Stories from the 2019 AACA Spring National in Parsippany

As I said in my post about the recent AACA Spring National, it’s really about the people and their stories behind their automotive treasures, more than is it about the cars themselves. This has been true at so many recent car shows, and it was evident again last weekend.

Below are three stories about three individuals whose paths crossed mine on Saturday: one whom I met for the first time that day; one whom I thought I was meeting for the first time when in fact we had met six years prior; and one whom I had gotten to know but had not seen in almost 20 years.

 

RIDING IN RON’S E-TYPE

Saturday morning; in a golf cart with Leif Mangulson, the Chief Judge, who wants to show me the spot to locate the club’s PA system. While we’re stopped, a gentleman approaches the cart. “Hi Leif, I’m Ron, and we spoke numerous times. I have the Jag”. Hmm, I ponder, a Jag. This gets my attention, and I find it impossible to not speak. “Excuse me, Ron, my name is Richard. What kind of Jaguar do you have?” “Oh, a ’66 E-Type”. “Fixed Head Coupe or Open Two Seater?” I ask, trying to impress him with my use of the preferred Britishisms for the hardtop and roadster. “Mine’s the OTS”. “Oh, and as a ’66, it’s got the 4.2 liter engine, all-synchro gearbox, and better seats, yes?” “Yes, and my, sounds like you like these cars. Why don’t you make a point of stopping by to see it on the show field?”

Not only did I “stop by” to see the car – it was one of the cars for my Judging Team to evaluate! I was happy to see Ron again, and I assured him, AND my Team Captain, that I could fairly and objectively perform my duties within the engine compartment. When we were done, Ron again invited me to seek him out before the car was loaded back onto his trailer.

It was late in the afternoon by the time I worked my way back to Ron’s gorgeous opalescent silver-blue roadster. Ron and his son were packing up their chairs and other paraphernalia when Ron turned to me and asked “Would you like to ride with me back to the trailer?” The look on my face provided the answer. But I did ask “do I need to remove my shoes?” Ron laughed and said not to worry about it.

Ron entered the driver’s side while I squeezed in the passenger seat. With a little choke, ignition key turned to “on” and a push of the starter button, the big 6 immediately came to life. At 5’ 10”, I was surprised that my head grazed the erect convertible top, but at the same time, the seat cushion felt either overstuffed or not broken in, which could explain the lack of headroom.

The passenger’s view from within an E-Type

With the shift lever in 1st, Ron eased out the clutch and we were moving. The view out the front over the L-O-N-G hood was gorgeous. We were in a parking lot with dozens of other valuable cars, so he kept to a reasonable speed, perhaps 20mph tops. But the ride was sublime. My first ride even in an E-Type was worth it, and I certainly hope it’s not the last.

Watch out for that DeLorean!

When I got out, I couldn’t thank Ron enough for his kindness and generosity. Turns out that he lives about 45 minutes south of me, and he invited me to keep in touch. I certainly shall.

 

OWEN AND THE ISETTA

As I alluded to in my previous post, judging a class of cars was a rewarding, if very time consuming, undertaking. One of the most rewarding aspects of it was the sharing from the vast pool of knowledge among the five of us. We were judging Class 24, two-seat sports cars, so each of us had some level of familiarity with these vehicles, and the stories started to pour out.

Somehow, I let it be known that I had owned a BMW Isetta for the better part of 30 years. A while later, when judging was over, Owen, our Team Captain, came up to me. He asked me “do you still have the Isetta?” “No, Owen, I sold it.” “What year was that?” “I sold it at the RM Auction in Hershey in 2013”. With that, Owen removed his wallet from his back pocket, reached in, and pulled out a black and white photo. It was a snapshot of an Isetta with two boys standing next to it. One boy, a teenager, was quite tall, and the younger fellow was pre-school age.

“Wait!” I exclaimed. “I’ve seen this photo before, but I’m not sure where.” Owen asked “do you read Auto Restorer magazine? The photo was in there”. “Nope, that’s not where I saw it”. “What color was your car?” “Red, solid red”. Owen said “I now know where you saw it”, and related this story to me.

He was able to recite in some detail the location of my car within the RM Hershey tent, and remembered that he had approached me in 2013 to tell me how his parents bought a new Isetta which they kept for many years. He had shown me that photo in Hershey, explaining that the tall fellow was his older brother, and the little guy was he at 5 years old. A few days later, Owen kindly mailed me a photocopy of that photo, along with the letter he had written to the magazine.

The Isetta with young Owen, as printed in Car Restorer magazine

The coincidence of again meeting someone who had shown me a photo of the family’s Isetta 6 years ago was uncanny. That we would end up on the same Judging Team goes to show how small this automotive hobby can be. But Owen would not be the ONLY person on the Team with whom I had a connection.

 

YES, THAT IAIN TUGWELL

Day-of-show judging at an AACA event always starts with the judges’ breakfast. There, you meet your team, get an overview from the Team Captain, and preview the list of vehicles to be judged. I was a bit late for breakfast, so while the others talked, I was still getting up several times to fetch my eggs and coffee.

When I got back to the table, I finally saw the list of cars, and noted that the printout also included the names of all my fellow judges. A quick eyeball scan revealed that I knew no one at my table, except….. How often do you come across a first name like “Iain?”

I looked up from my coffee. He was sitting directly across from me. The din in the room forced me to raise my voice almost to a yell. “Hey Iain! I KNOW YOU.”

His expression told me he didn’t quite know what to make of that comment. I continued. “I don’t expect you to remember, but the first time was 1998. A buddy of mine and I were on the New England 1000, in a British Racing Green Sunbeam Tiger”. Slowly, his puzzled frown changed to the slightest of smiles. Once I heard the accent, there was no mistake. “Oh yes, the Tiger, yes, I do remember it. How are you?”

Well, other than shocked to hell, I was fine. I grabbed my phone and texted Steve, the Tiger owner.

“You are NOT going to believe this. I’m at the judges table at the NJ AACA show in Parsippany. On my team is a guy named Iain Tugwell. Yes, THAT Iain Tugwell.”

Iain smiles for the camera

As if I needed to prove it, I snapped a shot with the cell and sent that to Steve too. To the two of us rookie rally drivers, Iain Tugwell was a legend. He ran the Sunday night “Famous Navigators School”, teaching us the finer points of scoring zero in our rally stages. There was probably some ex-military in him, as he was so set in his ways we nicknamed him “The Carmudgeon”. He was probably on the NE1000 with us until about 2001 or so, making it 18 years since we last connected.

Judging with him was fun; he was the old Iain, short, brusque, to the point, but ultimately big-hearted and good-natured. Later on, I got to meet his wife Jane, and then bade them farewell, as they departed the hotel immediately after judging ended, to get home to Buffalo before midnight. I promised Iain that we would again see each other at an AACA event. I certainly hope to make that true.

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

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