Category Archives: The Golden State Correspondent

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Words Between the Lines of Age

A despatch reaches DDC Towers from the Golden State, it is the latest literary output from our old friend, David Soares. He took his 911 for a spin last weekend, destination the NorCal Vintage VW and Porsche Treffen………..

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During the far-off days of the mid-20th Century, the Porsche Design Bureau’s Volkswagen Type 1 Käfer became the global icon of mobility for Everyman. Ben Pon’s Dutch spin-off, the Type 2 Kombi/Microbus/Samba was the gypsy traveller van for every long-haired seeker, surfer, and acid-tripper looking to turn-on, tune-in, and drop-out. One of my own earliest memories is of being driven in an open-top ’59 Beetle cabriolet to the Joan Baez children’s concert at the Berkeley Folk Festival, held on Sproul Plaza not long before it would become Ground Zero for the Free Speech Movement and the Revolution that would be televised.

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We Californians of a certain age have a special soft-spot for the lowly Volkswagen, and for Ferry Porsche’s special-bodied Käfer spin-off, the 356. Ferry wanted to market his car to the moth-eaten remains of the European aristocracy, but his former countryman Max Hoffman had a different pitch in mind. The Baron of Park Avenue asked for de-contented cars to sell to the Amerikaner as hot-rod Beetles, eventually overcoming Ferry’s initial resistance and mass-marketing thousands of Porsches such as the stripped-down Speedster to us posers. By the early ’70’s California was lousy with the rusted lace-like floors of old Bugs and Porsches being driven by anyone who had the floor-jack and bag of hand tools needed to cobble-up a motor. I looked at dozens of rusted sub-$900 356’s before my father bribed me with the promise of paid insurance cover if I bought something Japanese (I was able to get a Wankel-powered Mazda past him). I still pine for the freshly-restored ’57 Speedster that I had to pass-up because I couldn’t reach the required $4500. Today a $350K car.

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With all this automotive counter-cultural history buried deep within California’s psyche, a sort of anti-Pebble Beach has grown over the past 10 years into the NorCal Vintage VW and Porsche Treffen, an informal gathering of the tribe held the first Sunday of August at Dave Brubeck Park in the blue-collar town of Concord, east of the San Francisco-Berkeley axis. There is no pre-registration, $15 per car covers the city’s park-use fee, and participants are invited to “park wherever you like.” There’s no champagne bar, but there are a couple of urns of Starbucks in the morning, and at lunchtime a local taco truck shows up.

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The crowd and the cars are an eclectic bunch — a tribal meeting of old and new counter-cultures, drawn together by the anti-establishment symbolism of the cars of ’60’s revolutionaries and acid-rock icons, but attuned to both psychedelia and the hot-rodder’s innate sense of style. There were plenty of gray-beards, but the t-shirt was their uniform of the day, not the blue blazers now worn at the Lodge — ironically, their t-shirts give off much more of the vibe that I remember from my first Pebble Beach concours back in 1969 (my last was in 1991 when the vapid pretentiousness became unbearable). The youngsters sported plenty of ink beneath their flat-brim ball-caps and Pendleton shirts.

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What of the cars? Enough of my own pretense. I happened to have my camera along, and remembered that my friend Brooks suffers from a similar nostalgia for that brief moment when these little German cars symbolized some sort of hope for a more peaceful and egalitarian world — before LIBOR-rigging and wars-without-end made the very notion of the People’s Car something for weepy losers and dirty hippies. If you weren’t there, let me set the mood with the words of the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, from his non-fiction masterpiece, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972). No captions or recitations of provenance; let’s let the cars speak for themselves.
“There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda.… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.…

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

David Soares, August 2015