What’s it like to drive a 1955 CHEVY BEL AIR?
You wouldn’t know it, but Dave Mercer is famous. If you’ve been lucky enough to drive the canyons in Malibu in a cool car, you’ve probably seen his house — the one with the fake gas station out front.
But what you may not know is that inside that station is a massive collection of cool. Visiting Mercer was a chore. Why? Well, because I didn’t listen to his directions properly and took the long way around to see him.
Luckily for me, I’m always driving something awesome. But when I arrived at Dave’s pad, I was treated to his gas station memorabilia collection that bordered on classic epic.
As an ex-real estate consultant, Mercer managed to keep his collection going. And along with all the cool doodads and knicknacks, Mercer also snagged a superfast Lister and a 350hp ‘55 Chevy Bel Air Hardtop. The ‘55 has a Muncie M-21 four-speed with gear vendors overdrive and Halibrand wheels on disc brakes.
“I’ve owned the car for 29 years,” Mercer said. “It was restored for me 28 years ago with original paint code and correct interior. I have always owned ‘57 Chevys, but always wanted a ‘55.
Mercer said the best part of the car is its original colors and condition.
“This is a cruiser and can run all day with little effort,” said Mercer, who has taken many trips up and down the coast over the years, which always reminds him that you must drive these cars regularly or they will protest. “The most fun I have is when older folks see the car. It brings back fond memories for them. But driving around Malibu is great with [Pacific Coast Highway] and beautiful mountain roads to take in through the windshield with a dashboard and hood in front that acts like a window to the past.”
But Dave’s super-favorite road in the world is the Corniche in Monaco, he said.
The Lister Replica is by Lucra Cars. It has a full Carbon Kevlar composite Bodyshell, 4-inch tubular chassis with C-4 Corvette suspension. It has a 385 Fastburn Chevrolet V8 engine with 425 horsepower, Tremec five-speed manual transmission, fully independent Corvette rear suspension, Halibrand-style wheels by PS Engineering and a curb weight of only 1,900 pounds.
“I have owned this car for about seven years and drive it at least once a week,” Mercer said. “It looks similar to my favorite car — the Mercedes W196 Grand Prix Car — and this Lister replica is as close as I could ever get to the Mercedes unless I won the lotto big time. Then I would create a bespoke replica.”
The best part of this car? Its unbelievable acceleration at approximately 0-60 miles per hour in three seconds flat.
“Power to weight is everything, baby,” Mercer said. “The first time I drove on Malibu’s ‘snake,’ I caused crotch rockets to pull over and let me pass when they couldn’t lose me. Driving in Malibu is perfect for this car as it begs to be driven fast over so many mountain roads.”
Chances are, if you head to Wheels and Waves this Father’s Day, you’ll get a glimpse of Mercer’s rides. And if you pull the right strings — or you happen to be cute — then Dave might give you a spin.
What’s it like to drive a ’67 LINCOLN? Ask Bruce Willis’ stuntman STUART WILSON!
Being a stunt man is a rough job. If you aren’t getting set on fire, falling out of a building or crashing a car over a cliff, then you’re slacking. So, when stunt man Stuart Wilson was looking for the right classic car to get into, the result was a relaxed, chill open top 1967 Lincoln Continental convertible.
Stuart is currently a stunt man and stunt coordinator, and for the past nine years and 16 films, he has being Bruce Willis’s stunt double. Can you tell? Other than the real bruises, of course. But when he’s not working and risking his life to make Mr. Willis look good, he’s cruising Malibu in this gorgeous behemoth.
“It has the original 462 motor with 27,000 original miles and is a home office reserve car (one of 475),” Stuart said. “The paint is a custom mix based on a Lexus Graphite Grey, but darker with more metallic added. The interior is custom two-tone leather and we changed the 15-inch rims to 20s for a better, more modern look.” And let me tell you, this car screams cool.
It was purchased in a junkyard in Glendora nine years ago and took eight years to complete. Woah. Stuart chose this car because it was his daughter’s favorite and was built specifically for her. It’s super rare and there aren’t many out there. It was built as a driver and can be seen pretty much every weekend going up and down Pacific Coast Highway and recently at my Wheels and Waves.
“I would say that my favorite story in regards to my car would be one weekend while getting coffee,” Stuart said. “A guy was checking it out and found what he believed to be a flaw. He felt the need to point it out then jumped in his beater Toyota Corolla and left.”
Yeah, like I’ve said before, criticism and jealously go hand in hand, but being cool is always being cool. I hate always being the bearer of good news. For Stuart, driving in Malibu is a great way to relax.
“My job, to say the least, is stressful. So grabbing a coffee and cruising in Malibu and appreciating the ocean is the best way to relax.” Ah, and here we come to the whole point. Drive + Relax = Peace of mind. Actually, that’s pretty much the secret “Malibu Way of Life.”
And Stu’s favorite movie car? “There are a lot of great movie cars, but I would have to say the Mustang from the movie ‘Bullitt.’ One of the best car chases ever with a classic car performing at its best.”
I was going to say “Die Hard 3,” but he probably felt some serious pain after that one. You will however, see Stuart in the upcoming “Die Hard 6” — probably on the moon. “Die Hard 6: Die Moon Pie.” OK, my wife actually just came up with that one.
A true champ for doing what you love and appreciating the beauty of Malibu, Stuart Wilson will jump, leap and thump at the chance to relax. I think I’ll join the club. Congratulations, Stu. You’re this week’s Ride of the Week! Now, head to the hospital and get those cuts looked at.
What’s it like to drive the 1971 LAMBORGHINI JARAMA?
Today is a twofer – kind of…
I met John Roth for the first time at my show, Wheels and Waves. He and a couple friends rolled up in a few unique rides, Roth’s being this ‘71 Lambo Jarama. Now, it’s been a grip since I’d seen this model, most likely 25 years. And to see John scoot into the show took me back to ‘71 in a flash.
I was 6 years old and knew I loved cars. This Lambo just came out and was the company’s state-of-the-art car. Although, it didn’t really do all that well – the funky proportions and hand built uniqueness made it stand out.
As a machine shop owner, Roth has worked on a slew of cars. So when it came to getting something unique, he was all over it.
“It’s a 4-liter V-12, about 330hp with a five-speed transmission,” Roth said as we took our first spin. “Like all the Lamborghinis of the era, independent suspension and disc brakes at each axle. It’s built on a shortened Espada platform, but oddly is a heavier car at about 3,200 lbs. My understanding was that the design intent was for the car to be aluminum bodied but it went into production in steel. By and large, it was an advanced car for the day.”
Roth bought the car a little over two years ago from a dealer in Florida. At the time, he had been looking for an Espada and while had come close, he hadn’t been able to complete a transaction.
“I hadn’t even considered a Jarama as there were only about 300 made,” he said. “I never expected to see one on the market.”
According to Roth, until quite recently, Jaramas haven’t even been considered collectible. This car had been bouncing around a bit, moving from dealer to dealer and he didn’t expect much when he flew to Florida to see it.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “It had records since new, appeared to have not gone through an extended period of neglect when it was just a ‘used car,’ and had recent repair bills totaling a small fortune from a competent Lamborghini garage, but it’s an old Lamborghini. It still has needs. It will always have needs.”
When people think of classic Lamborghinis, it’s usually the Miura and the Countach, but the hyper exotic cars aren’t what the founder wanted. Feruccio Lamborghini aimed to build fast, comfortable Grand Touring cars like the GT350 and 400, Espada, Islero and Jarama. These are the cars Roth enjoys.
“I wanted a car with a large green house, plenty of room in the foot wells, good handling and ample power,” Roth said. “In my view, Lamborghini did this the best in the period.”
I was scheduled to meet up with another driver after John, but got a text saying that the “Jeep” broke down near Moonshadows. Roth graciously offered to head down to the car and see if he could help. After 45 minutes of going over the Custom Jeep (Coming Soon), Roth found the problem in a large fuse. The Jeep was dead for now, but the Jarama, Roth and I roared on up PCH.
That’s when Roth went on further with his story.
“I don’t commute with the car generally,” he said. “I use it for touring around the South and Central California coast mostly. While I appreciate them, I don’t get too excited about static displays of perfect cars. I want cools cars to get used, to get broken and repaired. While they are at some level an artistic expression, they are clearly tools for transportation and should get used as such.”
His best short story with it was the test drive. He took a red-eye to Fort Lauderedale, and arrived at the dealer at opening time under a light drizzle.
The Jarama was spotless, sitting in the showroom.
“The salesman asked me if I wanted to drive it and I declined as I didn’t want to get his car dirty,” Roth said. “He said something like, ‘Come on! It’s always raining here. Let’s go!’ So, we went.
“We hit the freeway as the drizzle turned to a torrential downpour, a good three inches of water on every street. We had near zero visibility, crashes, and general mayhem. It took 45 minutes to work our way back to the showroom. I asked if it was the scariest test drive of his career. He said no – it was the weirdest.”
And what does roth love about driving in Malibu?
“The Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu make up some of the most scenic places on the world,” he said. “Great views and great driving roads literally surround us here. We are lucky to be here and driving in the hills helps me appreciate it.
“PCH, from Santa Monica to Carmel is on everyone’s list but I can’t be pinned to a single road. While it’s only open three or four months a year, Trail Ridge Road in Colorado is a favorite as is CA190 across Death Valley. These roads are all very different, but special in their own way.”
Watching Roth work on the Jeep revealed to me that he’s successful at his business for one reason. His willingness to help. And although he couldn’t restart the car, the effort was all it took to find the answer.
What’s it like to drive the 1997 CHEVY KING TAHOE?
OK, I have a slight bias on this one as Kathie is my best friend and significant other. Being that, she has a lot to live up to in having a car guy next to her all the time, but her track record with cars has been pretty astounding.
Back in the day, Chevys seemed to gravitate towards this cute Malibooty, starting with a ‘58 Vette named “Leroy,” to a ‘63 in black with flames, to a red hot cross-fire injected ‘84. Some of you may remember her pulling up to Surfrider with her leopard print 9’ Becker surfboard poking out of the t-top. And Kathie’s love for Chevys hasn’t stopped there — she now drives, along with me, this 1997 Chevrolet Tahoe dubbed “King Tahoe” because of its 500-horsepower 5.7 liter Vortec that’s been tweaked, tworted and kablameed, thanks to yours truly (couldn’t help myself).
The Tahoe has a number of bolt-on items including a K&N intake, Magnaflow exhaust and ECU upgrade, but also a hi-performance cam and re-ported heads. All that in a 3M carbon fiber body, as it was a show truck for SEMA several years ago. It’s the perfect Malibu ride and about to get redone again.
Kathie’s history here in the Bu is far greater than any car, having surfed Malibu since 1965 and officially moving to the Bu in 1980. And although some will say that she’s just like Gidget because of her love for surf culture, Kathie’s surf heritage has taken her to incredible surf spots like Costa Rica and many other places.
“Malibu is more than a place of beauty for me,” said the Bride of Fireball. “It transcends beauty and becomes a haven for all things good and I love every part of it, including the traffic. It only means that others want to experience the joy that we as Malibuites get to have every single day. For that, I’m grateful.”
As a costume designer and sculptor, Kathie’s career started at Sid and Marty Kroffts’s in 1970, sanding puppets and working on H.R. Puff N’ Stuff. Yes, that H.R.
But back then, she’d do anything having to do with costumes and loved it. Her mascot company now (KCL Productions @ www.kclproductions.com), handles small clients like The White House, Ellen DeGeneres, the Nintendo characters, Harlem Globetrotters and the Super Bowl. She’s currently starting a project for Honda.
But her resume reads like a list of chocolate items being gathered by Santa for next year. Seriously. But wait, let’s get back to cars.
“Although I know the world is changing rapidly with electric vehicles and how important that is, the feeling I get in an SUV keeps me safe and secure. The power that this Tahoe has allows me to get to the gym but can deliver my costumes to the studios also. They’re really big sometimes. I look forward to Chevy creating an electric Tahoe soon!”
You heard it here first, Chevy guys. If you make it, then Kathie wants one.
Chevy only made these two-door LT Tahoes for a few years and they are now starting to get popular like the Broncos. If you can find one, better do it soon. And if you happen to see Kathie or myself driving through town in King Tahoe, wave or smile. We may just have one of those chocolate items from Santa.
Wait a tick… King Tahoe handing out Chocolate? Does the Malibu Life get any better than that?
What’s it like to drive a 1976 JENSEN INTERCEPTOR?
Sandy Bettlelman’s JENSEN is a rare find, indeed
In most of our heads, rare cars command high prices. I see that every time I head to an auction. But, the truth is that if you love your car, it’s priceless. And that is certainly true when it comes to Sandy Bettelman and his 1976 Jensen Interceptor convertible. And why it’s this week’s Ride of the Week.
When I go to shows — and I go a lot — I invariably run into people wanting to show me their cars. And it’s cool because I love talking to people that love talking about their rides. And I’m grateful that I get to meet so many people. Although my favorite is always the one with four wheels, I’ve always been partial to the Jensen Interceptor.
Being retired, Sandy gets to do much of the same thing. He has several cars including an Audi RB and a Bentley GT. But, as cool as those cars are, this Jensen is something else. Why?
According to Sandy, Jensen bought their powertrains from Chrysler. A 440 cu. in. V8 with the 727 Torqueflite transmission. His car is totally stock, but the convertible was the most glamorous of the Jensen lineup in 1974. It was the most prestigious of the cars for the West Bromich England car builder dating back to the ’30s.
“I bought the car in 1988 from the original owner,” said Sandy. “I found it sitting in a driveway two blocks from where I lived and it had not been moved for two years. I bought it because of its beauty and how scarce it is. In 1976 they built only 52 convertibles. Mine came off the line in March and the factory closed in May.”
But back in the ’70s, futurism was a very strange and unique notion. Films like “Barbarella,” “Zardoz” and “Logan’s Run” with groovy futures were in. And TV shows like “U.F.O.,” “Space 1999” and “Thunderbirds” were getting weirder by the minute.
The Interceptor was right out of their future language. It would have been something that the Persuaders drove or James Bond. An elegant and groovy tune built from English heritage.
Now, Sandy only uses this car for shows or cruises with the top down, but he has a funny story to boot.
“The car is well known around beach towns. At a show inland, a woman came up to the car and read the badge on the hood that says ‘Jensen.’ She turned to me and asked, ‘Who makes Jensen?’ To which I responded ‘Jensen.’”
Its powerful and elegant interior is classic, yet there’s almost a feeling that you’re in a concept car from a future that never came. It’s a vision ahead of its time, but in a parallel universe. And the fact that the company disappeared in 1976, right at the bicentennial is almost ethereal in it’s nature.
Did these guys ever really exist? Well, parallel future or not, this car is in league with the Tucker Torpedo, Avanti and visions of futures gone. If you’re trying to get your head around what I’m saying, it’s more of a feeling and can only be explained by taking a walk through GM Top Secret Motorama Vault for the ’50s. Yes, I’ve seen it, and it’s wonderful.
“I love to cruise with the top down up PCH through Malibu … along the beach on warm days,” concludes Sandy. A fitting statement to being resolved that no matter how universally unique this car is, it’s purpose is the same as all of them.
To bring joy to a world of car lovers. The highest purpose a car can have and why this Jensen Interceptor is this week’s Ride of the Week.
What’s it like to drive a 500hp 1975 WILLY’S RAT JEEP?
Several years ago, I met my friend Vladi on a photo shoot. Now, I’ve met a lot of Italians in my day, but he was the most Italian dude I’d ever met. His passion for cars only rivaled the best pasta money could buy.
So when I showed up in a $5 million classic Ferrari Barchetta, he went ballistic.
About six years later and Delsoglio calls me up to tell me he’s just built something insane. And knowing what “real” automotive insanity is, I began to wonder. And that, my fine-feathered floor slammers, is why his Jeep from Hell is the Ride of the Week.
As creative director for Social Reality, Delsoglio works in the creative world. Every single day, he’s challenged to design something up-to-date, beautiful, unique and with a great message.
“It can be stressful sometimes, however,” Delsoglio said. “I can’t imagine doing something different in my life. Design is everything and all of what you see built by human hands was designed first.” Thus, Delsoglio’s goal was to create a beast for himself.
Enter his 1975 Jeep Willys Testabassa SR. A slammed, tweaked, twisted, contorted and bulged bruiser with a small-block V8 engine pumping 420 horsepower. It’s a completely customized “clean” Rat Rod, all the way down to its air bags.
“I bought a Jeep Willys on Craigslist in March 2015 with the idea of starting this crazy project,” Delsoglio said. “Everything began with a 3D design, then the car went in production-mode for one year. I bought all the parts, then gave everything to my builder and he put it together. [The] project was ready in mid-March.”
Delsoglio, who hails from Torino, Italy, said he was born and raised a few blocks from the FIAT Headquarters. When FIAT bought JEEP, he said, he decided to break apart an American icon and rebuild it, keeping the same powerful vibe but into a completely different shape. Thus, the Jeep Testabassa SR was born, he said.
Every inch makes this car the insane. But Delsoglio had some difficulty picking what he likes the most.
“When something is so beautiful and rare, it’s extremely difficult to pick ‘a best part,’” Delsoglio said. “Like asking what is the best part of ‘The David’ by Michelangelo. I do like the front grille a lot though. It’s the most recognizable Jeep part. Without it, people wouldn’t know what it was.”
We took the Jeep from Starbucks on Cross Creek up to the Vintage Car Show at Trancas. It was like driving on four balloons — no seat belts, no speedometer, no creature comforts. Just growl, wind and hellacious fun.
“It’s a monster, a true beast,” Delsoglio said. “It’s not for everybody. When you drive, it feels like you’re at the gym doing bicep exercises. But at the same time, when I go back home, I want to go out for another ride, another race against the wind and against its brutal force. It feels great to drive and it’s probably the only one in the world. We always look for exclusivity.”
And Vladi’s best story with this brutal green beasty? A run-in with a police officer who pulled him over for not having tail lights, signal lights, a rear mirror or a front licesne plate. The cop ended up talking shop instead of citing him.
“He took some photos of the car and left without giving me any tickets and with a big smile on his face,” Delsoglio said.
I’m always grateful when friends come to Malibu with their cool cars. For Delsoglio, it’s the scent, the fog in the early morning, the voice of the ocean, the hills, the canyons and mostly the roads.
“I feel every time is the first time,” Delsoglio said.