Mechanic Doug Christopher ran life on a handshake

When the January 1988 storm swept Doug Christopher's '62 VW Bug into the water, the master auto mechanic had it towed out and running in 30 minutes. Photo courtesy of Bennett Talsky

by Kevin Cody

Shortly after midnight on the morning of January 18, 1988, Doug Christopher, and Bennett Talsky met up in the King Harbor Yacht Club parking lot. Christopher was there to check on his 65-foot bugeye ketch, Pandora. Talsky was living on his 32-foot Tollycraft, and had come ashore as a precaution.

The previous day a 20-foot-plus swell cleared Redondo Breakwall, and blew out the windows of the Portofino Hotel. The Yacht Club parking lot looked like a jigsaw puzzle that had been tossed in the air. The Yacht Club itself was in jeopardy of a similar fate. Like the parking lot, the club was built on a floating foundation, rather than secured by pilings sunk into bedrock. 

As Christopher and Talsky shared concerns about their boats another large swell cleared the breakwall. Christophers’s green ‘62 VW bug, a car famous for its floatation, thanks to Teddy Kennedy and the Chappaquiddick incident, rode the wave across the lot and through the guardrail into the harbor.

Christopher’s VW only half floated. The rear end of the rear engine car sunk.

Christopher convinced a tow truck driver to fish out his bug.

The driver asked why not wait until morning. Christopher told him he needed the car to get home. The tow driver bet Christopher $50 the car wouldn’t start. 

The tow truck driver didn’t know Christopher owned Automeister, a garage on Pacific Coast Highway in Manhattan Beach that specialized in VWs. Or that Christopher had taught motorcycle mechanics at LA Trade Tech.

Christopher drove the car home 30 minutes later, after collecting his $50.

“He flushed the carburetor, and because the gas tank was filled with saltwater, he went to his boat and brought back his little outboard tank,” Talsky recently recalled as he shared stories about his boating friend of 50 years.

Doug Christopher and Bennett Talsky aboard Christopher’s 65-foot bugeye ketch, Pandora. Photo courtesy of Bennett Talsky

Talsky, who grew up on Catalina Island, met Christopher in the early ‘80s when Christopher sailed his Pandora into Avalon flying a pirate flag. 

Christopher passed away last month from natural causes at age 83. 

Christopher was 12 years old when he bought a box of motorcycle parts. 

“The only way to get it to run was to put it together,” the Los Angeles Mesa News Advertiser reported in a 1967 story about the LA Trade Tech motorcycle repair class Christopher was teaching. 

In 1962, he was Calififornia’s number one ranked lightweight scramble rider. The following year was the top ranked novice in the nation.

Christopher purchased Auto-Meister in the early ‘70s, just after release of “Herbie the Love Bug,” when VW sales peaked. 

In the early ‘80, Christopher sold the Auto-Meister to Randy Montoya, who started work at Auto-Meister when he was 17 and still owns it.

Montoya remembers Christopher as “a man of his word.”

“If you dealt with him, it was with a handshake. I signed a lease with him,” Montoya said.

Christopher moved to Chloride, Arizona, a former mining town ( pop. 297), and resumed motorcycle riding. He also kept a home in Lake Havasu, where he kept a pontoon boat after having sold Pandora. 

Services have not yet been planned. ER


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