The wonderful people who host various racing events throughout the year at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut have featured vintage racing on Labor Day weekend for the past 35 years. Since, by local ordinance, racing is banned on Sundays, the Lime Rock staff has taken advantage of that restriction by turning Sunday into one of the largest and most enjoyable special-interest car shows in the Northeast.
According to their website, the 2017 edition of this event, Historic Festival 35, included a Friday parade, three days of racing, the Sunday in the Park Concours & Gathering of the Marques, plus their newest feature, an on-site classic car auction. In years past, my interest has centered on the Sunday Concours, and so it was again this year. To my detriment, in spite of near-perfect weather on Saturday and Monday (great for the racers), Sunday’s weather bordered on a wash-out (bad for the concours).
Nevertheless, the trek was made. The drive from my central New Jersey home includes some terrific scenery through parts of NY and CT, and the Lime Rock track itself is set in a valley in the Berkshire Mountains, making for a truly park-like setting.
My buddy Enzo tagged along, as he had not had the pleasure of visiting Lime Rock before. We arrived around 9:30 a.m., and at first, we were pleasantly surprised at how relatively crowded the parking lots were. Venturing down to the track, which is where the show cars are arrayed (walking the track itself is a treat), it looked like the assigned spots were about 50% filled.
The rain held off for about an hour, giving us a chance to take in as much of the field as possible. But as we circled around and came near our starting point, the skies opened up. The soaking was not helped by the temperature which stubbornly held at 52 degrees F. After about 2 ½ hours, we had had enough. We saw everything on the track, but were unable to take advantage of any viewing of the Dragone Auctions cars.
The short, wet visit did not dampen my enthusiasm for the overall ambiance of the Sunday show. Here, in no particular order, are the reasons why I’m willing to drive six hours round-trip to Lime Rock almost every Labor Day weekend:
- The caliber of the show cars is among the best of any show I’ve attended. In the past, I’ve seen pre-war Alfa Romeos and Bugattis, rare European-spec vehicles, famous race cars, and one-off show cars. The quality of the more traditional entries is always top-notch.
- The parking lot is a show within a show. This year, even in the deluge, we saw a Triumph TR-6 and an Alfa GTV-6 coupe in the lot. In previous years, it has been typical to see late-model Ferraris and other high-end delights parked like they’re nothing more than daily transportation.
- True superstars have been known to make guest appearances. Several years ago, I had the honor of shaking hands with Sir Stirling Moss.
- The Concours “classes” are like nowhere else. Each year, the Lime Rock organization gets creative with class names. You will NOT see cars arranged based on such traditional fare as “Mustangs 1965-1973” or “Front-engine V12 Ferraris”. Here’s a sampling of this year’s classes:
- “Theoretical Efficiency: Microcars and Minicars”;
- “Tifosi Fantasy: The Magic of Ferrari”;
- “A Businessman’s Express: GT cars, ’62-‘67”.
In my opinion, this provides greater potential variety of show cars, and also allows for some inventiveness and ingenuity regarding which vehicles may best fit into a particular class.
- The Gathering of the Marques deserves explanation. While the judged Concours entries are situated along the straightaway, the remainder of the track is turned over to attendees, giving them the chance to park their (non-judged) vehicles in groups with similar marques or countries of origin. We saw turnout from owners of classic BMWs, Mazda Miatas, FoMoCo brands, and cars of Italy, Sweden, France, and Japan. A vehicle owner just needs to pay the standard entrance fee, and ask to be admitted onto the track. It’s neat that “regular car” owners can be made to feel like they’re part of the show (which they are!).
- In addition to all this, there is an on-site flea market, various vendor booths, and the freedom to walk the paddocks, taking in the race car prep in all its bloody-knuckled glory. (One year, we watched a race team pull an engine; in another paddock, a head gasket was being replaced.)
My calendar is already marked for Labor Day weekend 2018. If you have not made the effort to attend Lime Rock’s Fall Vintage weekend, I highly encourage you to do so.
Here is a very famous concept car: the 1963 Corvette “Rondine”. Designed by Tom Tjaarda, the full custom body was assembled upon a mostly-stock Corvette chassis and interior. A Google search shows that this car, the only one of its kind in the world, was sold at auction by Barrett-Jackson in 2008 for $1.76 million. Enzo explained to me that “Rondine” (pronounced in Italian as RON-di-nay) is the Italian word for swallow (the bird). Some of the rear quarter and tail light treatment would show up later in Tjaarda’s Fiat 124 Spider design. It was a thrill to see this car in person.
All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.