California Melee 13 event report

I am at work enjoying coffee right now thinking about how much fun I had this weekend on the California Melee. Team signed up to drive the TI whose rebuild has recently been so frequently expounded upon in these pages, but a lack of time last week meant I failed to get the last few items on my list dealt with so the trusty Sprint had to do its thing. Good thing Jaan had been sorting out the Weber DCD over the last few weeks.

hamiltonsTaking a break at the intersection of HWY’s 36 and 3(?) traveling between Red Bluff and Fortuna. Sprint was running fab and spirits were high.

In case you are not familiar with the California Melee, it is the original low budget tour for pre-1975 sports and touring cars -no trucks, buses, Jeeps, steam-rollers or stationwagons (I think Jeff and Harley would make an exception for an Alfa Giulia or Giulietta Promiscua or a few other tasty wagons I’ve seen ). The annual drive is the weekend after Labor Day. Event entry forms usually turn up in late July and the event tends to fill up fast. The committee responsible for selecting who gets to go culls the field by giving preference to repeat customers who don’t make a nuisance of themselves and amazing cars that have never been on the drive before. Those two groups usually get the event to 80% capacity so the rest of the spots are filled by a sort of balancing act. The remaining 20% is selected from the newcomers in such a way as to represent the greatest diversity of cars by limiting any make/model to two. In other words, if you are a new comer and want to go, sign up with something rare.

transbayGiulietta Sprint, Fiat 850 Coupe and Giulia Sprint Speciale roll by the San Francisco trans-bay terminal. I led a merry zig-zag chase across SF to get to the Palace of Fine Arts from the Bay Bridge.

IMG_9466Dan Rhodes Aston Martin DB6 on HWY 37 approaching the River Road turn off, about 6 miles west of Sears Point (Infineon) raceway. Dan also owns some equally nice Giulietta’s including a Spider he’s taken on the Melee a few times.

IMG_9467Clark is crazy for France’s unique approach to motoring and he is not shy to share his enthusiasm. Erna, his wife, seems happy to let him do his thing. I assume he had this car when they met considering he bought it when he was 18 years old, 32 years ago! Don’t let the old-fashioned looks fool you, this car goes down the road.

This years Melee had a somewhat ominous start with thunder and lightening issuing from dense, dark gray skies. I fiddled with my wipers for an hour while waiting for the event to start but only ended up blowing a fuse and had to rely on Rain-x and the hope for clearer skies up north.

v8alfaThis Alfa started life as a 2000 Touring. Patina, an Olds’ 3.5 liter V8 and 16″ widened steel wheels made this car look and act tough in a way Alfa never intended.

Heavy rain never materialized but the clouds provided a welcome cooling trend and it was *only* 90 degrees F in Red Bluff (usually 100+) when we rolled in. The motels small pool quickly filled up with cannon ballers and a whirlpool was made by everyone going around in a circle.  I had the brilliant idea to get a second whirlpool going on the shallow end of the kidney bean shaped pool and about 15 minutes of mayhem ensued before everyone was worn out from trying to avoid each other where the two whirlpools met.   

candy datsunsDatsun’s form a rolling paint sample card sandwiched between a pair of Brit’ roadsters at the Clear Lake lunch stop. It’s too bad 510’s usually end up flat black, lowered and none-to-gently cared for. I think David Swig and the Fox’s will buck that trend.

IMG_9489Yes that’s a Fiat Multipla, yes it’s going uphill at a good clip. Chris Obert says he built the 850 engine that powers it in the 70’s on a picnic table in Alaska. This car was my choice when the ‘Peoples Choice’ ballots were cast.

porsches chase bugeyeThe bringatrailer 1959 Porsche 356 A chases a 912 and the well sorted Silvia and Brent Bugeye Sprite along HWY 36. If you’ve never been on it, HWY 36 is like a smooth 100 mile race track.

I had a scare after lunch on day 2 when the Sprint suddenly quit at the end of the causeway bridge (HWY 211) between Ferndale and Fortuna. This of course coincided with the worst of the rain and Jason and I stood out in it looking under the hood. The numbers 2 and 3 spark plug depressions were full to the top with water while 1 and 4 were totally dry. We bailed these out but the car still wouldn’t start. Fearing a more involved fix, we, with Steven’s help, pushed the car under a gas station car port and set to trouble shooting. Spark? Check. Fuel delivery? Check. Compression? Check. Timing slip? No. Water in distributor cap? Check. Swapped in out for a spare I was carrying and the Sprint came to life. It hesitated now and then the rest of the day since I couldn’t get all the water out of the depths of the points/advance mechanism etc, but we got to the motel and it ran flawlessly the following day.

sprint and 356Jason McCandless 1964 356 and the Sprint were well matched since he was having carb problems and I was eager to get in out of the rain. Here we are stopped where HWY 1 emerges from the trees about 20 miles north of Fort Bragg.

norms memorial beerAt the day 3 lunch stop Davin pours out a little beer for Norm, whose presence, along with Marion and his 2000CS was missed.

ladies at banquetThe ladies show off their finest at the awards banquet.

spirit of dbJeff hands Carl (nice 356) the coveted ‘Spirit of the Dirt Bag’ perpetual trophy.  My name is on there from 2006.

I hope to see you all on the event next year. My pictures can be found here.

Part 1 of’ s event coverage. (part 2 and part 3).

Ben Buja’s fantastic photos. (The Whirlpool video is his too. Thanks Ben.)



6 thoughts on “California Melee 13 event report

  1. Matt, great to see you and Stephanie again. Your Melee pictures are great.

    I’m hoping that the videos I took while trying to keep up with you on Skaggs Springs Road came out.


  2. That yellow 510 looks just like the one I had from ’98 to ’01 except mine was a two-door sedan. What a great car to learn to really drive in!

  3. I have one year to install my wipers and top, it looks like, before crashing the Melee… provided I’m accepted! Abnormales are pretty rare, right?

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