El Caballo Volador – The Flying Horse
Story by Raffi Minasian as published at Bring-a-Trailer
My girlfriend sat at her back porch as I pulled up to the house. By the time I made it to the front door, her mom was standing out front. “What is all that racket?” she said glaring at me. “Oh, um… well that might have been me. I’m not in the Mustang. I brought a different car.” She eyed me with that special expression all mothers learn in Mother’s School; the place where she earned her doctorate in how to politely throw down the stank-eye.
The Stank Eye
My girlfriend and I jumped in the Pegaso as her mom swaggered over. I pressed the starter. All four cams erupted, drowning out mom, eyes widened. “Is this thing safe? Why doesn’t it have mufflers? It smells like it might be on fire. Is it on FIRE?” I motioned to my ear that I could not hear her and backed down the driveway.
We hurtled down Alta Avenue toward the Pacific Coast Highway. I looked over at my girlfriend, her straw-blonde hair dancing in the wind. I notched second gear and smiled at her. It was one of those moments where everything was perfect. The Plexiglas side windows rattled furiously as the revs climbed, but we didn’t need to talk. We were all about the drive–Malibu-bound.
I parked at the distant end of the beach lot, we hopped out, grabbed hands and headed out past the Malibu Swim Club, neither of us ever imagining this would be the site of our wedding eight years later. When we returned there was a small gathering of people around the car. I answered questions. “Yes, Spanish. Pegaso. Peh-Gahs-Oh–the flying horse. 1953, Ricart. No, not Italian. Spanish. What’s it worth?… It’s worth driving as often as I can.”
The sun was slowly setting, sand in the carpets, air cooling off as the smoggy California sky glowed in the black body lines, Santa Monica dancing through the hood reflections as I motored home. It was 1982. Everything was perfect.
Bill Miller was a successful night club owner when he started buying and racing Ferraris, but he wanted something even more exotic. By the time my father and I met him in the late ’70s he’d already consigned his freshly-restored Pegaso to Christies for a big auction. Miller had purchased the car in Spain and imported it to the US, first to drive and enjoy, and then to restore. The auction included two spare engines, one supercharged, one with a single carburetor, both mounted on very nice stands.
The Pegaso V-8 was designed by Wildredo Ricart. The Pegaso all-alloy, dry-sump, quad-cam, 32-valve, desmodromic V-8 drives a rear-mounted 5-speed transaxle.
When bidding was done, Dad and I took the car home. Later that year we exhibited it at Pebble Beach and won third-in-class. Wondering why it didn’t win, I researched what was not correct on the car. Though Bill had restored it quite well for the time, it lacked many correct period details. I worked out a plan with Dad for what needed to be done. He put it off for a year, and another year, insisting that we should just enjoy the car. Being a dutiful son, I honored his request. For the next four years, I would drive it as often as I could. Through the streets of Santa Monica, up the coast, and sometimes into Westwood via San Vincente Blvd, a long two lane stretch with miles of roadway begging for quick jaunts to high speeds.
One day Bill and I gave the car a tuneup, adjusted the carbs, changed the oil, and then off we went, with Bill at the wheel. Coming onto the freeway onramp, Bill hammered the car and kept on it all the way into 3rd gear before coming off the throttle at about 90 mph. I’d never seen gears shift that quickly. I remember glancing over to watch his footwork on the pedals, but it was all a blur. “These cars like to be shown who’s boss. You can’t soft-pedal them.” Is now a good time to mention that Bill was 72 years old?
In 1985, dad passed away unexpectedly. Challenging times to be sure, but I told the family we would keep the Pegaso. It was going to Pebble Beach and it was going to win. It would take years, but along the way I would meet and work with some of the greatest craftsmen in the hobby, including Steve Moal. Nine years later, I sat on the lawn at Pebble with family, my closest friends, the straw-haired girlfriend (now my wife), restoration partner Stephen Block, and a first-place trophy sitting on the passenger seat.
We managed to gather a full class of Pegasos–the largest North American gathering ever. Even Anderloni of Touring Carrozzeria was there to shake our hands. Stephen Block, owner of the Pegaso Spider, had purchased my supercharged engine for restoration of his car. The other engine also found a home installed in a needy Z102 Coupe. No more than 90 Pegasos were ever built, but they were the finest of the period. Totally handmade and unique in every respect, they were the fastest cars in the world (for about three weeks before Jaguar took the crown), they were exorbitantly expensive, but they had to be. There was simply nothing quite like them at the time.
I sold the Thrill in 1995, a month after my first daughter was born. The buyer completed the sale with cash, commercial real estate in Oakland, California, and a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB 6C outside filler, torque-tube car (a story for another time). Brother used some of the proceeds to start his business, sister to reduce her medical school loans, and my young family bought our first house.
The new owner kept the Thrill for many years, finally selling it to a wealthy telecom businessman. I’ve reached out to him off and on recently with offers to share information on the car. I like to think he’s too preoccupied to reply. Perhaps he’s driving the Pegaso on the coast of some European city, sand on his carpets, sweetheart at his side, or dicing with Porsches, eyeballing the rearview mirror for gendarmes.
Above: Pegaso “Thrill” at the Paris Auto Show, 1953.
It’s not likely that anyone will ever drive the number of miles I put on that car. For me, the Pegaso Thrill lived up to its name in every respect; always a pleasure to drive, a brilliant ambassador introducing me to some of the most wonderful and talented people, and finally offering itself up to take good care of my family. A good car can do many things while you own it, but a great car leaves a lasting impression long after it’s been sold.
The lightweight body for this one-off Pegaso was built by Touring in Italy:
The magnificent Wildredo Ricart-designed V-8:
Hear that Ricart-designed Pegaso V-8 in action (in a different Pegaso) Click to play:
Be sure to read the COMMENT THREAD below the story at Bring-a-Trailer. There is great commentary and further education about the Pegaso cars.