Words and Pictures by Vince Abad-Santos
Before Two and a Half Men and the tabloid headlines of the late 1990s and 2000s, Charlie Sheen starred in No Man’s Land, a 1987 thriller depicting the reckless predilections of a criminal mastermind in southern California. Sheen plays antagonist Ted Varrick, a black suit wearing, toothpick-gnawing, slick hair sporting millionaire playboy with a fatal vice: he can’t stop stealing Porsche 911s.
In one iconic scene Sheen’s character, Ted calculatingly examines a silver 930 Turbo parked in a multi-story garage, visibly paralyzed yet salivating in his potential gain. Flanking him, his friend and undercover cop Benjy, played by D.B. Sweeney, wavers in his first mouthful of miscreancy.
“Don’t you think we’re pushing our luck?” prompts Benjy.
“No such thing. I nabbed seven of these in one day,” remarks Ted with an air of invincibility and grit.
When I was a child, No Man’s Land was distilled car-pornography before I even knew what pornography was -- the materialization of my bedroom wall poster. Now that I’m older to appreciate it, one theme transcends the Fuchs alloys and the impact bumpers: pure unrestraint without regard to external pressures. Did millionaire Ted have to keep stealing 911s for his chop shop? Probably not.
And here we arrive at RADwood at Hooptie-Con: the 3rd iteration of the celebration of cars born in the 80s and 90s, highlighted by unrestraint both in their very genesis and the way in which they were designed. These cars were not created by the accountants, nor the regulatory agencies. “By car people, for car people” came into its own in this time when car manufacturers drowned in their own cash. In honor of the 3rd RADwood, I’m featuring the 3 cars that evoked the essential DNA of RADwood and the era.
1. Ferrari Testarossa
This is a dish paired well with a white linen suit over a baby blue t-shirt. The rear fenders are the gaudy shoulder pads, the Edward Scissor-Hand side vents are the stitching, the pop-up headlights the pocket square accent. Ferrari held nothing back with the flat 12, eliciting an auditory enlightenment that compounds up the rev range and then starts over again with each up-shift. The Testarossa is as wide as Michael Jordan is tall!
Drive them. Slot the gated shifter into gear like you’re cocking a shotgun. (Take them to more RADwoods!) Let the exhaust bellow consume you, because we may not see another analog machine dialed to 11 like this again.
1. Acura Vigor GS 5-Speed
George H.W. Bush signs the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Washington Redskins defeats the Buffalo Bills in Superbowl XXVI, and amidst these headlines from 1992, Acura releases a gap in the market between the Integra and the Legend.
Except that isn’t necessarily true; the Vigor became the blood-descendant of both cars but carved its own trajectory for a more “indecisive” market. Its 5-cylinder G25A engine sat nicely in between the torque of the Legend and the efficiency of the Integra but sent its power to a limited slip differential that propelled the front wheels using half shafts, allowing significant weight to be placed behind the front axle. Acura even offered digital signal processing, which let you choose one of six types of acoustic environments that your music could be playing through.
The Vigor is everything we wanted out of the Japan asset price bubble of the early 90s; beautifully thoughtful engineering and a unique sense of driving purpose. The L.A. Times found the styling mundane, but the looks have aged well in a current sea of bloated proportions and gratuitous lines. See you on the RADwood Royalty lot next time.
1. Mercedes-Benz R107 SL
Starting in 1972, cars sold in the U.S. saw swelling bumpers, as regulations mandated each car to be able to withstand a 5-mph impact unscathed.
But this particular R107 features those beautiful chrome bumpers, exactly as Mercedes intended. The subtlety allows the long hood to be the centerpiece. The signal lights are the mascara to a face that looks longingly at you. The golden-brown color is deeply rich. Obsolete are the days of the acid-backed, tie-dye, psychedelic benders of the 1960s- bring on the autumn color palette of burnt orange and copper.
But ultimately, this car is “totally rad” because despite being sold at the cutoff of bumper regulation, the R107 would run a total of 17 years through 1989. We might not know for sure if the finance team begged the designers for a facelift sometime through the product cycle, but what Mercedes did in 1980 was almost too rad; they dropped in the 5.0-liter V8 and sold it for another decade.
Hanging in my closet is this vintage Harley Davidson long sleeve shirt. I paid a few dollars for it at a thrift store. It doesn’t have a particularly flattering fit, most people passing by me wouldn’t bestow a second look, and I’d probably be denied by a lot of bouncers out there. But I can wear it without worry, and people who appreciate interesting clothing graciously give compliments. And that’s how I feel about a pristine Volvo 240 GL or a GMC Cyclone -- the cars that are too often in the parking lot at car shows and not at center stage. But now we have something that gives them a fighting chance at a show medal.
.Thanks to the owners and the community who show us your raddest rides, who tell us your stories, and let us travel back in time.
The next RADwood show, RADwood Norcal, will be the biggest one yet! Sign up at www.radwood.co
Follow me on Instagram at @vabadsantos and @e30_stories, and be sure to follow the amazing team that helps make this all possible: @radwoodofficlal, @drivingwhileawesome, @clutchkickpodcast and @cammedandtubed.