A LOOK BACK IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR – PART 1 Remembering SoCal Car Culture with Chuck Miller and his 1973 911S


Photos by Randy Wells, Andrea Wells, and the Chuck Miller Collection

Chuck Miller is not used to looking in his mirrors. If you are chasing him and his Porsche 911 through the Santa Monica Mountains in California, it’s your responsibility to keep up.

Keeping up with Chuck could be a full time job. A SoCal native and ardent car enthusiast, Chuck is well known in the early 911 community for the very reason that he is always involved. For more than two decades he has served as the creative director, forum moderator, and a board member of the Early 911S Registry. For the same amount of time he has been racing his 1973 911S with the Porsche Owners Club.

Then there is his contribution to the R Gruppe, where he has championed driving these cars in a sports purpose manner from the club’s earliest beginnings. That dedicated belief earned him the first R Gruppe Perpetual Treffen/Sports Purpose Day People’s Choice Award.

Ultimately, Chuck has been instrumental in the SoCal early 911 movement over the past twenty-five years. As a result, he is most often identified with the ‘73 911S featured here. So much so, that “Chuck Miller Blue” has become a synonym for the paint code used on his Porsche. His 911 was also chosen to represent the 1973 model year at the Laguna Seca Porsche parade lap during the 1998 Monterey Historic Automobile Races.

To really understand the man behind the Metallic Blue 911, we need to go back to Los Angeles car culture in the early 1960s. What began in 1963, as a job sweeping up in a speed shop at age 14, became a lifelong sports car obsession for Chuck. That was the year he attended his first L.A. drag race. Then, in 1966, at age 17, Chuck met Hector Vasquez during his second year in high school.

Hector’s family had moved from Argentina when Hector was 6 years old, but not before his father had placed him on his shoulders to watch the great Juan Fangio race at the Grand Prix of Argentina. Needless to say, Chuck and Hector hit it off right away and became involved in sports car racing together ever since.

A pivotal event occurred when Hector’s father took the two young men to see John Surtees win the 1966 Los Angeles Times Grand Prix, which was the first Can Am Race at Riverside Raceway.  The impression of the thundering Lolas, McLarens, and Chaparrals driven side by side on a road course by men like Mark Donohue, Graham Hill, Peter Revson, George Follmer, and Jim Hall left a deep impression. Chuck and Hector soon began working together as mechanic assistants at S & A Italian Auto Repair on Sepulveda Blvd. in Van Nuys.  

Hector Vasquez, second from left, and Chuck, second from right, share a laugh with friends about the message on their pit signal board. Below a collection of cars the two have owned, left: Chuck with Hector’s 1973 Alfa GTA coupe; right Chuck’s 1967 Cal Bug, photographed in 1988.

The S & A shop had always been a fertile environment for hatching dreams. Chuck and Hector soon promised each other that someday they would have their very own fast sports cars. In 1967 Hector bought a 1959 Alfa Romeo Spider, while Chuck bought a 1954 Volkswagen Beetle to hop up.

Like other local rebels, they took their cars up to Mulholland Drive above Hollywood and proceeded to memorize the corners in order to hone their early driving skills. Two years later Chuck sold his VW and bought Hector’s 1959 Alfa with a 1400cc kit. With that sports car, Chuck really experienced the lore of that fabled location first hand. He later told himself, “If I could live through those years without writing myself and the car off, I knew I’d probably be okay for the rest of my life.”

Chuck recalls that juncture in sports car racing history clearly today. “I continued going to Riverside throughout the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and I watched the development of the Can Am series. I also went to the Elkhart Lake Can-Am in 1971, where I saw Jo Siffert drive a Porsche 917.”

In the meantime, Hector had begun preparing a racecar, an Alfa GTA. Chuck looks back on that era with a fond recollection, “There was a time when you could go out to Willow Springs and just test there for free. There was nothing and nobody around for miles. I remember this one weekend in 1972 when we towed the Alfa out there to do some testing. We had a buddy of ours from Pasadena, Tom Hines, who would sometimes come along and help out. Tom had recently bought a Burgundy 1969 911S.

Chuck’s memory of that crucial moment still burns, “When it came time for lunch, the only place to go was a little deli a few miles away. Tom volunteered and said ‘I’ll go get some sandwiches’, and I said ‘I’ll go with you to hold the stuff’.  So we jumped in the Porsche and headed out onto Willow Springs Road where it meets Rosamond Highway. Tom makes a left turn, plants his foot on the floor, and it literally throws me into the back seat! Tom was a big guy, so the car was carrying a lot of weight, and it was only 2 liters. The thing is crazy fast, and he goes through all the gears – foot on the floor, all the way to the deli.”

He continues, “When we arrived at the deli I was just shaking my head. After we got our sandwiches, Tom did the same thing all the way back to the track. I came to the realization that this car, which was driven all the way from Pasadena and sat in the pits all morning, was faster than the race car we were testing on the track!” Chuck filed that experience away in his memory bank and later decided that any car you could drive like that AND drive home, had to be the right way to go.

End of Part 1

Article Copyright 2018 Randy Wells. All Rights Reserved.

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