about future Valt Auto Club events so you can be sure to not miss out on shows like this in the future, visit the club’s website. If you’re thinking about checking out these events on the outskirts of next year’s Car Week, check out the photo gallery below for a taste of this year’s festivities.






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