He hits 45 where the posted speed is 15. Runyon Canyon slips by. The road hooks right. Guldstrand brakes without downshifting. He knows he doesn't have to. Mulholland is a reflex for him. He first drove it more than 50 years ago, and in the world of L.A. racers, he's a legend on this stretch of asphalt. Call him the dean of Mulholland Drive, professor emeritus of this two-lane racetrack.
Author's name: In Wednesday's Cars Commemorative Edition, a story about Mulholland Drive misspelled the name of the co-author of "The Mulholland Experience" as Dan Mcgee. It's Dan Magee. —
Fifty-five miles long, Mulholland Drive reaches above the smog, down to the beach and cuts Los Angeles in two. It is not Route 66, though its kicks are plentiful. Nor is it the sand- and salt-spun coastal route. Mulholland is instead a driver's road, an open invitation to forget about efficiency and expediency and experience a Los Angeles long lost to freeways, traffic and modern life.
Dusty and rugged, ethereal and dark, Mulholland holds truths about Los Angeles that are lost in the flatlands. Gary Cooper, James Dean and Steve McQueen heard the siren call of its S's and hairpins. David Hockney discovered a new city in its steep canyons, David Lynch found a dreamscape in its night and Michael Stipe said goodbye to the 20th century from its lonely overlooks.
For Gulstrand, it was all about speed. He cut his teeth driving hot rods on Sepulveda Boulevard at 3 a.m. and lake cars on the dusty playas of the Mojave. He got an engineering degree from UCLA, tried his hand in aerospace, but a '56 Corvette lured him to the track, and in no time he was competing and winning in his class in the big races: the Daytona 24-Hour Race, the Sebring 12-Hour Race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
His résumé describes an underworld of racing only Southern California could make possible. He started building his own cars in 1968 (Guldstrand Engineering is still a destination for the truly serious). He's built cars for Nicolas Cage and Bruce Springsteen, and he's even dropped a 383 Chevy engine into the governor's Hummer.
Still, fame is nothing when Mulholland beckons, as it always does, so close and so inviting. Driving this twisty serpent is "almost like freedom," he says. "It is like you're cheating death. You push yourself to the point where you're way beyond doing anything right if something should go wrong."
A UPS truck pulls in front of him, and he brakes to 25.
WHEN Mulholland Drive was completed in 1924, the city took the day off. It was just after Christmas, and the daylong celebration began in Calabasas.
William Mulholland, the man who stole water from the gods, was the honoree. It being Prohibition, he smashed a bottle of Owens Valley's finest over a foot-long key that opened a padlock to a floral gate stretched across the road. City fathers in fedoras squeezed in for photos, beaming in no small part over the $200,000 that remained from the $1 million bond issue.
Billed as a "gift of Los Angeles to her 1,250,000 inhabitants," the highway was named for the city's chief engineer, but the real hero was DeWitt L. Reaburn. From the groundbreaking in 1923 through the dedication just a year later, Reaburn pushed a crew of nearly 500 men through these mountains with steam shovels and blasting powder.
Today Mulholland winds its way west of Calabasas through arroyos thick with wild flowers and over sandstone ridges. Descending through a steep oak and eucalyptus canyon, it ends at Leo Carrillo State Park, where the surf nearly breaks on its footings.
In the city, it's Mulholland Drive. In the L.A. County stretch, it's Mulholland Highway, and through Topanga State Park, it is closed to traffic.
The landmarks of Mulholland are too famous to be anonymous. A few honor legendary drivers; most are merely shorthand for the traits of road.
Guldstrand winds around Deadmans Curve, a sharp hairpin just past Laurel Canyon, and he speeds up in approach to Carls Jr. and Carls, two back-to-back curves carved into the hillside just beneath the radio tower. Sweeper lies ahead, and then Grandstands.
He downshifts as he approaches a red light at Coldwater Canyon. The Corvette rumbles. "Come on," he mutters. He may be 80, but waiting for the light to change, he's as restless as a teenager on a drag strip. "Come on."
A cement mixer comes up the grade from the Valley. "Something you really don't want to meet on a switchback," he says as if he knows.