I Am The Gert: Riding Shotgun In A Se7en Over Decker CanyonS

For part 47 of "Why My Job Is Better than Your Job," I direct your attention to how I spent my Saturday. Turns out that Jalopnik blabbermouth commenter and all around righteous dude Al Navarro is president of USA7s.com, a new club dedicated to all cars inspired by the legendary Lotus 7. He sent the Postfather a query wondering if any of us So-Cal Jalopnikos would be interested in riding a Se7en around Decker Canyon. I was screaming "YES!" at the top of my lungs. At 6:30 am. On a Tuesday. Alone in my room. I was all set to get whipped about the mountains in a Caterham by a man named Doug when freak weather caused the "Malibu Blizzard." Stupid global warming. My fantastic hoonage ride was delayed. More for those who dare to jump.

Enter Gert Burkhardt, a German electrical engineer who resides in Pasadena along with his gorgeous yellow and hand-polished aluminum South African built Birkin S3. He agreed to rattle my brain about my skull up and down some of Southern California's wildest roads. Gert sent me one final email before we set off:

Now...maybe I should mention something (because I had an embarrassing moment before). Since the car is something like a glove there is a certain size limitation. It fits me perfectly with my 195 pounds but if somebody wants to ride in it with a jeans size beyond 40 it is getting claustrophobic or just not going to work. I hope that is not a problem...

At a strapping, husky and yes — big-boned — 225lbs. I was confident that I would fit just fine. If you've never sat in a Se7en, let me assure it is nothing like a glove, as gloves tend to be soft and comfortable. No, being five-point swaddled in a Se7en is akin to being stuffed into a child's coffin. Only hotter. I spent the entire ride with my left hand holding my right arm so as to give Gert enough room to row the gears. Yeah, it's that tight.

The Se7en's acceleration is outright staggering. First of all, you are seated so low that if you wanted to, you could place your palm flat on the pavement. Second, the engine sounds as if the world's angriest, unmuffled lawnmower wants you dead. Gert claims that the 2.0L Ford Zetec engine cranks out, "170, maybe 180 horsepower." As the Birkin only weighs 1,400lbs, 60mph shows up in less than 5 seconds. Saying it feels faster is like explaining sex to a virgin. You just have to experience the thrill to understand.

We headed up Malibu Canyon and hung a right on Mulholland. Within a quarter of a mile it became apparent the chassis was ideally sorted, tightly hanging on until the very last moment and then finally breaking loose with a bit of oversteer. Gert explained that the chassis could be tuned for more oversteer but that he liked his neutral.

A dozen-dozen twists later we were blasting by the Rock Store where Schwarzenegger and Leno may or may not have been enjoying brunch. We really should have stopped, as Gert's shiny Se7en was seven-times cooler than all the hogs parked out front put together. Instead, Gert doubled-timed it up the hill to where Mulholland crosses Kanan and shifts into a much needed 55mph zone. Here Gert really opened her up and I found out what a fantastic touring car a Se7en can be. And then we got to Decker.

For those who don't know, Decker Canyon is one of the very greatest roads in all the world. It is the southern terminus of California Route 23 and connects Thousand Oaks to Malibu some ten miles later. This is the road where I nearly made Davey barf in the RS4. Here's what Wikipedia has to say;

This portion provides numerous beautiful vistas of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean during daytime, but extreme caution is advisable, especially as the road nears PCH. It is a notoriously dangerous road, and the rusted chassis of cars that have gone over the side can still be seen. Bassist Philip Taylor Kramer of the rock band Iron Butterfly allegedly committed suicide by driving his van over the side along this route.

And when his crushed van was found three-days later, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was still playing on the eight-track. It's best to think of Decker Canyon as the N rburgring without the straightaways and with the added challenge of oncoming traffic. The Se7en ate it up. At first Gert was telling me about other roads he likes. By the time we got to Malibu, he was telling me what a fantastic hill climb Decker Canyon would make.

Now comes the Jalopnik part of the story. As the Swedish Mafia would have it, Dietrich Fat Stefan cleaved his Enzo in two about 100-yards up from where Decker Canyon dead ends into Pacific Coast Highway. This location also happens to be half-a-mile from the AC Schnitzer Memorial Nose Job Roadside Attraction. There we were, and... Gert stuffed it. Trying to perform a flashy, power-slider 180, my German pilot failed to notice a small, pointless curb. The front wheel, however, sure noticed. Long-story short, the fender was smashed against the tire. Yes friends, PCH had claimed another exotic. Or had it? "No problem," said Gert. "I always travel with tools."

And so, for the next half hour Gert and I wrenched, jacked and quite literally kicked the Birkin back into shape. I had a tiny crush on the South African kit-car before the crash. Afterwards, I was formulating a mix-tape to properly express my newfound obsession. I once helped rebuild an International Scout with little more than a brass hammer and a Sawzall. This was better. Seriously, we kicked it and made it home. It was like Han and Chewbacca beating the Millennium Falcon back into shape. Amazing. And now, dammit, I want a Se7en.

Gert's claiming that a decent used Se7en can be had for between $25,000 and $28,000, with new ones topping $40,000. If I abandon all hopes of owning a house within 100 miles of Los Angeles, I could swing a Se7en. Even if all I ever did was a mad, monthly power-blast over the Santa Monica Mountains. However, as I am about as mechanically inclined as, well, Gert's foot, mine would do very little but sit and look pretty. Until the tires went flat. Still, what a fantastic machine — yet another car for my personal spank bank fantasy garage. Sigh... [Thanks to Gert for the sweet ride and Al for the hookup]

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