Back in fall 2018, at an Alfa Romeo Association club event, I was looking at a rough 1967 Alfa Duetto when the car’s owner, Leslie Yuen, introduced himself. “This is my hippie Duetto,” he said. “It may look tired, but I’ve driven it everywhere.” He told me he’d entered it in the upcoming Targa California, a vintage rally from Palm Springs to Ensenada, Mexico, and back, but he needed a codriver to photograph the event. I had someone in mind.
Six weeks later, Leslie turned up on my doorstep in the Oakland hills with his hippie Duetto, and we made the 500-mile drive down to Palm Springs—day one of a five-day adventure that covered 2000 miles in all.
The next morning, our route included beautiful, empty roads and the amazing scenery of Joshua Tree National Park. The little Duetto ran impeccably and handled wonderfully, and it soon became clear that Leslie knew how to hustle his little Italian convertible. A lunch stop at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway gave everyone the opportunity to turn some laps in their cars. Leslie and I made sure to leave the stop at the front of the pack so we could watch the faster Porsches, Mercedes, and American muscle machines blast past us as we all made our way to the Mexican border.
Entering Mexico was a cool experience, with lots of federales stopping traffic so we could gather en masse at an outdoor venue in Tecate, where the local government gave a brief press conference and greeted us. It also gave everyone a chance to address their needy cars. Our little Duetto’s rusty old exhaust system, for example, had given up the ghost earlier that day, so we were extremely loud and low on power. The Mexican mechanics on hand were amazing, and Leslie soon disappeared with a local fixer. Just a half-hour later, he returned with a big grin and a newly welded exhaust for the all-in price of $30!
We put the new exhaust to good use on the famed La Rumorosa roadway, which crosses the Sierra de Juárez, and the sharp, twisty drive gave us quite a preview of the captivating landscapes and roads we’d be enjoying while in Mexico. Our base of operations, the Posada el rey Sol, allowed all of us to park our cars inside the courtyard, which morphed into the perfect gathering spot at the end of each day.
One of the highlights was a run from sea level up to the Observatorio Pedro San Mártir—the National Astronomical Observatory—at 9200 feet. The two-lane route was all curves and severe drop-offs, and it kept Leslie busy. The payoff, however, was an expansive view of Baja from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean.
For two guys and a hippie Duetto, the Targa California proved to be an unforgettable driving experience. It was also the quintessential illustration of what these collector cars are meant for—to be taken out and driven.