The 1998 New England 1000 Rally

Early in 1998, a glossy brochure arrived in the mail. It almost immediately made its way into the recycling bin. “Rich and Jean Taylor present the 1998 New England 1000”. Recognizing the name ‘Rich Taylor’ from his stint on the staff of my favorite mag, Car & Driver, I decided to read on.

“Each of our events is a five-day rally over paved roads, plus flat-out Special Stages. Each day covers about 250 miles over some of the most beautiful and least-traveled roads in America. Events are restricted to 50 cars, driven by you and a small group of like-minded vintage sport car enthusiasts. The New England 1000 is held the week before Memorial Day, and is open to pre-1974 sports, racing, or GT cars.”

I was somewhat familiar with the Mille Miglia road rally in Italy, but the concept of an “antique car rally” held on U.S. soil was new to me. While I was intrigued, there was one small issue: I didn’t own a rally-eligible car (the BMW Isetta restoration was not quite finished in 1998). However, my good friend Steve had recently obtained a nice 1966 Sunbeam Tiger. I showed him the brochure. There was little need for discussion. “Let’s do it!”

Calling the 800-number in the pamphlet, a male voice answered the phone: “Vintage Rallies”. “Hi, is this Rich Taylor?” “Yes it is, what can I do for you?” Holy cow, Rich answers his own phone. A credit card deposit was made, and we were in.

The Tiger was in quite good condition; it had been given a rather thorough restoration by its previous owner, so it needed little prep for rallying. We noted the mention that helmets were required if one wanted to participate in the off-road timed events, so helmets were dutifully obtained.

The genesis of the Helmet Twins
The genesis of the Helmet Twins

 

Most of our time in the months leading up to our May push-off was spent mentally picturing the other participating vehicles. We imagined everything from hopped-up MoPars to modded Mustangs to big-block Chevys, with the occasional MG and Triumph thrown in. We could not have been more off-base.

Departure day arrived. The Tiger’s trunk proved plenty adequate to handle our suitcases and helmets. Our destination on this beautiful Sunday in May was the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport Maine. It was going to take us about seven hours, with stops, to get there.

We arrived in Freeport around 5pm, with no roadside dramas to report, and as we drove around to the rear of the building, the sight was unforgettable: the hotel’s entire lawn had been taken over by an impromptu car show, featuring the week’s rally cars. MoPars? No way, Mr. Iacocca. Instead, there were Jaguars, Alfas, Benzes, Aston Martins, more Jaguars; and in the center of it all, like a Queen Bee, a gleaming white 4-door Bugatti.  We were going to spend the week in exclusive company.

 

1965 Aston Martin DB-5
1965 Aston Martin DB-5 & 1963 Aston Martin DB-4GT Lightweight

 

Ferrari Daytona surrounded by 3 Mercedes-Benz 300SLs
Ferrari Daytona surrounded by 3 Mercedes-Benz 300SLs

 

 

Our Tiger flanked by an E-Type and another Tiger
Our Tiger flanked by an E-Type and another Tiger

 

1963 Lotus Elite & 1958 Fiat-Abarth
1963 Lotus Elite & 1958 Fiat-Abarth

 

We parked in a sectioned-off area of the hotel lot dedicated to the rally cars, had dinner with fellow rallyists, and learned that the Sunday Car Show was a planned part of the festivities. Now we knew better for next time. After dinner: Famous Navigator’s School, wherein we were taught all the intricacies regarding synchronization of stop watches, driving etiquette amongst ordinary civilians, and the importance of placing your car’s front bumper across the finish line at the exact required moment, lest you earn unwanted points, one point for each second early OR late. Oh, the pressure.

 

A page from the route book; a working, accurate odometer is presumed
A page from the route book; a working, accurate odometer is presumed

Monday morning, we got up, had breakfast, and headed out to the Tiger with our route book. The parking lot was already abuzz with activity. Rally cars were staging themselves up to be flagged off at one-minute intervals beginning at 8:15AM. There were SIX timed stages that first day, plus two so-called transit stages (untimed). Steve was driving, and I was navigating. For the next stage, Steve graciously allowed me to drive, with him navigating. From that point onward, we had established a pattern that driver and navigator would alternate stages. It’s an agreement we’ve kept to this day.

 

Staging for checkout
Staging for checkout

Here’s a rally secret to share with you: navigating is SO much more difficult than driving. The navigator must be constantly be mindful of the printed directions, public landmarks, vehicle speed, and miles traversed, AND he must communicate driving directions to the driver in a clear manner. The driver? He needs to drive while heeding the navigator’s calls. Oh, and if the rally car in front of him turns right when his navigator tells him to go straight, then of course, he should go straight. Unless, of course, that’s incorrect…. (There is tremendous pressure to follow the rally car in front of you rather than refer to your navigation sheet.)

Tiger in queue, following Ferrari NART spyder and Ferrari 308
Tiger in queue, following Ferrari NART spyder and Ferrari 308

The concept of a TSD (Time, Speed, Distance) rally like this is to “zero out” each stage. A zero score is a perfect score; you’ve hit each finish line at the exact time you were due. As mentioned earlier, being early OR late is penalized, one point for each second you are off your mark. (The New England 1000 caps the maximum points you can earn per stage at 500.) It’s all in good fun, as we were learning.

 

A 1936 Auburn Speedster following an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciale
A 1936 Auburn Speedster following an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciale

 

The E-Type poses behind the Sprint Speciale
The E-Type poses behind the Sprint Speciale

 

A Ferrari 308 GT4 screams past while the Elite watches
A Ferrari 308 GT4 screams past while the Elite watches

 

 

But nothing was more amazing than the sight of other rally cars on the road with you. To be motoring with a Mercedes Benz 300 SL roadster in view out your windshield, and a Jaguar E-Type in your mirrors, is not something to be taken for granted. Vehicles you’ve drooled over for years, meticulously primped and pampered for show, were now screaming along at 6,000 rpm.

It is not an exaggeration to state that my participation in this rally forever changed the way I felt about the old car hobby. I would never feel the same passion again about static car displays. Once I was exposed to owners who were willing to take their prized machinery and drive them at speed, in rain or shine, then I knew I wanted to be part of that as frequently as possible.

 

An open Gullwing door frames the parking lot
An open Gullwing door frames the parking lot

 

A parking lot respite from driving
A respite from driving

 

"I think the oxygen sensor is telling the Hall switch to send the wrong signal to the ECU"
“I think the oxygen sensor is telling the ECU to send the wrong signal to the fuel injectors”

 

To me, there is no more beautiful automotive form than a Series I E-Type coupe
To me, there is no more beautiful automotive form than a Series I E-Type coupe

 

The yellow Dino glows in the sunset
The yellow Dino glows in the sunset

 

We had a chance to ride in a Stanley Steamer; this is part of the starting procedure
We had a chance to ride in a Stanley Steamer; this is part of the starting procedure

 

Monday flew by. So did the rest of the week. I saw that the days were quite full, what with early departures, driving, lunches, more driving, and dinners. There were few photographic opportunities during the rally stages, so I was glad to have taken the pictures I did on Sunday. Thursday’s banquet dinner was yet another highlight, with comical speeches, a charity auction, gag gifts, and a trophy for everyone, no matter what your score. You really felt like you were part of something.

If you want conclusive proof that we enjoyed ourselves, know that during Thursday’s festivities, my rally brother Steve wrote a deposit check for the 1999 New England 1000. We would be returning in the Tiger. That’s a story for another time.

We drove it tothe rally, ran the rally, and drove it home
We drove it to the rally, ran the rally, and drove it home, about 1,600 miles in 6 days

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

8 thoughts on “The 1998 New England 1000 Rally

  1. Excellent story and great pictures. The subject matter helps the photos but the Sprint Speciale with the E-Type lurking in the background is wonderful framing. Two of the greatest auto profiles ever!

    Like

    • Hi Bob,

      I appreciate the comments, especially about the photography. I clearly remember that I had perhaps 4 or 5 rolls of 24-exposure film with me, which limited the number of shots I could take. I did NOT own a digital camera in 1998! Those two cars do look stunning together.
      Richard

      Like

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