Resident Car Guy
Tiburon's Bruce Ross is a hands-on enthusiast.
Photo by Tim Porter
Some guys slow down when they get older. Bruce Ross isn’t one of them. At 72, the retired architect, former Tiburon mayor and, well, yes, absolute car nut seems to be going faster and faster—especially if he’s behind the wheel of his classic Porsche racer.
The event raised a little bit of money ($750) for the Belvedere/Tiburon Library and helped out the local Rotary Club, which cosponsored the show, but bringing all those cars and their owners together was as much about creating community as it was about charity—and that’s something Ross has been involved in even longer than he’s been wild about cars.
Ross’ community connections are many: president of the Tiburon Advisory Council, chairman of the Harbor and Lagoon Plan committee, member of the Planning Commission and City Council, town mayor in 1977 and 1978. Out of office, he kept his civic hand in, helping establish Tiburon’s new Town Hall, new police station, Zelinsky Park and the Hilarita housing development.
During it all, Ross raised a family and worked—as a partner in his San Francisco architectural firm, Backen, Arrigoni & Ross. Not surprisingly, considering that overachiever might be a reasonable adjective to use about now, he made such significant design-, education- and public-service-related contributions to the field of architecture that in 1995 the American Institute of Architects inducted him into the College of Fellows. Locally, the Tiburon Peninsula Chamber of Commerce named him Citizen of the Year for 2000-01.
A grease-stained past
Ross got bit by the automotive bug early. He spent his high school years in Portland, Oregon, “covered in grease,” he recalls, most of it from old Fords he was customizing. He took more to designing cars’ exteriors than to repairing the interiors, though: “I’m an artist and an architect so I have some mechanical skills, but they’re not great,” he says. “I was better at bodywork.”
After high school he went into the air force and, during basic training, saw a draftsman working at a table. How can I get a job like that? Ross asked. He took the required test, passed and spent his four-year stretch in the service as an architectural draftsman.
Back in civilian life, Ross enrolled at the University of Oregon to study architecture. By then he was already married and he and his wife, Sylvia, had three young children. School was a challenge, but Ross persisted, graduated and eventually founded Backen, Arrigoni & Ross, whose local projects include the San Rafael Corporate Center and numerous facilities at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch.
College study also left Ross with something else—a love for the classic lines of the early Porsche sports cars, especially the 356 models. “That car is an unbelievable piece of sculpture,” he says.
Since young architects with families don’t spend their money on vintage Porsches, Ross had to wait until his career was well established to indulge his passion for the German sports car. He was in his mid-50s in 1991 when he bought an ivory-white 1964 Porsche 356 coupe for $11,000. He enjoyed conquering the Porsche’s rear-engine driving challenges and soon was smitten with the way the little coupe handled Marin’s curving roads.
The roadster provided weekend amusement, but soon Ross also discovered that Don Sandy, a colleague in another architectural firm, raced vintage Porsches. Ross volunteered to become a member of his pit crew (servicing cars at pit stops), and Sandy became a willing mentor. After five years in the pit, Ross decided he was ready for a better view of the track, from behind the wheel.
With the encouragement of another friend and racer, San Rafael dentist Gary Boreo, Ross took the plunge. He got his hands on a 1962 Porsche 356 coupe that had body damage and no engine. It made a nice match for the Super 90 engine Ross had previously bought. He embarked on a yearlong restoration project.
While his new racer was coming together, Ross enrolled in the Bondurant Racing School at what was then Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma. He did further training at a Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) school so that by the time his car was ready to join the scrimmage on the track, he was, too.
These days Ross races eight times a year, usually finishing in the top third. His Porsche conforms to 1962 SCCA rules and he’s proud that it is an honest, historically accurate entrant. The authenticity also keeps the add-ons in check so his racing budget doesn’t go spiraling out of control.