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Westside Watch

Steam Rises From Charity Car Event

August 03, 1995

Let's all fire up our Stanley Steamers and puff on down to the Beverly Hills High School campus, scene of last weekend's charity car bash.

Maybe bash isn't the right word when we're talking about cars. Never mind.

There was Jay Leno, crawling under his Vanderbilt Cup Racer, a steam-powered car much like the one that set a speed record of 127 m.p.h. in 1906.

"Essentially, you're driving a water heater," said the entertainer, who has a couple of the exotic vehicles in his spacious garage.

To get a water heater moving, you first have to ignite the pilot light, which burns the kerosene, which boils the water, which moves the pistons, which moves the car at freeway speeds at low cost and with little pollution.

Of course, some people don't think so when they see the huge clouds of vapor coming out the back.

"They yell obscenities at you," Leno said. "Then you tell them it's just steam and they wave."

Leno said he likes to tinker with the 89-year-old vintage vehicle himself.

With only 13 moving parts, maintenance is minimal.

"You just have to be careful," he said.

Steam car enthusiasts are easy to recognize by the lack of eyebrows and hair on their arms.

Oh yes, the bash.

It raised about $60,000 for the Blind Childrens Center of Los Angeles, the Beverly Hills Education Foundation, the Beverly Hills D.A.R.E. Program and the Beverly Hills CPR Committee.

It featured sexy vehicles such as a beach rescue truck from the "Baywatch" TV show and a 1971 Mercedes convertible owned by Robert L. Shapiro (you remember him--he's the attorney who works with Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.)

Then there was the GMC truck that Clint Eastwood drove in "The Bridges of Madison County."

Be still, our throbbing motor.

IT AIN'T THE CHAMPS ELYSEES: When Santa Monica residents got together recently to dream up ideas of how to prettify the city's blandest strip--Pico Boulevard--their minds went straight to the gutter.

The storm drains are an opportunity for public art with a message, said Karen Ginsberg, a planning manager, since much of the polluted storm water running beneath Pico Boulevard will wind up draining out of the infamous Pico-Kenter storm drain.

In addition to artistic gutters, there's talk about installing a neon gateway at the city's eastern border along Centinela Avenue, eucalyptus or palm trees, banners, light standard decorations, landscaped medians and better bus stops.

As yet, there's no money earmarked for this vision.

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