Use It or Lose It – 1979 Alfetta GT Goes on the Snowball Rally

Occasionally, I feel the need to prove my old cars are not just there to decorate the garage, reduce the values of surrounding homes, or give my wrenches a purpose in life. Those times, I pack up some tools, some clothes, grab my co-driver, and hit the road. Most recently, that was the Snowball Rally, this past weekend. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s a several-hundred mile drive through eastern California back roads, up to Lake Tahoe and back.

The ride of choice for this weekend was my trusty ’79 Alfetta GT (when’s the last time you heard “trusty” and “alfetta” in the same sentence?). This car has served me well as a weekend driver and on road trips to Palm Springs and Seattle/Vancouver. With its new seats and hatch strut, it was all dressed up for a long-distance trip. While not as fast as some of the cars on the tour, it was only truly lacking power once we got above 5000 feet or so.

1979 Alfetta GT goes up to 8900 Feet

Not feeling so strong now, are you? The car at the Mount Rose pass near Lake Tahoe, where we were definitely feeling the effects of the 8900-foot altitude. Guy in the background is off to write his name in the snow. Maybe some coca tea in the gas tank would have helped speed the car up – it certainly helped the tourists in Peru.

1979 Alfetta GT on Mt. Rose

Car with the mountains in the background. Everybody who takes part gets a metal rally plate for their front bumper, which is apparently a new thing. The trade-off is easy recognition by law-enforcement staff, but I got away unscathed. Was feeling courageous about taking the Alfetta on another long trip until we got passed by a bunch of pre-war cars going the other way (as well as a large group of Porsches in Carson City).

CalNeva back 40 lineup

Lineup in the CalNeva Lodge back 40. While the glory of the Sinatra/Kennedy/Monroe years has kind of faded, the history is still very interesting, and the hotel has a great view. They also did a great job of welcoming us as a group, including providing some models for the night’s festivities who were, um, interesting.

Packing it up

Getting ready to roll out the next morning, we have a Lancia Fulvia coupe, Spridget, BMW Bavaria, and my Alfetta. And that’s not even the beginning of the variety. It’s great to see the reaction on people’s faces to a “rolling car show”.

Rolling out of the CalNeva

Moving out of the CalNeva, we have a Sunbeam Alpine, a couple of MGBs, and a Mini that sounded like it was sporting the shortest, most efficient exhaust system ever. Just another beautiful day in the Sierra Nevada.

The other ratty Alfa

Here we have the other ratty Alfa (a ’73 spider) surrounded by a Porsche 356, hotrod Fiat 500, and a Mercedes 450SE. Great start to Day 2 of driving.

Mehari at the CalNeva

I’m nearly positive this picture has never happened before, and may not happen again. These two guys drove their Citroen Mehari the entire trip without any failure (I think). At one point we were following them, and they pulled over to let us pass… but really, I was quite happy watching the way the car was leaning around corners, and how it was absorbing bumps.

Peeking around the corner

One last shot of the Alfetta peeking around the corner before we headed out. You can see a good chunk of the group in the background. And that wraps up another trip with only minor casualties – as I was pulling into the parking garage in Sacramento on the night before, a bunch of smoke started pouring out of the dash. I quickly turned everything off and disconnected the battery, and the problem didn’t resurface again for the whole trip. So something for the to-do list, but I can honestly say the car made it. And what a great time the drive was – besides getting to exercise the old car, it’s great to be able to spend a weekend with a bunch of like-minded people. We shared meals and met new people, so I will be doing this again!


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6 Responses to “Use It or Lose It – 1979 Alfetta GT Goes on the Snowball Rally”

  1. Shaun Says:

    Chris, nice write up on the Snowball!

    And thanks for bringing the Alfetta out; one of the cool things about these rallies is seeing and running with a variety of different cars. For some reason, you just don’t see many Alfetta GTs these days.

    And yes, Luc Blondeau’s 602cc Mehari made the whole trip, 8000’+ mountain passes and all. I last saw them on Hwy 80 on Sunday evening after the event ended.

    • Chris Keen Says:

      Thanks, Shaun, it was great to see you & the car on the road this weekend. I don’t get why there aren’t more GTs out, they’re a fun car to drive, but attrition after 30 years is pretty effective, I guess.

  2. BrianO Says:

    Seeing how much fun and what a great turnout this rally got is a great motivator to get one of my cars back on the road as soon as possible! Maybe I should just draw a line in the sand and shoot for having the Jr.Z, restored and perhaps even shaken down by next April…

    Thanks for the cool post.

  3. Matt Says:


    Great write up! It’s great to have someone else writing about this stuff. Time for the Cartel.

    Truly not many Alfettas on the road these days.

    Saw the Mehari on 580 this afternoon on my way home from work!


  4. Peter Says:

    A very nice write-up. Thank you. I’ve just recently found your blog and didn’t realize it was you in the Alfetta last weekend. Here’s my belated hello.

    I was the co-driver in the Mehari and the only thing we had to do the entire weekend was add 1/2 qt. of oil on our way back to Berkeley.

    I’ve gone to the Monterey Historics for years but for me, rallies like this are where it’s at. You can’t beat honest cars driven and cared for by regular folk. People who you know have made sacrifices to keep their little bit of automotive history on the road. I can’t wait for the next one.

    See you on the road,


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