60 years ago I was a student at The Art Center School, now The Art Center College of Design. I was also a car nut, as were most of my fellow students in the Industrial Design department. We worshiped the styling of the Italians, the engineering of the Germans and the quaintness of makes from England. A few of us had European cars. We all piled into our cars and went to local road races. We knew the drivers and the shops and dealerships where these idols worked and frequented them on our lunch breaks. The year was 1953 and we had heard about a race in Northern California that was held on the roads around the Lodge at Pebble Beach. We had to see that race.
A group of us decided to make the trek to Northern California. Three of us had cars. I had a ’46 VW, Bruce Gornick had a Simca 9 and Henry Haga a MG TD. The group included my brother Ken (not a student), Ron Hill and Howard Assel in my VW. Robert Cumberford remembers being in the Gornick Singer and I can’t remember who went with Henry. We left LA before dawn and drove up Highway 101, then a two lane road in about the same place as the current 101. One of the memorable events occured while driving west of Santa Barbara toward Gaviota. Still in the 'dark hour before the dawn' there was a great flash of light. Everything was lit up as if it were daylight. We later found out that there was an Atomic test in the Nevada desert and we could see the flash 350 miles away. Another highlight of the trip up was being passed by Bill Devin in his Ferrari 212 Coupe, who honked and waved. There was a camaraderie of the road among owners of European cars no matter whether it was a Peoples' Car or a car for few people.
When we arrived at Pebble Beach we just drove in and parked in the Paddock with all of the other drivers and their crew. We were there a day before the races were to start and no one was looking so we left the cars parked and walked to Carmel for dinner. No one ever asked us for a ticket so we had a free ride. We had brought sleeping bags expecting to sleep on the beach as we had at Torrey Pines where we spent the night on the beach at Del Mar. Since we were already in Pebble Beach we slept next to the cars in the paddock. The races were great on a very narrow roads lined with pine trees, picturesque but dangerous. Howard Assel had the only camera, a Rolle, and was the official group photographer. His photos shown below tell the story better than words.
We did this trip more than once. One time we stayed at Steve Kursh’s house in Palo Alto when we went to the races at Moffett Field. Cumberford gave us a tour of the wine country and his hometown of Sebastopol. On that trip the VW burned a valve and had to be left at the San Francisco dealer but that is another tale.
Martin Swig partnered with Art Center College of Design a couple of years ago to do a car guys tour from the Pasadena campus to Monterey the weekend before the concours. Robert Cumberford and I went on this tour where we had a good time reminiscing about our trip 60 years earlier. With Martin's passing, the spark for this event dwindled, but this year will be the 60th anniversary of the Art Center boys going to Monterey.
In memory of Steve Kursh and Henry Haga.
A MGTC dancing around a pine tree
Gentleman Jim Kimberly takes the Ferrari into the hay bails
Phil Hill takes a friend for a hot lap in the 8C 2900 ALFA Romeo
The new Austin Healy 100 was presented to the U.S.A. at the 1953 Pebble Beach Councors d’Elegance
A world long gone, captured brilliantly.
I remember those days and running the coast highway late at night.
We all graduated to Martin's wonderful CA Mille but the fun days are gone in CA.
Pebble is a good example. Snotty exhibitors and a tidal wave of humanity at 9am. Thank God they kept the martini stands.
The Simca 9 mentioned as Bruce Gornick's car was instead a Singer SM 1500, a four-seat tourer with the typical leaky British cloth top and clumsy side curtains that didn't fit.
I went to Pebble Beach in 1953 and 1954, one time in Howard Assel's Henry J with two other ACS students. I may be confounding the other time in Bruce's Singer with our trip to Moffatt Field, but what I know for sure is that Steve Kursh was in the car too.
The photo labelled "Gentleman Jim Kimberly's" Ferrari is not that. It's a Jaguar C type and the driver was likely Phil Hill, as 2 was his number for all the races.
I don't know when Phil ran that Alfa 2.9 at Pebble, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't there... it might have been 1955?
I do remember that lovely Austin Healey 100, in a pale blue metallic paint. Ken Miles told me, in the spring of 1954 when I was working with him on the design of the "Flying Shingle," that the A-H had more than just the engine, gearbox and front suspension from the scrap bin; that the body was that of the MG TE, dropped because the ever-incompetent Brits busily running the #2 automobile industry in the world into perdition decided that Americans would only buy pre-WW II styling, and scrapped the body dies. Miles even had me draw an MG grille within the confines of the hole in the bodywork, and it did look a lot like the grille used on the aerodynamic 1950 Phillps MGs that ran at Le Mans, and the mid-Fifties MGA that was derived from it.
I remember sleeping on the ground inside the perimeter of Pebble Beach properties the year we went in the Henry J (which we called the Henry J2X to commemorate its crudity, shared with the Allard of the same name). Except I didn't have a sleeping bag, just slept — badly — in my clothes.
Part of our attendance at those many races and the tolerance people had for the students from Art Center came from our volunteering to paint numbers on the cars that raced. Usually it was the task of the Women's Sports Car Club, but we did a more precise job and thus were allowed to be "honorary women."
Long ago, far away, and we all have slightly imprecise fond memories of it all.