Then and Now: 90 Years of Auto Biz at the Former Mission Chevrolet Dealership


Recently, Bernalwood noticed a big For Sale/Lease sign on the facade of our locavore auto partsmonger, the stylish O’Reilly store on Mission at Precita.

More changes, afoot?  Perhaps. Eventually. Inevitably. Because change is the only constant.

Come what may, the thing to remember about this particular building is that it was originally constructed in the late 1920’s as the showroom for Mission Chevrolet, an automobile dealership established during the early years of the motorcar revolution, at a time when this corner of Bernal Heights was making a dramatic transition from equine industries to internal combustion.

Here’s the location of today’s O’Reilly store, as seen in 1927 on Mission Street looking north at Precita:


Mission Chevrolet was still under construction in left-center of the image, so let’s zoom and enhance to take a closer look at the facade. The Chevrolet bow tie sign is clearly visible, just to the right of the Delicatessen Grill (which is now home to Virgil’s):


It’s nifty to see the front of the old Chevy dealership. But the back side of the building was way cooler.

The front door to the Mission Chevrolet showroom was on Mission Street, but the Service entrance was on Valencia, just south of Army/Cesar Chavez. This contemporary aerial photograph from the Bernalwood Intelligence Agency makes the building’s configuration clear to see:


Now, here’s what Mission Chevrolet’s Valencia facade looked like in the late 1920s, courtesy of a photo from the Bernal History Project:


Again, let’s zoom and enhance:


First. OMG! Look at Bernal Hill in the background. So naked and soooo cuuuuute! No Sutrito Tower. No trees. No party hat!

In the 1920s photo of the Valencia side, some of the architectural details are a little hard to distinguish. But they’re easy to visualize… because they’re still there today! Here’s the same spot, in 2014:


The flagpole remains on the far right side of the building, as well as the Spanish-style roof, and the arches from the original entrances. But the coolest detail is the bas–relief roundel right above the arches. The reliefs are still there, and if you look closely, you can still see a Chevrolet from the late 1920s embedded in the facade:


It’s a fun element, because it’s a representation of a late 1920s Chevrolet that’s baked into the building facade, rather like a bug in amber.

Picture it: Here’s what you’d get for your hard-earned Bernal dollars if you wandered down to Mission Chevrolet in 1928.

1928 Chevrolet Ad


Neighbor Tracks Coolant Trail to Find Car Used in Hit-and-Run


Neighbor Margo tells the tale of a Bernal neighbor who followed a trail of antifreeze to find the vehicle that hit his parked car:

On Saturday we noticed police activity outside our home, and upon inquiring, learned that a guy from Peralta Avenue, on other side of the hill, heard a hit and run in the middle of the night outside his home — which damaged his car, parked in front of his house.

The perp or perps were gone before he could get outside.

In the morning, he followed a trail of leaking radiator fluid up and over the hill, and with some deductive reasoning, ended up at a bashed-in car, apparently abandoned on our block, 1500 block of Hampshire, just above the gas station.

I thought it was interesting, because he did his own footwork and found the perp’s car — unlike so many of the hit-and-runs recently.

PHOTO: Neighbor Margo

This is America’s Most Badass Volvo Station Wagon, and It’s from Bernal Heights


This weekend, those grease-stained fathers from the Bernal Dads Racing team will depart Bernal Heights to compete at the Thunderhill Park Raceway in scenic Willows, California. That’s where they plan to race The Whale — their battle-scarred Volvo 240 station wagon — in yet another another absurdist 24 Hours of LeMons endurance race.

This represents the latest in a long series of comebacks for The Whale, which has suffered countless blows and indignities during its long racing career.

Indeed, this race car is so valiant, so unstoppable, so tolerant of abuse, and so much more nimble than you’d imagine any erstwhile family truckster to be that Bernalwood is hereby anointing The Whale as America’s Most Badass Volvo Station Wagon. And, just like you, The Whale calls Bernal Heights home.

Neighbor Brandon from Bernal Dads Racing makes the case for The Whale’s paramount badassitude:

Bernal Dads Racing has been circling West Coast race tracks for six-and-a-half years and 20 or so 24 Hours of LeMons races. The Whale, aka La Polpetta Svedese, aka a white 1985 Volvo 240 wagon rescued from Craigslist, has been our main ride for almost all of this storied racing career, taking the green flag in 17 of those 20 races. We later added a second car, a 1995 Miata with identity issues, to allow more Dads to race. But The Whale has always been the heart of our operation — and it remains so to this day.

The Whale is a survivor. We didn’t know this when we chose it; we just wanted a rear-wheel-drive car, and it seemed appropriate for a bunch of dads to race a family wagon optimized for hauling kids to soccer practice. So we bought one. Here’s how The Whale looked before we met… when it was just another suburban Volvo for sale on Craigslist:


Then came the race-prep, and the installation of a roll cage and racing seat, and the happy afterlife. Chloe’s Closet sponsored the back doors, and the Stray Bar (sniff) bought the hood:


In its second race, at the notorious Altamont Speedway, an overly ambitious competitor slammed into the front wheel, bending the strut so far that the tire rubbed against it. Once a spare was sourced from another team running a Volvo, it was back on the track in 30 minutes. This pattern has been repeated many, many times since: Race, wreck, repair, race more.

In a race at Sears Point, The Whale was T-boned so severely that the passenger side of the roll cage bent inward and the engine popped right off its mounts. Our resident Volvo expert eyeballed the motor mount dimensions, gave them to a machinist, and The Whale was back on track in short order. (The big dent on the passenger side remains to this day.)

Later, in red-and-white “Team Lettuce” livery, The Whale proved itself to be an adept competitor in fair weather …


… and foul:


At another Sears Point race, while finally in the lead of our class, the engine suffered a catastrophic loss of oil and total failure. This turned out to be the only race where The Whale failed to take the checkered flag at the end of the weekend.

At another race, the transmission gave up the ghost (also at Sears Point… hmmm), but Neighbor Ben, our resident Volvo whisperer, located a spare via a Volvo forum. We picked it up from a home in San Rafael, where the transmission had been used as a lawn ornament. After an overnight swap, The Whale was back on track the next day. That’s still the transmission we’re using.

The Whale has been through more fenders than we can count. Our hoods have not fared much better.

The Dads’ most recent LeMons race, last June at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in wilds of the Central Valley near Bakersfield, proved to be another classic Whale outing. This video pretty much sums up the weekend. Our fastest lap of the weekend was immediately followed by a very hard front-end collision (jump ahead to about 3:30 in the video) as our aspirations for race glory crashed to the ground:

Notice that despite the hard impact, The Whale started right back up again. The other car? It was pushed onto a trailer and carted home a few hours later.

Here’s another view of the crash, as seen from the front seat of the car that triggered the wreck. From this perspective, I like how it looks as if The Whale is eating the other car:

This is me, posing with The Whale after I brought it back in to the paddock:



After lots of banging of sledgehammers, jumping, and jacking, The Whale was back on track fifteen minutes later. The body was a mess, but the mechanicals were fine, the radiator was undamaged, and the front suspension even remained aligned. Then it was back to racing:


The Whale is a survivor. It’s been through vehicular combat. Then more vehicular combat. And then some more after that. And pretty much it does not give up.

Although there were a few more moments of drama, The Whale completed that last race despite all the damage and abuse it had sustained. Here’s how it looked a few weeks later, after we removed the bent sheet metal and rotten flesh:


Now, however, The Whale has received another new hood, a new bumper, a new grill, a new radiator housing, and yet another new fender… with a new shark-mouth painted by Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter:


Then we put it all back together, with more turning of bolts and banging of hammers. Here is what The Whale looks like now, as we head to the track this weekend:


Good as new!  Next stop: Thunderhill Raceway.

No matter what happens there, most of the Bernal Dads have already concluded that our kids’ first cars will be old Volvos.

For trackside updates on The Whale this weekend, check out the Bernal Dads Racing page on Facebook.

UPDATE: 15 September Wheeee! Here’s your post-race report: Last weekend at Thunderhill, The Whale did what the Whale does best… it just did not quit. The car was flawless all weekend, with no mechanical glitches.

LeMons at Thunderhill 2014

The humans who drove it were not so impeccable, however. In particular, your Bernalwood editor racked up some shameful penalties that proved very costly. Despite that — or, rather, despite me — the Bernal Dads still had an excellent weekend. The Whale not only finished the race, but it finished ninth in it’s class — its best finish ever. Here’s the team’s post-Thunderhill glamor photo:


PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

Security Camera Reveals Face of Thief Breaking Into Cars on Bonview


If you’ve ever had someone break into your car, you’ve probably experienced the fantasy that involves being able to see the face of the dirtball who violated your space and took your stuff — if only to know what kind of person is that kind of an dirtball.

Well, someone broke into Neighbor Mike’s car on Bonview just before 6 am last Monday morning, and his security camera captured the whole thing:

I caught a thief on our security camera canvassing our block and stealing from my car. (I left my car doors unlocked, doh!)

The thief really took his time going through my car, and notice how he doesn’t slam the doors or the trunk, just gently closes them to not make noise. It’s creepy knowing this was happening right below me while I slept.

Side note, he only got a tray full of quarters. Luckily I didn’t have any valuables in the car.

Sit back, grab some popcorn, and get a good look at the dirtball who swiped some stuff from Neighbor Mike’s car:

Car Overturns Under Suspicious Circumstances on Bernal Hill



Drama!  Bad driving! Vehicular inversion! A suspicion of crime! On Bernal Hill!

There was an accident on the north side of Bernal Heights Boulevard late Saturday morning that left a vehicle overturned in a rather unlikely place. Neighbor Benjamin shared his photos, and this report from the scene:

On Saturday at about 11:20 AM, while waiting for the bus at Bradford and Esmeralda, I heard a terrific crash, and went to investigate.  This is what I saw when I arrived.  Witnesses said the four occupants of the car had all run off, which I take to mean they were probably up to no good.  Though on the plus side, that also probably means they were unhurt.  I tuned in to the Bernalwood blog this morning to get the details and was dismayed to find no mention of these events.

No further details on this yet, but Bernalwood will update this post as additional information becomes available.

PHOTOS: Neighbor Benjamin

City May Offer Svanemyr Family $15 Million in Fatal Holly Park Hit and Run Settlement


The Examiner has an update on the tragic case of Christy Svanemyr, the woman who was killed in Holly Park after she was run over by a San Francisco Rec and Park department truck last September. The Examiner says Svanemyr family is pursuing a lawsuit against the City:

San Francisco may be required to pay $15.13 million to the family of the mother who was fatally run over by a municipal pickup truck at Holly Park last year. A Recreation and Park Department gardener, Thomas Burnoski, remains on trial charged with vehicular manslaughter in connection with the hit and run incident.

The pending settlement comes nearly a year after 35-year-old Daly City resident Christine Svanemyr was fatally run over while lying on the grass with her 11-month-old child and small dog in the Bernal Heights park. The child and dog were not injured.

The Recreation and Park Commission on July 17 recommended approval of the proposed $15.13 million settlement of the legal claim filed last year by the victim’s husband, Vegar Svanemyr, according to a Recreation and Park Department official. It would ultimately require approval by the Board of Supervisors.

The Examiner also reports that the felony vehicular manslaughter charges filed against Thomas Burnoski, the Rec and Park employee who was driving the truck that killed Christy Svanemyr, are also underway. A pretrial conference took place earlier this week, and Burnoski is scheduled to return to court on September 4.

PHOTO: Flowers at the site where Christy Svanemyr was killed, photographed on Saturday, Sept 7, 2013 by Telstar Logistics

Bring Your Cool Car (and Maybe Your Kids) on the 2014 Bernal GT 100



2011 Bernal GT

There are a great many car rallies in this world, but there are very few where you may see a Ferrari used as a donut rack.

The Bernal GT just happens to be one such rally.

The Bernal GT is an annual confab of local cars, kids, donuts, and scenic mountain roads organized by the gearhead family men of the Bernal Dads Racing Team. By design, then, The Bernal GT was created to provide opportunity to dust off classic-ish cars, stuff a kid or two into the seats, and partake of some spirited gran tourismo with a group of like-minded motorheads (and mini-motorheads).

The 2014 Bernal GT 100 happens this Saturday, May 17, and Neighbor Fiid extends the invitation:

The Bernal Dads are proud to announce the fifth Bernal GT 100!!

As in past years, this is the kid friendly– but not kid necessary– run beginning and ending in the vicinity of Bernal Heights.
The Bernal GT is simply a drive, not a race or competition for awards, trophies, pink slips, bragging rights, or spiritual attainment.

Bring an old car *or* a newer car with a kid *or* better still– an old car and a kid. If you have something new and interesting that can work too, but no minivans or SUVs unless you’ve stuffed a blown small-block in it or something.

This is a free event, and will not cost anything to participate.

Like last year, We’ll try to bring airline barf bags for anyone bringing kids (or weak-stomached adults). There will probably be donuts and coffee, but no promises.

When: Saturday, May 17, 2014
Time: 9:30am to mid-afternoon
Where: The parking lot at Fort Funston.
Length: Somewhere between 80 and 120 Miles
Cost: Nothing
We are looking for the following:

  • - Car of 1980 model year or older
  • - If you have kids 17 years or younger and/or kids in car seats, newer cars can work.
  • - Rare and/or exotic cars 1981 model year and newer

Wanna join in? You should join in!

RSVP by sending the following info to:

1) Drivers Name, Co Driver & other passengers
2) Phone Number
3) Kids Along: Yes or No
4) Your Vehicle’s Name:
5) Vehicle Info: Year, Make, & Model

Cheers, and hope to see you on the 17th!!

Your Bernalwood Editor and our Cub Reporter will be covering the Bernal GT this weekend; look for us in the Bernalwood Action News Mobile Uplink Miata.

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics