Once a year a bunch of gearheads gathers for the Targa Baja. We spend four days chasing each other around Baja Mexico. I know what you’re thinking: cartels, bad gas, what if we break something… and what about The Wall? It’s none of that.
Borderline lunacy 1992 ALFA ROMEO SZ
I’ve done it a few times now. This year my friend Nick of Classic Avenue and I took his 1989 Alfa-Romeo SZ. He’d just picked it up and this would be a good run for it. With only 30,000 miles, what could go wrong? There’s a full support crew so nobody gets left stranded… well, if someone breaks down, we pull over, stare at the problem as if we can help, laugh at them and head on.
The rally meets in San Diego the night before, then at sunrise there’s a drivers’ meeting, the ‘be responsible’ stuff, and if you have any guns, don’t bring them across the border – and 30 minutes later we’re at the crossing. There’s no queue to get into Mexico; it’ll be a different story coming back.
The Federales escort all 51 cars through the towns with lights flashing as we run the red lights. The highways are beautifully paved, and empty of cars. It’s amazing. We go from desert, to mountains, to wine country to the coast. You want to go fast? Go fast. A Cadillac passed us doing 165mph… That’s fast enough.
A favorite of the rally is a section called La Rumorosa, an 11-mile stretch of one-way desert mountain highway, 11 miles up, 11 miles down. It’s fast and twisty, it’s on the side of a mountain, filled with random obstacles such as 18-wheel trucks. So twisty that it’s not uncommon to see an 18-wheeler on its side. This is, of course, where I decide to do car to- car chase photography. I hang out the back window of an old Mercedes and ask the driver to just be smooth. Off we go, Nick pulls the Alfa close, Steve in the Trans Am, Tony in the Mustang, and at some point a Federale with lights flashing joins in. Everyone hits their marks, thank you. At the base of La Rumorosa is now a gas station with barbecue restaurant; of course we regroup there, they have barbecue.
Next stop is Ensenada, a coastal city two hours away; we take off in a group, cruising at a nice pace, no traffic, smooth highway, and missing the turn-off… you’d think you could just turn around… but nooooo, the GPS in our phones reroutes us. The scenic way.
Once at the hotel in Ensenada there’s a great sense of camaraderie. The hotel lot is filled with our cars, people are fixing the broken stuff, a couple of local guys hand-wash for a few bucks as the sun sets. After dinner, time is spent with the cars, beer, and the very important ‘let me tell you’ stories.
We leave Ensenada and head inland to wine country. The Federales are there again, turning us loose once free from the city. The locals get a kick out of all the cars, waving and taking pictures. Porsche guys always take the lead, but the Alfa holds its own. There’s a red-and-green button on the console: Sport and Non Sport. We push it in and out, wait… push some more. Nick and I agree it does something, suspension tightens and gets lower. OK, leave it in Sport. The Alfa is quite comfortable, the seats are supportive, cabin open, AC works fine, temp gauge never moves, even the gas mileage is quite good. No radio but we don’t notice.
Our Alfa does great – only one incident, we hear a rattling on the way to Ensenada when the tailpipe weld breaks. We tie it up with a piece of wire and keep going. A local muffler shop in Ensenada takes care of it for $11 with no waiting. Eleven bucks!
On the final day we leave early to cross the border, thinking we’ll be clever and beat all the border traffic. While trying to find the border it appears we have run two stop signs, and were doing 35 in a 25, or so a border Federale in Tecate tells us, and it’s going to be very expensive; we need to see the judge and the cashier, could take all day, we might be able to see the judge today or tomorrow… and it’s 6000 pesos. Hmm, 6000 of anything sounds expensive. But you’re a man of the law, isn’t there something you can do to help us? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink? Seems $30 will do the trick.
Now, one thing that’s universal in any country: no-one likes a line cutter. The border crossing into the USA at Tecate takes about two hours, the line crawls, vendors try to sell you anything that fits through your window. After paying our fine we get in line and wait patiently, then the other rally cars show up, about 25 cars, and try cutting into the line. This doesn’t go down too well.
Horns start honking. People jump from their cars. Arms are waving, fingers pointing. Then the ‘Line Police’ show up. There is actually a Federale police force to keep people from cutting in. All 25 cars… back to the end of the line, justice is duly served.
Would I do it again? Yes. Entry fee plus hotel, gas and food came to less than 1000 bucks for the four days. What car we are taking next year I don’t know, but the change jar in the kitchen is already filling up with quarters.
Above left and right; below In convoy on the open roads of Baja Mexico; the ensemble gathers at the hotel in Ensenada; Mexican Federale escort ensures problem-free transit. Left and below Evan’s friend Nick’s Alfa was perfect for the Targa Baja, bar an exhaust problem fixed for $11; if you fancy it, check out www.classicavenue.com.