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On The Road

Why does Marin attract so many automotive writers?



FIVE YEARS AGO this month, my wife, Danielle, and I moved to Marin from Connecticut. Danielle had accepted a wine-industry job in the region, and as luck would have it, Marin ended up being the perfect location for us. I’m an automotive photographer often on assignment and my only request was that we locate ourselves near an airport. Moving here put us within striking distance of several airports, as well as the wine country, San Francisco and one of the country’s best racetracks, Sonoma Raceway.

Shortly after the move, we finally found a free weekend to take a drive. I pointed the car in a westerly direction and we headed out with no particular destination in mind. We had no idea what a wonderful day was about to unfold. As the hours and miles flew by, we soon became aware of what a very special place we had landed in.

Within a few months, I started to realize that some of the automotive editors I had been working with for years were now my neighbors — and not just one or two, mind you. As time went on, I found there was more of what I would call a cluster of automotive editors, writers, TV hosts and personalities who all lived right here in Marin.

I also began to recognize that one of my favorite West Marin roads, West Ridgecrest Boulevard (shown), was the exact stretch of pavement I was seeing in some of the more engaging car advertisements and car commercials. I decided to reach out to some Marin automotive journalists and ask them a few questions about their favorite roads and what car they would drive on it.

Wild for West Marin

Jason Cammisa, senior features editor and host of Motor Trend’s video shows, has done it all.

“I’ve driven on some 60 racetracks around the world, and I do precision stunt driving as part of my normal job,” he says. “I’ve attended more than 20 driving schools. My decision to move to Marin had a lot to do with the roads — and the climate.” As with “any good parent,” he adds, “it’s my responsibility to find a place to best protect my dependents. In my case, that means my cars. Marin is the best place imaginable to preserve classic cars: the climate is mild and the roads offer plenty of room to exercise them.”

Cammisa’s typical schedule is “flying 50 hours to be on the ground for 20 hours, all to spend three hours driving the most modern, extremely high-performance, computer-controlled cars in the world.” But when he’s home in Marin, his go-to choice of transportation and thrills is the combination of Fairfax-Bolinas with one of his simple, lightweight and nimble German cars from the ’80s. “That era of car hit the sweet spot of performance, driver involvement, safety and reliability,” he says. He also wouldn’t mind tackling that same road in a Lotus Elise with the top off: “Yep, that would do it.” Auto editors aren’t the only ones partial to Marin’s roads; television advertisers like them too, Cammisa says. “To anyone not from this area, Marin represents the intersection of impossible geographies and topography, with mountains next to cities, cows grazing on fields that end at the ocean and fog next to sunshine.”

Even if you don’t have a fast car, there’s a way to take in all the automotive eye candy you can handle: attend the event called Marin Cars and Coffee in Novato on the first Sunday of every month. “The mix of cars is jaw-dropping,” Cammisa says. “A Citroën next to a Buick Riviera, next to a Ferrari 330, next to a Volkswagen Scirocco, next to a Saab Sonett, next to a Jensen Interceptor. You’d need six museums to rival the diversity of cars you see every month.

The Tam Man

Brian Cooley, editor-at-large for CNET. com and host of On Cars, has lived in Marin for 18 years and can sometimes be seen on the back roads in his ’67 Mercury Cougar, his ’68 Fiat 850 Coupe or his ’88 Ford Country Squire. His job has afforded him the experience of driving everything from Kias to McLarens. In fact, he’s driven more than 1,100 cars in various episodes of the show.

I asked Cooley his dream car and road. “Going up and down Mount Tamalpais in a Porsche Cayman GTS is the perfect car and road combination,” he says.

For all the pluses of driving here, he acknowledges one limiting factor: “The best thing is how rural the roads are while being so close to an urban core. The worst thing is the bad and worsening traffic. Muir Woods, Mount Tam and many of the West Marin communities are getting overcrowded.”

Cooley’s advice for checking out the coolest local roads: “Just map out some interesting food, art and scenic stops in West Marin and then connect the dots. It’s hard to come up with a bad drive.”

Hit the Highway

D. Randy Riggs, editor-in-chief of Vintage Motorsport Magazine, gravitated to Marin 20 years ago after experiencing local roads on several motorcycle trips as a journalist for Cycle World magazine. Riggs has an extensive racing background. He’s raced everything from a flat-track motorcycle to Formula Fords and vintage Listers. Working as an automotive journalist gives him the opportunity to drive all kinds of vintage road and race cars.

Riggs loves to drive the roads of Northern Marin and has several choices to do it in. His collection ranges from a 1967 Morris Minor van to a 2009 Porsche Carrera S coupe. His motorcycles include a 1967 Bultaco Metralla, a ’67 Honda 305 Super Hawk and a 2001 Honda VRF Interceptor.

He says the best way to hit the roads of Marin would be in “a 1973 Porsche Carrera RS Lightweight on Highway 1.” His favorite section of that road stretches “from San Luis Obispo north to Monterey and from Mendocino north through the Lost Coast.”

For him, another big draw of living in Northern Marin is access to Sonoma Raceway, which he considers one of the greatest racetracks around: “It offers everything for the driver and the spectator, with a very diverse schedule throughout the year, along with several open testing days and club events.”

Panoramic Perfection

Aaron Jenkins, editor for Forza: The Magazine About Ferrari, describes his driving as that of “a talented amateur, woefully short of the talent of professional racers and test drivers. There’s nothing like a few laps around Fiorano [Ferrari’s private test track near Maranello, Italy] with a Formula One world champion to make, or keep, you humble.”

When Jenkins isn’t hunkered down at his desk job in an office park, he tends to drive his Miata on what he calls the “iconic” Panoramic Highway, with its “winding road and wide-open vistas.”

“The Mazda Miata is probably the best car for just about any road in Marin,” he says. “On public roads, versus a racetrack, it’s often just as much fun to drive a slow car fast as a fast car fast, and it’s a lot safer.”

On Marin roads, where you’re just as likely to see a Porsche or even a Ferrari, he still prefers the Miata. “Lightweight sports cars offer a very different, much more engaging driving experience than regular sporty cars,” he says.

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