Raffi & Mona Lisa Vito’s 1969 Barracuda Convertible
By Raffi Minasian. Originally posted at Bring-a-Trailer
The new job was pretty much ideal. I’d graduated in December 1987, a month or so after Black Monday, the largest one-day market crash in history (22%). Jobs were scarce so I was glad to have one–just one month into 1988, I was working full-time and raking in money at a Beverly Hills design studio near swanky Rodeo Drive. Having been a starving student for so long, it was easy to maintain a lean lifestyle for two more years, allowing me to save up for more cars.
Another plus was my new apartment, walking distance from the office. Situated on the border between LA and Beverly (I could see the famous “Welcome to Beverly Hills” sign from our balcony), I often referred to our apartment as “Baja Beverly Hills”.
One morning while walking to work, I fixed my eyes on the taillights of a ’69 Barracuda convertible. Looking sad, but complete, it had all the makings of a potentially easy restoration. As I approached, details revealed some history. Texas longhorns bail-wired to the front bumper, cheetah pattern seat covers, balding tires, pull-out radio and faded paint.
Unable to confirm the engine, I dropped to the underside and witnessed the V8 oil pan, I left the obligatory windshield note: “If you’d ever consider selling your car, I am a local cash buyer, ready to go.” I left my home number (this was 1988 after all… no cell phones). Having previously placed notes on cars to no avail, it’s amazing I bothered to persevere, but, as fate would have it, I got a call about a month later. A woman on the other end said she was leaving the state and needed to quickly sell the car. We agreed to meet.
She was lithe, young and wearing a man-sized sweatshirt and torn jeans. Immediately charming, despite being shy, she felt familiar. As she spoke, I recalled her having been in the first episodes of The Cosby Show spin-off “A Different World” in which one of the young Huxtables embarks on college life. As we spoke about the car I blurted out “You were Lisa Bonet’s roommate!!” She feigned an eyeroll, pretended not to care about the notoriety, then said she needed to sell the car because she was heading to New York in the hopes of getting a movie deal in “some bit comedy picture”. I talked about cars. She talked about acting.
We sat on the front steps of the house where she was staying with friends and talked for about an hour. Our conversation became pensive, moving toward her dreams, how to survive being in a creative field, and how much work it was even though people seldom understood, or few ever believed “a lucky break” was ever going to happen. I looked at her and said “It’s going to happen for you. Things happen when I say they will.” She smirked “You’re kind to say so, Cuda-Man. But I’m gonna need a lot more support along the way. Selling this will really help, but thanks for the good vibes.”
She was asking $4,000 – far too much for a car that needed work, but I was flush with cash from the new job and I figured why not support the arts. We shook hands, I handed her a check, she signed the pink slip, and off we went to the bank. Me cruising with Marisa Tomei in her ’69 Barracuda Convertible, she sitting in the passenger seat, hair flailing in the LA wind, biting her nails until we got to the bank.
She deposited the check, funds were clear, and I drove her home. “Good luck in New York” I said. Then she leaned over the center console. “What’s this Mah-ri-Ssssa?” I thought, as she moved towards me. “The radio comes with me. Did I tell you that? It’s not really mine, it’s my brother’s.” She fumbled with the latch, the radio slipped out, and she hustled out the door.
When I arrived at my place, my girlfriend (soon to be wife) immediately fell in love with the car. Seeing her happy, I told her the story of how I found it, then promptly gave it to her. Even without a radio, she was elated. We put on a new set of tires, and carefully removed the Texas long horns. Jim, a model maker from Texas, became the elated new owner of the long horns, attaching them above his shop entry.
The cheetah skins were discarded, and a set of correct black vinyl seat covers replaced the thread-bear originals. We never did anything else after that except drive and enjoy it. Turned out to be one of the most reliable cars we ever owned.
A year later, I ran into Marisa at the local store, this time she was even more de-glammed with a hoodie, sweatpants, and giant sunglasses. I called her name, she took off her sunglasses and said “Cuda-Man!! How are you?!!” in a bright voice. We spoke for a while in the aisle. She said her new movie was coming out next year and I would LOVE IT, cause it was all about cars and car stuff and it was hilarious.
She even got to go “Full Brooklyn” (where she was born and raised) bringing her unique accent to the part. She was a totally different person, full of energy. Charged up. Not the shy and worried wanna-be actress with an uncertain future. “You were right!” she said “It IS going to happen for me.” And she beamed that amazing smile. I smiled back and told her how much fun the car was, and that we were driving it all the time. “That’s wonderful. Now tell me something else that’s gonna happen for me. You got amazing mojo.”
I looked at her and said “You are going to win an Oscar.” She laughed out loud, slapped my shoulder, and flashed that brilliant smile, lighting up the cereal aisle. “You are Cray-Zee Cuda-Man, but I LIKE your confidence!!” We said good-bye. I never saw Marisa Tomei again in person, but when she won the Oscar for her role as Mona Lisa Vito in “My Cousin Vinnie” my wife and I cheered from the second story of our home, atop the garage that housed her Barracuda convertible.
Turned out… Cuda-Man was right again.
Images: NBC, The Raffi Collection
More by Raffi Minasian:
• Raffi’s Pegaso: The “Thrill” of a Lifetime
• Raffi’s Pegaso
• Sludgo’s Mom & Raffi’s Granddad
• Raymond Loewy & Raffi Minasian