Thank you to Coco Mats for supporting this feature column. Coco Mats were the mat of choice in so many of our cars as we rallied through and educated ourselves about Black history in Los Angeles.

The question often arises: what do you like doing with your cars? What qualifies as a good “car day” for you? Are you into Club Racing? Do you like autocrossing? Are car meets your thing? Do you like wrenching in the garage? Do you like long drives through twisty roads? Or do you simply enjoy a quality, reliable, sporty car for your transportation needs?

Host Rashod Bacon’s 1969 1600 is queued up for the start of the Black History Month Rally.

All of those work for me, but, as Saturday approaches, I typically start to think of which car meets I’ll attend. That can be to see friends, see cars, get coffee and food (Hello, Good Time!), and sometimes buy stuff from vendors (I see you, DieCast Support Group). But this weekend, I appreciated another aspect of a car-derived activity—learning. I went on the Motoring While Black Black History Month Rally in downtown Los Angeles.

Bacon having a blast in his BMW 1600. [Photo by Matt Schwartz.]

The Motoring While Black brand is the brainchild of Rashod Bacon. I met Rashod through various car events and activities and admire his automotive and community-driven enthusiasm. He is a member of many automotive organizations including BMW CCA and admires cars from around the globe, owning examples from Japan, the U.S., Germany, and more. His latest is a 1969 BMW 1600, now swapped with an M20 (the inline six commonly found in 325i-spec 1980s E30 3 Series) along with many other upgrades. When I saw he was hosting a Black History Month Rally on Saturday, February 24, I knew that would be my move.

Most of us grabbed pre-rally coffee at Harun Coffee in Leimert Park Village as we gathered.

About 25 people met at Harun Coffee in Leimert Park Village, an area known as the hub of African American Art and Culture in Los Angeles.  As a Black-owned business in that vibrant village—concurrently hosting a street fair that morning (shout out to Greg Atkins, owner of Indigenous Massage, set up on the street welcoming me with a fun chat about the cars that had gathered)—it was a perfect meeting and launching point for the rally.

Host Bacon addresses the participants in front of Harun Coffee.

“This event is about the brand, about celebrating people of color, supporting Black businesses, bringing people together,” Bacon says. “The community was asking for something to recognize and support Black History Month and after last year’s Motoring While Black Black History Month party with Mattel and Race Service. So, for a sophomore effort, we looked at a little more intimate way to do that this year. This city has a rich history and tradition of contributions from Black people and other people of color. A lot of times, we are existing in this space, but are not really the best at telling the stories and passing them down generationally. We might drive past these landmarks and not even know it.”

Schwartz and fellow BMW owner, Jeremy Belanger, talk before departing for the rally.

While not a BMW CCA event, members were represented by at least Bacon, me, Matt Schwartz, and Leo Mayorquin. (By the way, if you ever need to know about automotive events in the LA area, visit Mayorquin’s Instagram account, @cncpics, and you’ll find them.) While it was a structured rally with detailed paths and instructions, I convinced Schwartz to ride with me, not just because he knows LA better than I do, but because this was a cool time to catch up and hang out, too. Between the two of us, we have three different types of E36s—and soon to be four!— so we shared notes about those similarities and differences.

Each participant received the rally guide that included some history about many of the sites we’d pass and visit. (Yes, this was intentionally positioned on those fine Coco Mats!)

We rolled out on Crenshaw Blvd, described in the rally’s literature as having “a rich legacy as a thriving hub of African American life, art, culture, and athletics…home of many historical landmarks, once celebrated for its lively comedy scene and its deep connection to the car culture.”

The Dunbar, now part of Somerville Village on Central Ave., has a rich history dating back almost 100 years.

Through the first part of the rally, we passed many other landmarks, including the First AME Zion Church, the oldest African American congregation in Los Angeles, and the 5-4 Ballroom, which used to host blues and R&B royalty like Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, BB King, and James Brown. The first segment wrapped up at The Dunbar, tracing its history back almost 100 years to when it opened as The Somerville Hotel in 1928. The Dunbar Hotel anchored the Black neighborhood of Central Avenue in the 1930s and 1940s, known as a west coast Waldorf Astoria mixed with the Cotton Club.

A highlight for many was Bacon contributing his own tales and perspectives at each of our stops along the rally.

At each stopping point along the rally, host Bacon gathered the participants and shared a little about these sites and regions and what they meant to him. Schwartz identified that bonus as one of the highlights of the rally.

Bacon enjoyed participating in the rally as much as organizing it.

“I like learning and there’s so much in Los Angeles that I haven’t seen or been exposed to,” Schwartz explains. “Rashod is a good friend, so getting his perspective and insight into the history of these locales was really eye opening and meaningful. Hearing his stories was the best part of the rally for me. There is a legitimate connection to these historical places.”

We sort of made our own parking spots during our brief stop at The Dunbar and Delicious restaurant.

From The Dunbar, we drove down Central Avenue on the way to the Arts District, passing under the rebuilt iconic Sixth Avenue Bridge. Our next destination was Vintage Japanese Motor Union, a Black-owned hidden gem bursting with automotive history and vibes. We got to meet owner Savant Young and again heard from Bacon as to why he appreciates this automotive network hub, and apparel and parts supplier.

Matt Schwartz, Marta Mandryto (right) appreciate Bacon’s 1600 at the entrance of Vintage Japanese Motor Union.

After saying thank you to Young, we departed for the final stop of the tour, a walk through the Biddy Mason Memorial Park on Spring Street in downtown. Count me as the many on the rally who had not known Biddy Mason was born enslaved and then became one of the first prominent citizens and landowners in Los Angeles in the 1850s and 1860s and founder of the First AME Church we had passed earlier in the day.

Bacon welcomes everyone to Savant Young’s Vintage Japanese Motor Union.

If I had been looking for spirited driving through mountainous roads, this was not the rally. But every mile of the rally was an experience either following other participants and their cool cars, meeting people along the way and hearing what they do and their interests, and seeing a lot of Los Angeles I had never really seen.

Edward Turner arrives at Vintage Japanese Motor Union in his 1966 BMW 2000CS.

Credit, too, to Wanderwell Tours, led by Adam Kaslikowski, for helping Bacon put this together. Schwartz is also involved in Wanderwell and is proud of the unique approaches the tours take. “The beauty of the Wanderwell events is that we’re not just driving twisty roads. We’re learning, being challenged, and experiencing new things. This all just happens to be through the lens of our cars, our shared hobby.”

The Arts District is definitely aptly named.

It wasn’t just the participants who learned from the event. “I learned so much just doing the planning of the event,” Bacon adds. “I was a little worried about participation on a busy weekend with relatively short notice. I am so grateful that so many people showed up. My heart is full that it was genuinely meaningful for people, and I’m thrilled we were able to provide more attention and infuse some revenue into some of the many Black-owned businesses here.”

The walk through the Biddy Mason Memorial Park was a great inclusion on the rally.

“We’re helping people of color come together from many different spaces and getting to know each other and support each other. It’s helping enrich the broader automotive community. My hope is that I can be a good ambassador for this and our BMW community, too, and repay the love the community has shown me in a respectful and swaggy way. For the most part, these communities are tearing down barriers and bringing people together to talk about shared interests. The brand is about community, about fun and positive celebration. There is often so much talk that gets tainted with frustration and anger. This is intended to uplift and add positive energy. At the end of the day, let’s get to a place where none of this matters. We’re not separating, but instead, acknowledging, recognizing, and appreciating.”

It was a great day with a combination of cars, camaraderie, fun, and learning. Thank you and congratulations to Rashod and Motoring While Black for continuing to contribute and inspire the car community. —Kyle van Hoften

We didn’t look under his hood (at the M20 swap), but we did peek inside at the Coco Mats inside Bacon’s 1600.



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