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Ho Ho Horseless: California carriage club goes for a post-Christmas drive

Tue, 28 Dec 2010

WITH VIDEO -- It wouldn't be Christmas without the Horseless Carriage Club of Southern California's Holiday Motoring Excursion. Or at least, it wouldn't be the first Sunday after Christmas without it. For the last 55 years, the owners of pre-1916 automobiles have lined up somewhere in the greater Pasadena area and just driven around. There is a starting point and a couple of stops for doughnuts and lunch, but the idea has always been to take these beautiful (and a few less so) Brass Era cars out on the road and drive them as they were meant to be driven: slowly but with glee.

It started in 1955, when two brothers took a drive on Christmas Day.

"My dad and two other guys started it," said race-car restorer Pete Eastwood at last year's Excursion. "We'd open our presents on Christmas morning, then pile into our 1905 Buick to go to my uncle's house to see what they got for Christmas. My uncle would crank up their Buick, and we'd go to a friend's house . . ."

And it went on from there. This year, about 140 to 150 cars took part, all of them built before 1916, the cutoff date for what the club considers a horseless carriage.

"It's a wonderful event, and it's great exposure for the cars, because most people see these cars sitting in museums and don't realize that they run and they're a lot of fun to drive," said Horseless Carriage Club board member Frank Bristing. "There are no automatic transmissions, there's no power steering, there's no automatic backup and parking. So you actually drive, you feel like you're on the road having a good time. Plus, you smell the rain in the air, you smell the trees as you go through them. It's a lot of fun.”

We rode along in the 1913 Ford Model T Speedster of Harry Hernandez, a restaurant owner who bought his first Model T less than a week after he got his first ride in one.

"I was amazed that something that old could not only run but be as much fun as it is," Hernandez said.

The Model T was easily the most well-represented car on the drive, a reminder that Ford made 15 million of them. There were tourers, speedsters, race cars and trucks. But there were also early Cadillacs and a White steam car driven by famous car collector Jay Leno. This year's route wound around the Rose Bowl, down Arroyo Seco and through the beautiful estates of San Marino, where many of these cars roamed in their heyday.

Organizers overcame a few snafus to launch this year's run, including securing use of the traditional parking-lot start on Foothill Boulevard in Pasadena. But next year will bring a whole slew of new challenges. Christmas next year falls on a Sunday, and the following Sunday is New Year's Day. New Year's in Pasadena means the Rose Bowl Parade, which wreaks havoc with any road rally.

But we have faith. We are already planning ways to get a ride--or even a drive--in 2011.

Watch video of the 2010 Excursion below:

By Mark Vaughn