This past weekend was the occasion for the 2014 California Melee, a low-buck 3-day event that’s been held since 1997. The Melee features fast back road touring in roughly the same vicinity as its more high-brow neighbor, the California Mille (Miglia), going from San Francisco to Red Bluff to Fort Bragg and back to SF. In addition to fantastic driving, you get great scenery since this covers the wine country, Central Valley, and the northern California coast with its beautiful shoreline and gigantic redwood trees. There are also a few dirt sections, which explains the condition of the RustyButTrusty 2002.
Filling up the tank in Ruth, CA. Note the modern high price of gas, but the analog counters on the pumps. The car seemed to do remarkably well, regardless of the crap poured into the tank. Part of the joy of running one of these rallies is that even though you have a map, you’re never entirely certain you’re going the right way… so you can discover interesting new roads and have a great story to share at the end of the day. And you’ll often have the road entirely to yourself, to drive at whatever pace you choose – or you can pair up with a couple of other drivers and find out that a 1955 Thunderbird with some light upgrades really can corner.
Have you ever seen a Honda 600 on the road? If you run the Melee or coincide with one of the overnight stops you might. This little screamer was apparently involved in a collision with a deer – the only difference being the deer ran into it. No word on who sustained injuries, or if both came away relatively unscathed.
What the view is like – following a 356 in a gorgeous shade of blue. It’s quite surreal being in such a large group of older cars, and if you squint your eyes (maybe not the best idea while driving) you can imagine what it was like driving around 40 years ago.
And yes, you do hit the occasional patch of traffic blockage during construction – usually just enough time to check what that burning smell is, take a swig or two of some water, and get going again. This 356 went home with a noise suggesting a transmission rebuild was needed – ouch. The nice thing about doing significant work on an occasional driver is if it’s done properly, you know you’ll likely never have to do it again.
The last half of the day was spent neck-and-neck with this tangerine 911T. Prepared with widened steel wheels, competition-style exhaust, and upgraded suspension, it really tears around the corners. And most of the time, it does that with the headlights pointing forwards.
Fort Ross is on the route – originally a Russian outpost in the colony of Kashaya, it was subsequently a homestead and is now a state park. And it’s definitely worth a stop if you haven’t been, capturing an interesting and little-known piece of California history.
The chase is on! Somewhere along the way we changed positions, and aside from being held up by a sheriff and a Honda Accord who carefully held to a non-existent 25mph speed limit, there were some fun hijinks on the tighter corners of Highway 1. Capping it off with a stop at an oyster shack in Bolinas, where the owner provided a couple of free plates of oysters right before closing time, finished off a great day of driving on the right note.