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Fast Cortina at Santa Barbara High

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Car stories

While I do believe that what we do really define us. I also believe that teenagers deserve an exemption.  The year was 1972, I was sixteen and it was early summer.  I had returned home after my morning tennis class at Santa Barbara High School when a friend called and said that they knew someone who wanted to sell their economy car…a 1965 Ford Cortina. I had never heard of a Cortina and they explained that it had been imported from England where gas is really expensive.  And gas was no bargain for me either at 34 cents a gallon with an allowance of five dollars a week.

A little back story: a couple of weeks prior my 1959 Volkswagen Microbus (Transporter) ala Fast Times at Ridgemont High blew its transmission while on a camping trip near Lake Cachuma. I was fortunate enough to sell the relatively new motor to a friend who just happened to need one.  I called my friend Ed to see if he could give me a ride to check out the Cortina. 

As luck would have it he said he could be over in the afternoon to pick me up and be sure to have some gas money.  We were always stiffing each other for gas money. I had known Ed for several years as we both attended boarding school together and only on a rare occasion would you see him without his saxophone.  Yes, you read that correctly he did in fact lug that piece of noise metal every where. He played it constantly and we never thought much about it because he was actually pretty good.   I should add that he usually did this without wearing shoes.

While I was waiting for Ed to arrive another friend Chuck showed up on his minibike and he lived just a few blocks away.  That was how we all connected…just show up in contrast to sending texts today.  Shortly after Ed arrived and with Chuck joining us, we took off to see the car.  It was a small, ugly, faded red, little two door car with bald tires and a well-worn interior.  Desperation and short on cash had determined my fate that day.

While Ed wandered around playing his sax bare foot, Chuck and I looked over the car.   We discovered something special about this car…it had a Lotus twin cam four-cylinder engine.  We drove it around the neighborhood and the brakes were rather soft but the transmission and clutch appeared tight as well as the engine. There was a crack in the intake manifold that the seller had ordered a replacement due to arrive in a month.  The manifold was currently held in place with bungee cords. They wanted four hundred for the car and I only had the three hundred from the sale of my motor. Given the cracked intake manifold they begrudgingly accepted my wrinkled wad of cash.  While listening to the cracked manifold I followed Ed back to my house with my new Ford Lotus Cortina Mk1, which surprisingly turned out to be a special car.

As some of you may remember, in high school whenever a friend got a new car, EVEYONE went for a ride in it. This was that moment and Chuck and Ed with his sax and no shoes were my first two riders. Ed, and Chuck were no strangers to my house between the mini-bikes with no mufflers and the house parties the neighborhood came to know who we were. The neighbors did not enjoy us three degenerates and their anxiety was palpable when they saw us get together. I think on some level we enjoyed pissing off our neighbors and residents of this otherwise snobbish community. 

We all piled in the Cortina and cruised up Eucalypts Hill Road turning right on Sycamore Canyon Road.  At the junction where Cold Springs Road begins perpendicular to Sycamore Canyon Road is the Montecito firehouse.  As I turned left onto Cold Springs Road heading towards Westmont College, I noticed the unassuming firemen were out washing the fire trucks.   This is when both Ed and Chuck said let’s see what she can do. 

I hit the accelerator hard and up to this point I had been driving very conservative.  Unfortunately, the accelerator stuck on full throttle and within a short block I lost control going off the shoulder taking out a speed limit sign and accumulating tree branches in the car as the windows were down.   I was finally able to get the car back on the pavement and after stamping on the gas pedal while doing several donuts in the middle of the road. The car came to a stop facing the opposite direction staring directly at the firemen who had dropped their rags to process what had just happened.  The branches in the car had pinned Chuck and Ed with his saxophone to the back seat. Chuck who was in the front passenger seat had a big cut on his arm and too was also covered with various Santa Barbara foliage.  Nothing was said as we carefully drove back to my house. There we accomplished some first aid.   I lost a headlight, turn signal, tear on the headliner, front grill and a puncture to the radiator.  Through all of this the engine never stalled which I thought was a pretty good sign.

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