By Stephen Mitchell
A friend once asked me what was the fastest I’d ever driven a car. My answer was 7500 rpm in fifth gear. Race cars don’t have speedometers and the car in question was my Ferrari 250 GTO. I was on the way to Las Vegas and my father was riding next to me in the passenger seat. In those days, there were no posted speed limits on Nevada’s highways and we were having the time of our lives.
My father and I shared a lot of great times. We spent a month together in Italy once. As I was growing up, he would take me with him into some of the hottest jazz clubs in Los Angeles years before I was of legal age to enter such places. More often than not, we were the only white faces in the crowd but the band members were all on a first-name basis with him. He showed me where to buy the best hot link sausages & sweet potato pies in Los Angeles. We went to Rams games and later Raiders games. Together, we bought and sold cars–he had his and I had mine, but we aided and abetted each other in the enterprise. Sidney was a cool guy. At a cocktail party, he asked a pre-politics Ronald Reagan what he did for a living. How cool is that?
My Ferrari 250 GTO (s/n 3987) had a tall final drive. Entering a favorite freeway on-ramp, I would be passing the fastest traffic by the time I shifted out of first gear and second put me into the flashing red lights and siren zone. I suppose someone could do the math to figure out how fast 7500 rpm in fifth might have been on the occasion, but it never occurred to me to bother. What mattered was that my father and I were enjoying an experience that would never be forgotten and that we were both extremely lucky to do so. Another of our shared experiences was that we survived a head-on collision on the Ventura freeway–a rare occurrence by anyone’s standards.
Manuel Taboada of the Ferrari Em Portugal blog asked me to sum up in a few words, the sensations of driving the GTO. My answer was: Every moment in the GTO was like the first lap at Le Mans. Were I asked to sum up my father, I would have to say that no one who met Sidney is ever likely to forget him.
His birthday was recently and we have been without him for too long. Perhaps that is why these thoughts are with me.
[Source: Thank you to Chad Glass for the sketch]