When Petrolicious invited the auto elite to the Drive Tastefully: Barker Hangar Rally, they expected Magnus Walker 911s and Ferrari 250 Lussos — and they got ‘em. What they didn’t expect was the Vice Squad in our gleaming white piece of ‘70s Americana.
My name is Rick Beretta.
This is my partner, Colt Torsen.
We’ve walked this beat for 13 years. He’s the toughest sum-bitch ever to walk these streets. Well, the second toughest. Behind me.
We’re gonna need all the toughness we can muster. Cuz we’re deep undercover in the biggest European drug smuggling operation of the century. Chief says this could be big. Then he took us off the case. But he knows we don’t play by the rules.
This is…VICE SQUAD: ‘72.
“You seriously look like you’re about to go into a liquor store and buy beer,” said Sean, when I put on my first fake mustache of the day, one of about two dozen I had tastefully procured from the finest dollar store in all the land, hideous black affairs that made me resemble Italian plumbers by way of Japan. I didn’t care. You know I have a hormone disorder!
It was the morning of the Drive Tastefully: Barker Hangar Rally, the third-ever event put on by the classic car connoisseurs at Petrolicious.
And in this land of Alfas and Porsches and Austin Minis and two Ferrari Lussos we were descending in this big white whale of America’s finest in pig iron, this be-spoilered and blue-striped 1972 Pontiac Le Mans “GT:” a faux nomenclature of his creation, but just outlandish enough, just veering on the edge of Seventies logic, to fool the most diehard of GTO drivers. All the better. Because it very well could have been a GTO.
But that would have been too easy.
Colt requisitioned this 1972 Pontiac from impound. It’s a bitchin’ ride. At least he says so, anyway. He’s a hotshot motorhead, and he doesn’t play by the rules. I don’t play by the rules, either. I got four ex-wives who also say I don’t play by the rules.
Problem is, Chief wants us to play by the rules.
“You’re a goddamned loose cannon, Rick!” snarled Colt through his crooked teeth (way too many street fights as a rookie cop). He’s holding onto the car as I flew around this corner, smoking the rear tires, ignoring the five hubcaps that bounced off into the gutter. “You’re in too deep! Chief is gonna have our ass for this!”
“Dammit, Colt,” I said, later slamming my first perp’s head against the hood of our car, “I may be your partner for the past 13 years, but I ain’t gonna let you stop me from doing my job.”
Colt’s a good guy, a good partner—he’s a straight-laced man, got a wife or two and a couple’a kids that he knows about, but he’s gotta understand: “you gotta crack some skulls,” I told him, “if you wanna get results.”
Tough cops always eat donuts; failing that, plain bagels.
This is known as the “Vintage Porsche Starter Pack.”
The Petersen Museum brought Steve McQueen’s Hudson Wasp, and, in a complete philosophical turnaround, the Volkswagen bus from Little Miss Sunshine.
Sean’s father, a through-and-through hot rodder, bought this car for him when he was 13. The quintessential father-son bonding experience. It had belonged to a little old lady who passed away, and as befitting the Little Old Lady trope, it looked the part: a Le Mans Luxury edition with dumpy hubcaps, a vinyl roof, buckets of chrome, friggin’ fender skirts, and a wheezy 350 small-block with a gentle 100,000 miles on it.
Evidently, the old lady’s descendants found the car in a garage somewhere—isn’t that always the case?—and took it to a friend’s garage, just to see if they could get it to run, to see if it was worth running.
Photo credit: Popular Hot Rodding
It wasn’t. The shop owner, a friend of Sean’s family, quoted—to the best of his knowledge—a figure too high for the deceased’s family to find it worth preserving the cantankerous old Pontiac. They left the car with him, for a minimum price. The family friend called Sean’s father. “I’ll take a thousand for it,” he said. A bargain, and off it went.
Over the next two years, a teenaged Sean put his labor and sweat into paint and bodywork. A massive fender crease was dented; it was pulled out and honed to crispness. Paint, primer, and color sanding ensued. On went a shade of white adapted from Toyota, Blizzard Pearl to be specific, and a contrasting blue also adapted from the Toyota paint bucket. (White was chosen over orange as to minimize a soon-to-be-16 Sean’s cop magnetism.)
The result earned it a cover story on the June 2011 issue of Popular Hot Rodding, a dog-eared copy Sean maintains in the car at all times.
The result was the “Le Mans GT:” a sleight of hand that seemed like it could have come from the Pontiac, Michigan plant in late 1971; the blue-on-white scheme is sufficiently Seventies to match, as is the Le Mans GT lettering painstaking applied to its flanks. The The authentic 15-inch American Racing Torque-Thrust O magnesium wheels. Tucked by a two-inch drop in front, the rear end raised another inch.
The GT badge on the inside came from a Ford Torino—which, you know, actually had a GT appellation. “People have walked up to me at car shows saying, ‘oh, yeah I remember the Le Mans GT, I had a friend who had one!’” said Sean. Amazing what nostalgia will do to a brain that tries so hard to believe.
Look at Gene Hackman in The French Connection: the same car, plus four doors and bronze brown paint, became a legend. “You never buy a Pontiac,” said Sean, “you commandeer it.”
A Camaro co-conspirator joins the ranks.
Not just Porsches and Alfas, the Petrolicious parking lot is a lot more diverse these days.
Colt gives his baby another wipe-down. Even when you’re undercover you gotta look presentable.
Ol’ Rick here just don’t understand these little furrin’ jobbies. My 3rd ex-wife drove an Alfredo Romano, and she ran just as hot as that little Italian number, and in the end, both of them did a damn fine job of bankrupting me.
There’s a lot more American cars clogging the Marmalade Café parking lot this year than the last few events. The last Petrolicious Rally had a fair share of niche Japanese cars, as if proving that the whole tidal wave of East Asian collectability finally garnered respect. Now, however, a Carrera Panamericana-spec Buick and a ‘66 Corvette convertible attest to a raucous amount of cool. And there wasn’t a Hawaiian shirt or creepy crying doll in sight.
You’re dead to rights, punk! As soon as I figure out what dead to rights mean, you’re DEAD TO RIGHTS!
This second year’s rally was a lot of fun (as was last year, where I was thrust into the whole affair in a Morgan Three-Wheeler, checkered scarf dangling in the dangerous breeze—of course!). Owing to a much shorter route, the cars tackled far less distant roads: instead of the outer limits of Ojai, we went to the edges of the Santa Monica Mountains; instead of finishing the day at Paramount Ranch, as we did last year, with a group-arranged photoshoot that lingered lazily into the afternoon, we stopped there for a brief sojourn and a much-needed bathroom break.
Then it was onto welcome and familiar roads, those known to any Angeleno weekend warrior, especially this lot, who seeks refuge here on Sunday mornings as their own old-time religion. To the Southern Californian, the roll call is familiar: Mulholland to Las Virgenes (towards Malibu Canyon, but not today), then left to the empty expanses of Piuma; up the hill to Las Flores, where the cliffs drop on both sides into both ocean and wispy-clouded greenery; then up Schueren Road to the infamous Stunt overlook, home of 2 a.m. canyon runs where the headlights form solid beams scything across the darkness.
I drove the first leg, up the windiest parts of Malibu. I did not die, nor careen off a cliff explosively, nor lose 15 hubcaps around every corner. The Le Mans handled corners with a certain rugged grace. Keep the speeds down, and crank the steering wheel with one hand—the other hand and arm combination lazily dangling out of the window, obviously—and one could find a nice steering buildup to it.
The ride was cushy, sure, but the body roll was managed well, far better than anyone could expect. We pulled on a two-tone Austin-Healey in front. Then, on Latigo Canyon, the British number lost us. Dammit, Colt! You’re losing the suspect!
“Mustache me,” I said, and Sean pulled out another pack of party mustaches.
“You want Cowboy Chopper?” asked Sean.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, and put on a shaggy caterpillar that made me resemble the guy on a can of Pringles. I looked like the front end of a Fisker Karma. “Blocks my nostrils,” I said. “I can’t breathe in this thing.”
Occasionally, the front wheels will rub against the fenders with a terrible groan akin to that of a listing battleship. Ninety percent of the time, that was ok. But on the 10 percent where Sean feared that the front bumper was scraping the pavement, or a rocker panel was shedding its precious paint, we pulled over to check.
Nothing. I kept driving, mostly with one hand, and we made it to the checkpoint at Paramount Ranch, and parked the car next to a Facellia coupe, and I dug out stacks of heroin from its rocker panels as Colt “Popeye” Torsen handcuffed the perps and called for backup.
A Ferrari 250 Lusso in the dirt is just your average day at the horse ranch.
Cooped up in a Mini, these two guys stretched their legs.
The Magnus makes an appearance.
David S.K. Lee, of Hing Wa Lee Jewelers, brought the other Lusso. For the curious, he was wearing a white gold Rolex Daytona.
After this, the owners drove straight down to Mexico. We imagine.
Canyon shenanigans completed, Sean helmed the last leg. The route took us soaring up Las Flores, his first time on this wonderful black-tar playground, high above where the clouds hang, where gaps in the cliff walls reveal scintillating peeks to soaring drops to the Pacific Coast Highway, the ocean below, so distant yet so unyielding. Many an epiphany was had on the narrow overlooks lining these roads…we turned to the Stunt Road overlook, which gave slight glimpses of the San Fernando Valley and its grid-like streets, and then we descended down Tuna Canyon Road, where all of this idyllic calm ended in stomach-wrenching distress.
Here was Tuna Canyon! A road so tight and windy it flits between two lanes and one, so unfit for anything larger than a Size M clown’s shoe, where the surface undulates like a ribbon thrown onto a pile of laundry, where the hairpins are so blind and so narrow that there are signs one after another warning us to our Yank Tank foolishness: Road Narrows. Road Narrows. Do Not Proceed Unless Clear. We could tell this was a route designed for nimble little Alfas to dance across miles and miles of stomach-churning downhills, the sort that fearless longboarders long deemed suicidal…
“Oh no,” said Sean. “This is barely wide enough for me. This is a driveway.”
“This is it,” said Sean, again. “This is the Petrolicious Rally of Terror. We’re gonna die.”
“Fucking narrows more!” yelled Sean. “One way—FUCK YOU it’s One Way. Pretty trees, but FUCK YOU!”
Colt Torsen put us on the wrong road. I’m gonna upchuck my breakfast whiskey and Parliaments.
A 1970 Ford Mustang convertible gives chase. Cue the Lalo Schifrin.
A Ronin-spec Benz 6.9 in hot pursuit.
Pacific Coast Highway yawned, in our sights, filling the windshield, at long last, as divine and welcoming as what greeted Lewis and Clark. We must have lost about 15 hubcaps down those corners, some possibly thrown from the windows. Like thunder, the smell of smoking brakes greeted usbefore the billowing white clouds.
“Yeah,” said Sean, taking a big whiff. “Slap some cheese on that and make it a sandwich.” I still didn’t know what that means.
Around noon, we arrived at Barker Hangar, where Howard Hughes kept his personal fleet of airplanes. (On the weekend of July 17th, rally sponsor Auctions America will host its California sale here. Among others, a Ferrari Enzo and the “Beatnik Bubbletop” are up for grabs.)
And inside the eclectic Museum of Flying we caught up to Rob and Brynner from the Petersen Automotive Museum, who had brought Steve McQueen’s daily-driven Hudson Wasp, as well as the banana-yellow Volkswagen van from Little Miss Sunshine. If there was a less sporting vehicle than our GM A-Body, it was a van with Greg Kinnear’s ass-prints in it.
“You went down Tuna Canyon,” Sean asked in disbelief, still traumatized by a stretch of pavement.
“Yeah,” said Rob. “And you know what, the bus actually has very predictable dynamics.”
Later, after lunch, the Le Mans boiled over from its downhill run and pissed coolant all across the parking lot.
“I may not like you, Rick,” said Colt Torsen. “But I goddamn RESPECT you.”
Chief wanted results. Well, we got him some results. Our tactics may be “unconventional.” They may be “unorthodox.” They may involve a lot of “property damage” and “explosions.” But in the end, who else put away a band of drug smugglers terrorizing Los Angeles streets but Colt Torsen and me, Rick Beretta, the two most decorated undercover street cops on the force!
Vice Squad ‘72 rides another day. And if there’s crime out there, you’ll see us slidingacross the hood of this sweet-ass Le Mans. You know it, baby. Shut yo’ mouf.
Top photo credit: Petrolicious