8C by the sea
We all have regrets in life. Some are small, others bigger. Some of us have that one major regret – that one Big Mistake which we wish we could go back in time and correct. And it often involves love, lust, or both.
Sometime in 2003, Alfa Romeo, which had been mostly absent from any news coverage in the US since 1995, was suddenly on the cover of all the auto magazines and blogs with photos of its stunning new, outrageously gorgeous 8C Competizione Concept. It was pure sex on wheels. Alfisti all over the world, or anyone with a pulse for that matter, immediately lusted after it. It instantly sparked new life, energy, and interest in this great marque. I had to have it. No, I needed it!
Unlike many concepts, it wasn’t trying too hard to be some overly-designed teenage science fiction vision of the future. Nor was it just a rehashed version of a design that was visionary some 30 years ago, but bastardized for today’s market. Instead, it was simple, yet different than anything else out there. All the lines just worked. One look and your heart beat went up. It was a modern classic. With no Alfa Romeo or Fiat dealerships in the US, I did the next best thing: I walked into my local Ferrari dealer and inquired about the 8C. They had absolutely no information about it, but they took down my name in case they heard anything. A couple of years passed, and Alfa Romeo was still promising to produce the 8C, and I continued to check in with the Ferrari dealer every once in a while. My tenacity paid off and in early 2008 I received the call from the Ferrari dealership informing me that it had a spot available for the upcoming Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. I pulled the trigger and placed my order. It took about eight months for my 8C to finally arrive, and during that eternity I fantasized about what the 8C would be like. I daydreamed about driving it down my favorite roads. I tried to imagine how it would behave on the track. But what I mostly romanticized was driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur in the 8C with the girl that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. To me, this seemed like an adventure where everything would come together to create the perfect, most memorable experience: the sheer beauty of the rugged California coast, the high-speed curved highway tracing the sea, the jaw-dropping looks of the 8C and its furious power, and, of course, the girl that I love, sitting at my side, together sharing these delights of the senses. There was only one problem. My Big Mistake in life was in the way: I had foolishly broken up with her the previous year.
A few months later, I finally wised-up and decided that I needed to focus all my efforts and attention on correcting this Big Mistake, and I embarked upon a massive campaign to win back the love of my life. To make this difficult endeavor even more challenging was the fact that she lived almost 6000 miles away in her hometown of Milan, the birthplace of Alfa Romeo. Without going into the embarrassing personal details of this international media blitz, suffice to say that after several months of perseverance, I was finally able to convince her to give me another chance. I then planned the dream voyage with her that I had dreamed of: the drive along PCH to Big Sur in August of 2010, the centenary of Alfa Romeo.
The 8C seems to be so perfectly matched for this road trip. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Alfa Romeo chose to use this exact road and destination as the setting of its official promo video. The 8C really has a split personality of both a sports car and a Grand Tourer, while the Competizione in the name is rather a misnomer. As much as it seems to be begging me to take it on the track and let it loose, I just don’t see the 8C as a competition car. But what the 8C might lack in track composure, it makes up for by thrilling you with its engaging driving experience. On the highway, the 8C is extremely well composed and sure-footed, even at double the legal speed limit. Sixth gear is mostly useless at US-legal speeds, and I spent most of the trip up the PCH in fifth gear. For those times when driving along at around 60mph stuck behind a row of slow-moving cars, downshifting to fourth launches the 8C so quickly that you can swallow up several cars ahead in one quick shot, favouring them with one of the most impressive and awe-inspiring engine notes ever heard.
One of my favorite parts of this trip is the hill climb over the cliffs in Big Sur. Here, the road is twisty, narrow, and single-lane in each direction, with stunning views of the ocean to the west. For the stretches where you are lucky to not be behind any slow cars, pushing the 8C is a richly rewarding experience. In Sport Mode, the electronic traction control allows you to get the tail loose just enough to keep you focused on what you’re doing. And the ridiculously large brakes mean that you can approach those hairpin turns high above the sea cliffs at frightening speed with the confidence that you can vanquish all that momentum in a fraction of a second right before the turn in. In most cases, though, you’ll reach your passenger’s comfort limit way before that of the 8C.
The drive up set the tone for the remainder of our trip, and in the days ahead we reveled in the natural beauty and flavors of Big Sur, Carmel, and Sonoma, while being thrilled by the sights, sounds and g-forces offered by the 8C. All the crazy expectations I had created in my daydreams about this trip paled in comparison to the delicious reality of it. The following year, I wanted to repeat the experience, and planned a similar but shorter trip. Instead of Big Sur, this time we stayed in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a ridiculously charming town despite its somewhat tacky main street boasting galleries for 'artists' like Thomas Kinkaid. During this week of historic car events, all the town’s stores are decorated with some kind of car theme, and around every corner you’re sure to find some rare vintage automobile.
I approached that year’s trip with much fewer expectations, and though we had done the trip before, the pleasures and marvels we experienced, both from the 8C and the trip as a whole, still exceeded those of previous trips. But even the most enchanting hike in Big Sur, the beautiful white sandy beaches of Carmel, and the exhilarating moments in the 8C are all a distant second to the best part of this particular trip. You see, I embarked on that trip with my girlfriend and returned home with my fiancée.
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