A familiar sight…
A familiar sight…
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The crew spent a very pleasant day on Mulholland today filming a Ferrari 575 Maranello provided by Carl Steuer of Black Horse Motors. This exquisite automobile, which is very fast and extremely responsive, will feature in Episode 2 of Elysée Wednesday: Drive!
Last night was a special occasion at Elysée Wednesday. Marc Sonnery, author of Rebel, Rebel (the book about the Ferrari Breadvan) joined us and it was the first time I’ve seen him since I interviewed Marc in Paris and we visited my former GTO at the Louvre where Ralph Lauren had it on display with other cars in his collection.
The local ‘inner circle’ of Ferrari enthusiasts from a golden era congregated to catch up on unheard anecdotes and other chicanery. Ed Niles (former Breadvan owner and Ferrarista Emeritus), Matthew Ettinger (former Breadvan owner and raconteur extraordinaire), Peter Helm (who shot the GTO footage I narrated of us on Mulholland and at Willow Springs) and I have spent time with each other over the years but it was the first time we had been together in the same location since Matthew crashed one of his Ferraris back in the day. Larry Crane (Automobile Quarterly) is an EW member who has also bridged the time gap with his remarkable photos of my GTO taken at Riverside Raceway in the sixties and his appearance in Elysée Wednesday: Drive! piloting Scott McClure’s magnificent Dino.
Marc signed everyone’s copy of Rebel, Rebel and anyone missing this opportunity will have another chance in two weeks. His new book on Maserati promises to be an important look at the brand. Marc, by the way, is partial to the Maserati Khamsin.
It was fun to see the reaction of Elysée Wednesday regulars to this somewhat historic event and to see them connect with a magical moment in time.
When I first got my GTO, I was going to school at night studying film courses that were taught by Peter Gibbons who was head of the camera department and Elliott Bliss who was head of the sound department at CBS Cinema Center on Radford in Studio City. I wanted to take classes that were instructed by industry professionals rather than English teachers looking for extra credit.
One of the benefits of this decision was having access to the sound stage and mixing board at CBS with which to practice and learn. One of our assignments was to remove the sound of a barking dog from a fire chief’s recorded speech. I accomplished this removing every one of them and for extra measure, I strung all the dog’s barks together at the end of the speech. I think the dog ended up having a longer speech than the chief.
Another benefit of studying with these men was it allowed me to be absent during final exams. Family friend and director Paul Stanley hired me onto the CBS TV movie Sole Survivor which called for me to be out in the California desert for about a month while shooting on El Mirage dry lake bed with a B-25 bomber. Having professors who were directly involved with the production allowed me to take my final exams while on location.
James Crabbe (Rocky, Karate Kid 1 & 2) was the director of photography on that production and he was always interesting to watch as he did his job effortlessly and with unparalleled equanimity. Nothing seemed to bother him. Steve Shagan (Save the Tiger, The Formula) was the executive producer. Steve was also a writer who wrote novels on which some of the films he produced were based.
My most frequent dinner companion during that month was actor Alan Caillou who had been with the Palestine Police in the 1930s and joined the British Army’s Intelligence Corps during World War II. He operated behind enemy lines in Libya and Tunisia which resonated with the story of the movie we were making. Alan drove a cycle-fendered Bentley wearing goggles with the windshield folded down and I had often seen him driving around the San Fernando Valley. His stories recounted to me over dinner and margaritas in the dining room of The Green Tree Inn were quite vivid and memorable. Though I drank one for every two of his margaritas at these dinners, all I can say is it was a good thing I could walk back to my room at the end of the evening.
Being the director, Paul was able to have his car—a pristine, 1959 fuel-injected Corvette—on the location and did some high-speed runs on El Mirage on weekends. My GTO remained at home obliged, as I was, to use studio transportation. When I wasn’t being regaled by Alan, I was usually having dinner with Paul who would fill me in on the behind-the-scenes developments of the production. Steve Shagan and Richard Basehart, one of the movies’ starring actors, would stop by the table for a few words.
I managed straight As in all my cinema courses and also in my Italian class. As for the rest of the curriculum, I couldn’t be bothered. I took what I needed and left the rest behind. And so it was that, on some evenings, I didn’t attend classes choosing another form of education in its place—one that has continued to serve me well, if truth be told.
What did I do instead of going to class? I drove the GTO to one of three different nearby drive-in movie theaters in the Valley where I would see a double bill featuring movies that inform my taste to this day. You could say I was taking supplemental cinema courses.
Would that I could take the GTO to a drive-in today.
Back in the day, the Ferrari Owners’ Club in Los Angeles held monthly dinner meetings with invited guests as speakers. One of these was Franco Lini who, at the time, was the manager of the Ferrari Formula 1 team. Talking with him afterwards, I made mention of the fact that I would be at Monza for the Grand Prix of Italy. He said, “Come see me when you are there”, which was all I needed to hear.
Fast forward to September. The Saturday was sunny and warm and though I only had tickets for the race on Sunday, what better way to spend the day than to visit Franco Lini during practice for the Italian Grand Prix? I called a cab and instructed the driver to take me to the Monza autodromo. He knew the way. When we got there, the driver wanted to drop me off, but I had other ideas. At the first gate, I told the security guard, "Franco Lini mi ha detto di venire" (Franco Lini told me to come). The man couldn’t get the gate open fast enough. Incredulous, the driver drove through towards the pits. "Non c’è bisogno di fare i biglietti?" (Don’t you need tickets?), he asked me. We’ll see about that, I told him.
We approached a second blockade and, though I suspected I would be turned away as we were very close to the action now, I repeated the magic words, "Franco Lini mi ha detto di venire" and the gate was practically shoved off its hinges. There was one last obstacle in the form of a pedestrian gate into the paddock and pits compound. I left the taxi driver to decide for himself whether to stay and watch the Formula 1 cars practice or return to his duties and approached the security man who was restricting traffic through the gate and who I could see was nobody’s fool. After I threw him the line his demeanor changed, the gate opened and, if my eyes didn’t deceive me, he saluted (!!).
Now I’m in the paddock. There is John Surtees going into the office, Jackie Stewart going out in the March, Jo Bonnier arriving in his Mercedes. Too much to take in all at once. I make my way to the Ferrari pits where, believe it or not, Franco Lini remembered who I was. This surprised me more than anything else and he seemed delighted that his name had served as an all-access pass. Not wanting to impose any further, I left him to his work and took up a position where I could watch the cars from above as they accelerated out of the pits onto the track.
Later, I found myself standing in the paddock again wondering what to do next. I am peripherally aware of someone staring at me. I look at him and he continues to look at me. He is a familiar figure and my first impression is that he is someone I know. Then it dawns on me I am having some sort of nonverbal communication with none other than Enzo Ferrari himself. I’d heard he didn’t attend races, but later learned that he did come to Saturday practice at Monza. In any event, there he was and he kept looking at me. I took this as an invitation and approached him.
I said, "Buon giorno. La mia GTO mi piace molto" (Good day. My GTO pleases me very much) to which he responded, "Sì" as if to say “How could it not?”. He was curious about how I’d come to own a GTO, being little more than a teenager at the time, and as we spoke, Juan Manuel Fangio walked up and joined us. He smiled at me and listened politely as Ferrari and I conversed.
After a time, I took my leave and wondered at how easily this encounter with two of the greatest figures in auto racing had come about. The taxi driver would never have believed it.