I don't have a lot of memories with my Dad. About the only thing we ever really had in common (besides pizza) was cars. My Dad always had cool cars but he always leaned towards European makes. Growing up in Los Angeles in the seventies and eighties, I spent several of my early years riding around in the rear package area of a '69 Mercedes 280SL. At the time I was pretty sure things didn't get much cooler than that. However, one day he came home with a dark chocolate brown 1970 Mercedes 280SE 3.5 Coupe and my entire paradigm shifted.
Euro headlights, slightly wide Pirelli P77's, sheepskin seat inserts, and Blaupunkt 6x9's - WOW. The early morning smell of it's saddle brown leather, burled walnut veneer, with just a hint of Union 76 Supreme started each ride to school. Every day I looked forward to the traffic metering stoplight that ensured safe entry onto the Santa Monica Freeway and my opportunity to feel the slightly harsh 1-2 shift while the V8 found it's midrange stride - this car was my HERO!
One typically beautiful Southern California summer day in 1983 my Dad said I needed to go with him and Grandma to help pick up a Sony television that was being given to her by a friend who was moving. Although I didn't know this person, to a 9 year old kid, the idea of a ride through the Hollywood hills (were I was told they lived) on an otherwise boring summer vacation Wednesday, was hugely appealing to me. Would we take Mulholland...!?!? I sure hoped so.
We arrived at a small home just off of one of the many canyon roads that no D.O.T. in existence today would even consider building. As the garage opened we were greeted by a white haired man standing next to a dark metallic green car with the coolest tailights I'd ever seen. "It's a '69 Cougar", my Dad said. Got it, another one added to the bucket list. We loaded the television into the back seat where I was instructed to do my best to hang on to it as we made our way back home. To me, the thing was huge and I was pretty sure it weighed more than my 70lbs was capable of wrestling all the way back down that road.
I always knew my Dad was a great driver. He wasn't the type to constantly hit redline or attack corners. He was laid back and smooth. Never angry or confrontational, yet always seemed to be in the fastest moving lane. He knew every alternate route and how to read traffic. If he hadn't chosen music and education as a career, I'm sure he could have been a driver.
Out of the canyon, stopped at a light on what I think was Sunset Blvd.
!.!.! KAPOW !.!.!
We lurched forward with a thrust unlike any 1-2 shift I'd ever felt. I heard glass breaking. I heard metal creaking. I saw the television fly out from under the arm I'd so effectively draped over it for security. I looked forward to see my Grandmother reaching up to push her eyeglasses back on her head. I saw my Dad turn to look at her, then turn around to look at me. From there he looked out the back window, then quickly to his side mirror. Another quick turn to look out the back window again. But now there was a look in his eye I'd never seen. I immediately knew that whatever he was looking at was in bigger trouble than I'd ever been. I turned around to see the front end of a seafoam green mildly damaged '70-'71 Oldsmobile Cutlass backing up - in a hurry, then stop. I watched the front wheels steer left as the driver dropped the hammer. The front end lifted and the tires squealed.
We'd been hit. Somebody had crashed into my Hero. - And now they were taking off..! I was angry and scared at the same time.
The television came flying back to me as my Dad hit the gas hard enough to dent the floorboard. Pirelli's spun. The car was louder because the mufler had been punched. "FRANK - FRANK - FRANK.!.!", my Grandmother shouted. "Hang on" was all I heard my Dad say. I'd never experienced real life like this. Nothing I'd ever seen on The Dukes of Hazzard could have prepared me for what ensued. This was straight out of Bullit. (minus a Charger with the 5 hubcaps of course) Up a steep hill, hard brake - sharp right - hard on the gas. Down another hill - another hard brake - now a left - back to the gas - more spinning Pirelli's - Dad sawing at the wheel like McQueen himself. Grandma now silent, sittling low in her seat. Me in the back getting the crap beat out of me by a Sony Trinitron. The Oldsmobile creating smoke of it's own with absolutley zero intentions of stopping. But this guy wasn't half the driver my Dad was, and that car was certainly no hero.
More noise, more G-forces, new smells, and then a sudden stop. Was it over? The Olds had a made a hard right, but we didn't follow. We stopped. Why did we stop? - And just about the time I started to utter those very words - more spinning Pirelli's, the Sony heading towards the front seat. Now we were in reverse. Back into a driveway - turn around - back to the gas. Down an alley and another sudden stop. Wait. Wait a second longer. I had no idea what was going on. Wham! -hard on the gas again - hard left - more sawing at the wheel - a quick 100 yard dash - and we whipped into a driveway like it was our final stop in the pits at Daytona. There sitting in front of us was the rear of a leaking, steaming, seafoam green Cutlass. I don't know how my Dad knew where that car had gone, but I now had two heroes in my world.
At some point L.A.'s finest would arrive and several notes and infomation would be written and exchanged. For all the noise and jolt created, the brown Benz actually faired pretty well and was retunred to it's former glory within a couple of weeks. Even the Sony still worked once we got it home. I don't quite remember the circumstances surrounding the hasty departure of the driver that hit us, or the consequences that followed. For whatever reason, it wasn't even a story that was repeated to more than 1 or 2 other's within our social circle during that time. To this day, it remains an event in my life that I've only shared with my wife and a couple of close friends. - And now this website. I've never intended to keep it a secret, but maybe it holds a higher value to me because it's one of only a handful of big memories shared with my Dad.
I was at a car show in Charlotte last year and spotted a Highland Green '68 Mustang Fastback parked next to a black '68 Charger. They were owned by the same guy who explained to me that he was 9 years old when he saw the movie Bullit and knew he'd one day figure out a way to own both of those cars. Very cool, I thought.
I turned 40 this year. Maybe it's time I get started on a similar search of my own.
I've probably got enough is savings for an Oldsmobile.
Anybody got a 280SE 3.5 they'd like to trade for a nice Le Mans Blue '73 Camaro?