- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

What prompts men and women to search out challenges has baffled scientists and researchers for hundreds of years.
Some of these adventurers seek out tall mountains, others dive deep under the sea, while others look to those black ribbons of asphalt laid upon Earth's surface to express their individuality. The later category are the people I spent five days with, driving unusual, rare and expensive automobiles very expensive in some cases.
The event known as the California Mille is a driving adventure that twists and meanders through the most challenging and beautiful back-country roads of Northern California. Modeled after the original Mille Miglia held in Italy from 1927 to 1957 the California Mille is open to all vehicles that could have joined the original event. Except for the support vehicles and significant rare models, no vehicle built after 1957 is allowed to participate. Organizer Martin Swig says this rally is a rolling auto museum.
The tour, begins in San Francisco attracts car owners from the far reaches of the world. There were entrants from Japan and Australia, as well as Florida and the District. As we departed the famous Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill, the enthusiasm and excitement reached a crescendo. We were finally on our way.
For the last three years the event has had the support of Jaguar North America. Jaguar brought along a number of 2001 XKR Silverstones for us to drive, which seemed appropriate since the XKR Silverstone is destined to become a collectible car of the future.
Understandably, the owners of the classic vehicles were reluctant to allow me to slip behind the wheel of their cherished vehicles. After all, the value on these cars ranged from a low of about $20,000 to as much as $6 million, with most valued in the mid-six figures. It certainly would make me nervous.
Many of the owners were good enough to allow me to share in their experience from the passenger seat, which was nearly as much a thrill as it would have been to drive in the 1,000-mile adventure.
The little town of Mount Shasta served as our first night's stop. In the shadow of the dormant volcano, owners lovingly performed chores that are necessary when driving vintage vehicles more than 300 miles in one day. Before departing for our next stop at the historic Eureka Inn final checks on oil levels wheel nuts and various essential last-minute items were checked and rechecked.
My first ride was in Robert and Lonnie Sutter's 1936 SS100 Jaguar, which they completely restored in 1992. This is a car that was built years before I was born, and Mr. Sutter drives it every chance he gets. My view of the road ahead was unimpeded by the windshield since my eyes were well above the top cross bar.
It appeared that my eyes were destined to gather bugs, as the next two vehicles I rode in both had low windshields. The 1957 XK-SS Jaguar of Jerry and Kathy Nell was very fast, and Jerry loved to show me its attributes.
To add to everyone's excitement, we encountered what appeared to be the entire population of the tiny mountain town of Happy Camp, including every student from the local school, lining the road, waving and celebrating our arrival.
This is what it must have been like in Italy decades ago.
I was so impressed by how well this 65-year-old car performed that I started to have visions of buying one myself. Then the reality sank in and I realized I would have to sell my house to afford such a beautiful work of art.
After a refreshing and much needed show and night's rest we headed for what organizer Swig calls the "best of the best" roads on our tour, down along the Pacific Coast Highway 1, which nearly drives into the sea. There are many places where the road practically dips into the tide pools. It is indeed a spectacular sight to see 65 vintage cars meander along the coastal highway before it turns toward the monstrous redwood forests. It is a sight that tends to take you back in time, a time that seems much more innocent and carefree.
We arrived at the Little River Inn, just south of the historic village of Mendocino (the place where the TV series "Murder, She Wrote" was filmed) just in time to relax on the deck with a cool drink in hand to witness the sun setting into the surf.
The last morning broke with bright sun and a little trepidation that we were about to drive that last leg of our journey. It was a bittersweet feeling that even though we were all a bit tired from the long drive we were also saddened that we were about to say goodbye to our new found friends.
The road leads us inland toward the Napa Valley where we were taken to a local winery for our farewell dinner.
The California Mille continues a wonderful tradition started so long ago in another country. Yet it revitalizes the passion we Americans have for the automobile, especially finely crafted and preserved automobiles.
Information on future California Mille tours can be obtained by calling 415/561-8402.

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