Success! Our informal Sunday Morning Breakfast Group, which last held a gathering in September of 2019, managed to put together our own Cars & Coffee-style event this past Sunday. As an unexpected surprise, the “CarParkers” drive event held the same day resulted in dozens of additional cars joining us in the spacious lot of the Dunkin’ Donuts on MacArthur Blvd. in Mahwah NJ.
In our own group, we had perhaps a dozen and a half friends show up with their cars. On one hand, it was overwhelming to think that we had not seen each other in over a year and half. On the other hand, like the long-term companions we are, we fell right back into our lively repartee and wasted no time in catching up with each other, while those who procured new rides since our last drive enjoyed showing them off.
Hagerty and CarPark co-sponsored the other drive event along with Dunkin’ Donuts, the basic concept centering around a morning of driving to and meeting up at several Dunkin’ Donuts stores, with the chance to win some giveaways. I had alluded to this event in our own Cars & Coffee invitation, but frankly was expecting at most 10 or 20 other cars. The actual turnout was 3 to 4 times that, with a nice mix of older and newer exotics, including rarities ranging from a Ford Model T fire truck to a Sterling 825.
The breakfast line got a bit long at times, but mask-wearing and social distancing appeared to be at 100% compliance while inside. Outside was much less of a concern; we became unmasked, but our usual bear hugs were on postponement until a later date.
There was no driving element on this occasion as we knew that time for us to mingle and swap stories would need to take precedence. What surprised me was how much more enjoyable I found this arrangement. Rather than be tied to a table, I was free to wander from subgroup to subgroup, and ended up chit-chatting with more of the guys than otherwise. My drive event co-planner and I are already intending to include a Cars & Coffee event on our rotating schedule for the Sunday Morning Breakfast Group.
I was so distracted by seeing old friends and meeting new ones (talkin’ about you, the young couple in the Suzuki Cappuccno) that I simply failed to photograph every car in the lot. However, the ones that did make it into my Sony are below. Final note about the photos: WordPress seems to have changed the method to see full-size versions of them. For full-screen versions, right-click on the picture, select “Open Image in New Tab”, and then click on the picture again.
If you live in the Northeast corner of the U.S., then you can relate to the observation that the weather can be fickle. Springtime is especially unpredictable: March can bring sunny 75 degree F weather or two feet of snow. April can be as hot and dry as summer, or can make us suffer through two weeks of ‘April showers’.
Nevertheless, it stayed dry, and the cars came out. Some were the same as seen in March, and many others were new. As before, there were no ‘rules’ about what you could bring, which again resulted in a nice mix of old, new, original, and modded. In other words, there was something for everyone.
I was a spectator for this one, and I’ll simply say that time constraints both before and after the show impeded my participation. Not only was the vehicular turnout impressive; spectators, catching wind of this, were out in good numbers, possibly lured by the flea market on the same field. Like before, there was no entrance fee, but participants and spectators were encouraged to donate food or cash to support a local food bank, a wonderful cause indeed.
The photos can do most of the remainder of the work here, although I do wish to call special attention to the 1965 Chevrolet Chevy II four-door sedan which, similar to the ’65 Bonneville I wrote up last time, was a single-family-owned car in completely original condition, and a true time capsule. The next show is set for Saturday May 15 (they will run once a month, always on a Saturday), and as we move into the presumably less fickle spring weather, it won’t be a surprise to see an even greater turnout.
FAVORITE CAR OF THE SHOW: 1965 CHEVY II
I spoke to this owner at length, who told me that his great uncle had purchased this car new, and it has remained in the family ever since. He stated that it’s all original, including paint, interior, and inline-6 engine. While there were a few scrapes along the sides, there was absolutely no sign of rust or corrosion anywhere. This Chevy II was a “Nova”; many may forget that the Nova name began as an upmarket trim level on this compact before eventually replacing “Chevy II” as the model name. The ’64 NY license plate includes mention of the World’s Fair; growing up in NYC, I remember those plates as a boy.
A new entry on the collector car calendar has sprung up in 2021: the Neshanic Station Car Show, which held its inaugural event on Saturday March 20, nicely coinciding with the first day of spring. And a glorious day it was, with sunny blue skies, no wind, and moderate temperatures reaching close to 60F by midday. The clear air made for some stunning photography.
The car show was combined with a general (not automotive) flea market, which deserves some background history. The tiny hamlet of Neshanic Station for decades held a flea market every Sunday during decent weather, with a wide range of vendors selling a great variety of new and used goods. It became quite well-known and would draw an audience from all parts of the Garden State. A few years ago, the private property which hosted the flea market was sold, and the lot was taken over by the county, merged with a local park. The old flea market was dead.
The Neshanic United Methodist Church resurrected the flea market, combining it with a car show to help draw a crowd. For 2021, it will a once-a-month-on-a-Saturday affair. To sign up, one only needed to send an email stating the desire to exhibit a car. There is no fee, but the church requests a voluntary donation to the food bank that it sponsors. The church has access to a spacious lot across the street from the original flea market location, a flat and grassy piece of property easily 5 or 6 times the size of what had previously been used.
I had registered my Miata a few weeks prior, and since the location is literally three miles from my house, I departed a few minutes before 9 a.m. and was still there in plenty of time. There were close to a dozen cars already in place as I motored past them, with a dozen or more yet to show up after me. This was a “run what you brung” kind of show: no limitations based on age, condition, restoration quality, or modifications, and sometimes that’s the best kind of show, because you truly get the largest variety of vehicles. It’s also a great way to make sure that anyone who owns what THEY consider an interesting car can feel included in a group that frankly might shun them at another type of show.
Domestic iron from the 1960s comprised a large percentage of show cars, with two late-model Ferraris covering the exotic end of the spectrum. Not to be outdone, the Corvette contingent was out in full force, including a C8 mid-engine beauty in an eye-searing yellow. Late model cars included a Challenger, an Audi, and an Alfa 4C.
The flea market vendor turnout was smaller than I expected; the show cars dwarfed the vendors based on the amount of real estate taken. The crowd was a decent size, and the vast majority of folks walking the field outside adhered to the ‘masks on’ request except when eating or drinking something they bought from the on-site food truck. There is no doubt in my mind that for car owners and spectators alike, there was an overwhelming desire to get back to normal compared to 2020, and that helped account for the turnout.
As has been said many times before, after a certain amount of time in the hobby, it’s the people and their stories who become the real center of interest, and I met several fine folks whose stories are recounted below. The Neshanic Car Show organizers have already laid out their calendar through the remainder of the year, with the next two shows set for April 17 and May 15. My personal goal is to get that Alfa out of the garage where it’s been since 2019 in time for either the April or May event.
1962 Lincoln Continental 4-door sedan
I approached the owner of this 1962 Lincoln and told him how refreshing it was to see a sedan since what I see at car shows are almost exclusively the four door convertibles. He told me that he was at a dealer in suburban Philly who had both the 4-door sedan and the 4-door convertible. Although he really wanted the droptop it was so outside his price range, he went with this green-on-green one. The car is all original, everything functions, and he named the car after his departed mother, calling it the “Queen Maryellen”. He went on: “Listen, I’m really not a car guy but I just love this thing, it’s so easy to drive and attracts so much attention no matter where I take it.” He also has an Olds Aurora at home and he hopes to come back next time with a friend so he can bring both cars.
2014 Audi A4
A young man in his mid-20s approached my Miata and struck up a conversation, telling me about a friend who has a Miata with an LS motor in it. I told him that I was familiar with the conversion and that kits are available to do just that. This got us both talking about cars in general. I could tell that he was a genuine enthusiast who seemed to harbor no prejudices when it came to interesting cars. He finally let it out that he was the owner of the 2014 Audi A4 at the other end of the aisle from me. It’s a four-cylinder stick shift car, and he’s done some “minor” modding as he called it, with a performance chip, cat-back exhaust, and some other tweaks. His car was spotless. I truly admired this young guy’s devotion and enthusiasm. The hobby needs to find a way to be inclusive to gals and guys like him who have a late model vehicle which is their pride and joy. ‘Our’ rules cannot be forced on them. They are the future of this hobby if it is to survive.
1965 Pontiac Bonneville 2-door hardtop
This 1965 Bonneville, at first blush, was a nice looking car without anything overtly special about it. I began a conversation with the owner, asking my usual first question: “how long have you owned it?” He answered by telling me “my grandmother bought this car new in Pasadena California”. This Bonneville is a one-family-owned car which resided in southern CA until he brought it to NJ when he married and relocated. The car was in a collision in the 1980 s and got a total repaint at that time; otherwise, it’s all original. This was my favorite car of the show.
1963 Studebaker Avanti
The Studebaker Avanti is an automotive enigma – born out of desperation as the company was going out of business, it was manufactured only for two model years, 1963 and 1964. Fewer than 5,000 were built as “Studebakers” before the factory shut down. (Don’t confuse these with the Avanti II, which is an almost-identical car manufactured when the tooling was bought by two Studebaker dealerships.) This owner has had this car for about 10 years, stating that he pulled it out of dry storage and got it roadworthy. It’s an unusually low-spec car, with a 3-speed manual floor shift, and lacking power steering, power windows, or A/C. This too was claimed to be a mostly original car, and I saw little reason to doubt it. Perhaps most convincingly, old-fashioned service stickers from 1967 and 1975 were still in the driver’s door jamb.
“Carlisle” as a hobbyist destination should need no introduction here: the organizers have been hosting Spring & Fall Carlisle since 1974, and in the ensuing years, have expanded the number of events via marque-specific weekends, including Corvettes at Carlisle, Chryslers at Carlisle, the Carlisle Import Show, and so on. The Ford event is traditionally scheduled in June, and having attended many of the other smaller mid-year shows, the All-Ford (and Mercury, Lincoln, Edsel, Merkur, etc.) National is one of the larger ones in the series.
The previous month, we had been to the Carlisle Import show with the Isetta in tow. Although not mentioned in my coverage, that particular May day was brisk, with daytime temps in the low-to-mid 50s. Typical for the Northeast, the weather can change on a dime, and two weeks later, on the day of my 5-hour round trip, the thermometer hit 100F (38C for those of you in the rest of the world). It was HOT! The A/C, factory-equipped in my car, remained non-functional during my entire ownership. My deepest regrets for failing to fix it were reserved for this particular day. At the same time, my 390 big block never pushed the temperature gauge past its mid-point. The car ran strong and cool all day.
At least I had company for the ride. A family friend with whom I had recently become acquainted, Mike Larkin, was more than willing to ride shotgun. Mike wasn’t a traditional car guy but said he was always up for an adventure. The heat seemed to bother him less than it did me as we cruised with our 260 air at full blast.
Arriving at the fairgrounds, the number of Mustangs on the grounds was overwhelming! Carlisle could probably host “Mustangs at Carlisle” and have a large enough turnout for a standalone show. To my surprise and delight, the “Specials” (California Special and its Colorado cousin, the High Country Special) were afforded their own display area. We pulled in, found a spot, and climbed out of our steaming hot car to bask in the even steamier fairground air.
The photos can tell the rest of the story from here, although I must confess that there were many other interesting Fords which did not get photographed. Someday, whether there’s a Ford in my future or not, I’ll work my way back to Fords at Carlisle.
Above: flippin’ for Ford’s Flip-Tops! The Ford Skyliner Retractable Hardtop was made only for 3 years: 1957, 1958, and 1959. The top photo shows a ’57; note the front plate, “NON SCRIPT”, referring to the earliest production cars which lacked the “Skyliner” script on the roof’s C-pillar. The bottom photo shows two ’59s side-by-side, both with the garage-challenging Continental kits added.
Scanning and posting my photos from the 1969 New York Auto Show resulted in my flipping through other photographs of mine from the ‘60s and ‘70s. To my surprise, I rediscovered photos that I had frankly forgotten about: pictures from the 1977 New York Auto Show (or so I thought). One reason that these pictures hadn’t resonated with me was their poor quality. Taken with a Kodak 110 Instamatic camera, the flash was barely powerful enough to illuminate the subjects. Thankfully, digital photo-editing software goes a long way toward making them halfway presentable. These photos also verify what was seen in my 1969 event pictures: the claustrophobic nature of the Coliseum’s exhibit halls.
As I did some Googling about the show, I came across a 2nd surprise: these pictures were in fact NOT taken at the “official” NY show, but at an event held a few months later called “Auto Expo”. Still held in the Coliseum, Auto Expo was all imported cars. I’m not sure if that’s because the funny furrin’ ones didn’t get enough exposure at the main event, or if promoters/dealers wanted to give the imports a chance to shine on their own.
One website I stumbled across lists the details of every NY Auto Show from 1900 to 2020, by date, sponsor, official title, and location. Presuming that this data is accurate, I note that I was incorrect in my earlier post when I stated that the NY Show has been held “continuously” since 1900; the show was on hiatus during the war years 1941-1947. The new Coliseum first hosted in 1956, and that show carried the title of New York’s “1st International Automobile Show”. The next year was the “2nd” and so on. This title structure remained until the GNYADA (Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association) assumed sponsorship in 1972.
In 1977, the GNYADA show ran from January 29 through February 6. But two men, Robert Topaz and Raymond Geddes, sponsored the first all-import Auto Expo, held that year from April 3 to April 10. I’m certain that’s the show I attended, as I was in college in ’77, way out in eastern Long Island, and would not have traveled into Manhattan in January. But I would have been home on Staten Island for Easter break, when Auto Expo was held, and it would have been a breeze to take public transport up to the Coliseum.
Auto Expo lasted all of three years; perhaps Gotham City couldn’t generate enough traffic to viably support two new car shows spaced just a few months apart. After 1979, the only NY auto show was hosted by the GNYADA, and that continues to this day.
This NY Times article points out some attractions my camera missed, and also helpfully advises that “free parking (is) nonexistent within three blocks before 6 P.M on weekdays”. I only took five photographs, and they are arranged below in alphabetical order by manufacturer. I’ve compiled some basic engine and price data sourced from The Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-1990, published by Krause Publications. Some of these prices shock me, even today. For comparison, five months after attending this show, I bought my first new car, a 1977 VW Rabbit, for $3,599. And to think I could have had a Le Car.
1977 Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider Veloce
Alfa Romeo introduced a new 2-seat convertible, the Duetto, to the world in 1966. Although the little roadster got semi-frequent styling and engine upgrades, the same basic shell was still on offer 11 years later as the 2000 Spider Veloce. Let’s break that down: 2000 as in engine size (2.0L); Spider as in Italian for “convertible”; and Veloce as in “fast” (a relative term). The 1977 version of the fabled Alfa twin-cam four-cylinder put out 110 HP; entry into the topless Alfa club started at $8,795 in ’77.
1977 Aston Martin V-8
An Aston Martin showroom in 1977 presented two choices: the 4-door Lagonda, and the 2-door V-8. The car pictured, the V-8, was also available in Vantage (high-performance) and Volante (drop-top) versions. The base non-Vantage V-8, with 4 dual-choke Webers, pushed out 350 horsepower and started at $33,950. Can you put a price on exclusivity? The company built a total of 262 V-8 models in 1977.
1977 BMW 630CSi
BMW introduced its new 6-series coupes to the world halfway through the 1976 model year, but didn’t bring this 630CSi stateside until 1977. BMW didn’t have a large presence in the U.S. yet: showrooms held this car, the 2-door 320i, and the 4-door 530i, and that was it. (But the front plate already proclaims “The Ultimate Driving Machine”.) The 630CSi’s 3L inline-six churned out 176 HP, and its starting price of $23,600 was $9,000 higher than the 1976 3.0Si coupe it replaced!
1977 Porsche Turbo Carrera Coupe
For a photo that only captures one hind quarter, the details are telling: the wide flared rear fenders and whale-tail spoiler are dead giveaways that this is the Porsche 911 Turbo, officially known as the Turbo Carrera Coupe. Introduced to the U.S. market the year before, Porsche brought it back in ’77 with almost no changes for its sophomore year. The 3-liter engine produced 234 HP in Federal trim, with a list price of $28,000. (By comparison, a 1977 Porsche 911S Coupe started at $13,845, a 50% discount.)
1977 Renault Le Car
Like the Porsche Turbo Carrera, Renault’s two-door microcar was in its 2nd model year in the states. That’s about where the similarities end. Starting price was $3,345 for the 58-horsepower 2-door. A fact of which I was unaware: when introduced here in 1976, the vehicle was called the “R-5”; the name change to “Le Car” happened in in ’77. The Le Car hung around in the U.S. market through the 1983 model year, by which time its base price had risen to $4,795 (that’s a lot of French bread).
The New York Auto Show is the longest continually-running automobile show in the United States. New York was the first city in the country to host such a show, which it did in 1900. The show has been an annual tradition ever since, the only exception being the 2020 pandemic cancellation.
During the first half of the 20th century, the show was held within various exhibition halls throughout Manhattan. When the New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle (W 59th St.) opened in 1956, the show was moved there and remained until 1987 when the brand new Jacob Javits Convention Center took over host duties. The Javits Center continues to be the show’s location.
In 1969, as a car-crazed teen, my father took me to the Coliseum to see the show for the first time. He wanted to see the show too, but it wasn’t his first visit, as he had brought home show programs from previous years (which I wish I still had). I grabbed my camera and off we went. It’s likely we drove into the city; both of us at that time were commuting into Manhattan from our Staten Island home, he for work, and I for high school, so perhaps we wanted a break from the subway.
The exact day of our attendance is lost to history, but it must have been a weekend. The internet informs me that the 1969 show was held from Saturday April 5 through Sunday April 13. Easter was Sunday April 6 that year, and amazingly, this plan of holding the public show during Easter week is still the plan today.
I took 12 photographs at the show, which means I shot an entire roll of film with my Kodak 127 Brownie. My photographic skills in 1969 needed a lot of work, and to be fair, the photos document how crowded it was, so getting a clear line of sight to any vehicle was a challenge. Looking at these pictures 51 years later provides some insight into my young automotive mind. In general, the production cars I chose to snap are still of interest today. The concept cars I chose are quite humorous in retrospect, and maybe not surprisingly what a young boy would find funny.
Here are the 12, with a brief blurb under each.
I liked all of the C2 Corvettes (of course, we didn’t call them that in the ‘60s), and liked the new-for-’68 C3 Corvette even more (not an opinion I still hold). The Mako Shark-inspired styling, with its incredibly low front end, peaked front fenders, pinched waist, and flying buttress rear pillars on the coupe was so racy to me. There was a crowd around this car all day, and I felt lucky to capture the left front fender and hood.
Dodge Super Bee
I don’t recall being a big fan of this styling (and am still not), but it was probably the blacked-out hood, hood scoop, factory ‘mags’, and redline tires that appealed to me.
By 1969, the big front-driver from Olds was in its 4th model year, and although the overall body shape hadn’t changed, the front and rear ends had a heavier look, losing some of initial lightness of the ’66. I’m struck by this typical late ‘60s color combo: a dark metallic hue with white vinyl roof, white pinstripe, white wall tires, and white interior! Note the F-85 sign in the background, which seems odd now because I would have expected Olds to more likely market the Cutlass nameplate.
General Motors’ other FWD luxury car was in its 3rd year, with exposed headlights (after two years of concealed ones) as one of the few styling changes. This paint color looks identical to the Olds! Note the Mercury/Lincoln sign and the very low ceiling.
It’s interesting to me that I would even be aware of this car. I doubt I saw any on the streets of Staten Island. In case you don’t know it, the brief backstory is that the original Avanti was a model produced by Studebaker for only two years, 1963 and 1964. When Studebaker ended production, the car’s tooling was purchased by two men who ran Studebaker dealerships. They reintroduced the car as the “Avanti II” in 1965, so this little-changed 1969 version was in its 5th model year. I wish my photo had captured more of the sign to the right.
My father, who rarely expressed his opinion about anything out loud, let it be known to me that he liked the Jeep Wagoneer. There’s no doubt that his admiration for it extended back to the Jeep Station Wagon he owned when he first married my mom. Something this large and truck-like held no interest for me, although this photo reveals that Jeep did its best to market this to the masses, with chrome bumpers, a full-width bright grille, roof rack, full wheel covers, white wall tires, and exterior wood-grain applique. Yet you can see the front leaf springs (!) peeking out below the bumper.
I loved the ’69 Firebirds when they were introduced, and I still find them among the best-looking Firebirds ever. I’m including this under “Production Cars” even though this one appears to be slightly customized. The yellow-and-white seats and door panels, along with the yellow color-keyed wheels, don’t look factory, yet on the other hand, are probably slight cosmetic changes, possibly done by a local dealer. And can someone tell me why the three people behind the passenger-side A-pillar are all wearing sunglasses?
The Pink Panther mobile
There’s nothing I can say in my defense, except, I wasn’t alone in wanting to see this car – look at the crowd behind it! Also note the sign in the lower right, which reads “Petersen Publishing”. What was their involvement? Where is this car today?
This is one of the vehicles featured in the short video clip; yet in the movie, the car is blue, and here it’s white. An internet search for photos shows the car in both colors, as well as gold. Perhaps Buick was trying out different colors to gauge audience reaction, or borrowing a trick from ol’ Shelby, they wanted to give the impression that there was more than one Cruiser Concept. Note the Ford Cortina sign and British flag in the background.
It was probably 1982 and I was at Hershey, in PA, in October, at the big annual AACA Hershey show. It was perhaps only the 3rd or 4th time I was there. I was young, and this was still all new, and I had so much to learn about the collector car hobby. I was living in an apartment without a garage. I had my Isettas stored in one garage not near me, and my ’57 Ford Skyliner stored in another garage not near me. I still dreamed of that future point in time when I would get back to these cars to perform a complete restoration on each of them. However, I had no real concrete plan for getting to that point.
As I strolled the aisles of that Saturday car show, I was still learning that these cars were here to be ranked and rated by AACA judges. The judging was a very strict and formal process. The car owners took this very seriously, and very much wanted to win. They wanted their 1st Junior, or 1st Senior, or their Preservation Award, things I had yet to learn about. It was neat for me, the neophyte, to discover that the vehicles were arranged in something resembling a sensible order, based on year, make, and model.
A particular recollection concerns the Baby Birds, the 2-seat Ford Thunderbirds only made from 1955-1957. They were all lined up, in their candy colors of red and blue, and pastel colors of green and yellow, and monochrome colors of black and white. They didn’t look like cars! They looked like edible sweets on a shelf. As I walked down this row of cars which were barely 25 years old, I could not get over how perfect each car was. With hoods up and trunks open, reproduction chalk marks and ink stamps were exposed. It was clear to me, the newbie, that these cars were rarely, if ever, driven.
The entire spectacle depressed me. How does an owner, I asked myself, get to a point that the car is so perfect that it’s not driven? Was this what the hobby was about? I was yet to learn that some owners did indeed treat their cars as trailer queens, driven only on and off trailers, and brought to shows only to collect awards. It was impossible for me to imagine a day when I would show a car at Hershey.
Fast forward exactly 30 years, and here I was in 2012, with a car of mine on the Hershey show field. I was as giddy as could be, and while I took the whole spectacle seriously, the event was eliciting a reflexive ear-to-ear grin that I could not erase. How did I get to this point? Having joined the National AACA around the year 2000, and attending almost every Hershey since then, the urge to enter a car was growing. With over 10 years of experience in showing the Isetta, as you’ve been reading in the Isetta Saga, it was time to put the car in the big boys’ show.
There was not much prep necessary. I had my trailer and my hitch-equipped Volvo V70 ready to make the journey. A logistical issue for anyone bringing a show car to Hershey is the question of “what do I do with my car during the week?” The judged show is always Saturday, but the flea market / car corral begins four days prior on the Tuesday. Owners who drive their show cars to the event leave them overnight in the hotel parking lot. They’ll then use those cars to commute back and forth during the week. If they have a flea market spot, they’ll just drive it onto the field and park in their spot.
My little Hershey secret, which I had begun to use about 10 years prior, was to stay at a local Bed & Breakfast in lieu of a hotel. (I refer to it as a ‘secret’ because if too many show attendees started doing the same, it wouldn’t be as easy to book a room. Compared to hotels, which start booking rooms for next year’s event the day after this year’s event ends, I found that local B&B’s had rooms available as late as 6 or 8 weeks before Hershey week.)
The B&B’s were more comfortable than hotels, they included breakfast (to go if I asked), and were about the same cost. There was a B&B in Dillsburg, located halfway between Hershey and Carlisle, which I started frequenting. When I called for the reservation, I asked permission to leave the Isetta on its trailer somewhere on the grounds. The woman proprietor, with whom I was on a first-name basis, told me that was absolutely fine, and said she had a spot behind the barn where my rig would be away from other guests’ cars, as well as out of sight from the road. Upon my arrival, I put the trailer where asked, unhooked it, and was then able to use the Volvo to-and-from the show during the week.
Once Saturday morning arrived, I reconnected the trailer and was off to ‘trailer parking’. AACA had set up a lot about 1.5 miles away from the show field dedicated to the dozens and dozens of trailers which needed to be staged somewhere. I asked my bestie Larry if he wanted to meet me there and ride with me in the Isetta, and he was more than game. As he climbed in, I handed him my camera and asked him to take as many photos as he could manage. We were literally in the parade of cars that I had witnessed as a spectator on so many prior occasions.
Once at the grounds, I was directed to my parking spot in Class 04B, “small vehicles 1942 and later” (04A is 1941 and older). I parked next to the only other Isetta at the show that day. Other cars in my class included a Vespa and several VW Beetles (which look large next to an Isetta). I exited the car, put up my signage, and stuck around as required for judging. The judging team was there soon enough to do their thing. Once that was done, I was free to walk around, but as is my wont, I preferred to stay near the car and engage with attendees.
The other Isetta was a beautiful two-tone blue & grey car, from Maryland, and the car was there for its Preservation Award, meaning that it had already achieved Senior status. Cosmetically, I thought it was a notch above mine; it certainly looked ‘fresher’ (I wasn’t telling anyone that the paint on my car was already 17 years old). The owner was sitting in her folding chair behind her car, and I went up to her to make a sincere effort to both compliment her on her car as well as engage her in conversation about it. When I asked her some details about the restoration process, she demurred, and didn’t really make any attempt to answer my questions. What eventually came out of our conversation was the realization that she was not an active participant in the car’s restoration. It’s what we call a “checkbook restoration”; she wrote the checks to the shop that did the work, and picked up the car when it was done. This is not to take anything away from the obvious quality of the work. But there is something to be said for taking more ownership of your own restoration, which helps elevate the understanding of how the car is designed, engineered, and built, and how it operates.
Around 3 p.m., the show cars began to exit the field. It was a magnificent day on so many levels: the car ran great, the judging went smoothly, the audience enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the audience. It helped that the fickle Hershey weather was near perfect. I drove the car back to the trailer parking, loaded it up, and headed home, arriving before dark.
A few weeks later, a letter arrived in the mail from AACA, announcing that I had succeeded in winning my 1st Junior award (there was, as always, an Award Banquet on Saturday night, but I did not attend). Had I been there, I would have been handed my trophy. The letter from AACA informed me that if I wanted the trophy, I would need to pay the nominal shipping cost, which I did.
At the close of 2012, I realized that I had been trailering my Isetta to various shows throughout NJ, NY, CT, and PA for the past 13 years! While I had previously made half-hearted attempts at selling the car, with absolutely no success, I knew that 2013 was going to be the year to let it go. I had had my fun. An auction was the best choice, and it was a question of selecting an auction company, having already held preliminary conversations with both Bonhams and RM. The Bonhams auction I had in mind was their Greenwich event held in conjunction with the Greenwich CT Concours in early June. For RM, the Hershey auction in October was also being considered. I had some time to decide, however, the wheels were firmly put in motion at the end of 2012. After 35 years of ownership, and 13 years of show attendance, it was time.
APRIL 2011: THE PETITE CONCOURS AT THE NY AUTO SHOW
Sometime early in 2011, I received an email from an outfit billing itself as “Teeny Tiny Productions”. Almost deleting it on the presumption that it was spam, I opened the email to discover that Teeny Tiny Productions was actually associated with microcars. Reading further, I learned that they planned to host a special exhibit at the upcoming New York International Auto Show (NYIAS), and this email was my personal invitation to participate.
I called the provided number and spoke to a gentleman named Burt Richmond who assured me that this was legit. He and his business/personal partner Diane Fitzgerald had hosted a number of microcar-themed events in and around the Chicago area, where they resided. The email targeted me as an Isetta owner who lived in the NY Metro area. There were no costs to me outside of the need to transport the vehicle in and out of the city. He asked “are you game?” to which I replied “sure”, thinking that adding a display at the NYIAS to my Isetta’s résumé could only be a good thing.
According to the schedule I was provided, the “Petite Concours”, as the special display was named, would run only for the first five days of the show, including press days, and not its entirety. We owners would load our vehicles into the Jacob Javits Center before the show opened, and would get them out on a Sunday, after that day’s show had ended. This made it easier for me, as traffic in the area would be (relatively) minimized. Burt and Diane were on hand when I loaded in, and Burt was in charge of the floor arrangement. My car was chosen as one of four Isettas to be arranged in an “X”, with the cars’ tail ends inward. Thankfully, the vehicles were stanchioned off, and there was 24-hour security provided by the Javits crew.
Because we were in a room on the lower level, and not part of the main exhibit, I won’t pretend that the Petite Concours was a major spectator draw. Certainly, the other vehicles on display, which included Messerschmitts, Crosleys, Citroen 2CVs, old and new Hondas, Fiats, and NSUs, attracted some of the crowd that just happened to be meandering past, not necessarily aware of the special showing. As I’ve observed when an assortment of miniature cars is at a show, the Isetta becomes viewed as something that’s almost ‘normal’ when surrounded by some of its more abnormal contemporaries.
The five days went quickly enough; the probable highlight of the entire affair was being behind the wheel of my car and piloting it through the dungeon known as the Javits’s basement. I’ve walked the show enough times, and had the pleasure of attending so often on a press pass, yet never imagined there would be a day when my little bubble car and I would be in that locale together.
OCTOBER 2011: THE MONMOUTH COUNTY CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE
Later in the year, my good friend Dennis Nash called me up. He explained that he was very involved with an acquaintance of his who would be hosting a car show called the Monmouth County Concours d’Elegance, and 2011 was to be its 2nd running. Dennis said that they were quite short of judges, and asked me if I would judge for the day (no special training needed!). He also threw in the fact that the show vehicles were admitted as invitation-only, and he was extending such an invitation to my Isetta.
The show was scheduled for October 1, and checking my calendar, I noted that I had no conflicts, so I told Dennis I was in. Dennis’s only other request was that I arrive early that day for a judges’ meeting, and to be assigned to a team.
The day turned out to be cool and overcast, but we were thankfully spared the wet stuff, which counted for a lot, given that I was dressed in the de rigueur judge’s outfit of navy blazer, white shirt, chinos, and loafers (boater’s hats were optional). Dennis was running the judges’ meeting, and we were all put into teams of two. My judging partner was…. Dennis’s wife Ann Marie! I was happy to be with someone I knew, and the judging was quite informal anyway. There was a wonderful and eclectic selection of vehicles on the lawn, but to be blunt, the caliber of vehicles didn’t strike me as what I would expect to find at an “invitation only” concours. I did enjoy myself, in large part because the Nashes are a wonderful couple, and as dedicated to the old car hobby as any married pair I’ve ever met.
I don’t believe that the Monmouth Concours continued much past 2012, if it even made it that far. As well-intentioned as the show organizers were, they learned how difficult it is to put on a top-notch fling, especially with the calendar becoming more and more crowded with collector car type events every weekend from April through October.
POSTSCRIPT: FALL HERSHEY
The following weekend was Hershey, and of course I was there. Wandering the aisles during the Saturday car show, I spotted this forlorn BMW out for judging:
This was the germination of an idea – could I, would I, consider putting my Isetta on display at Hershey? Stay tuned for the answer!
December 23, 2009 was my final day of work at Volvo Cars of North America, where I had been employed for over 23 years. For the first time since college graduation, I was free of daily obligations. I had every intention of resuming my career, but with my wife’s encouragement, I decided to take some time off.
As 2010 dawned, I looked at the collector car calendar and could foresee upping my participation above what had already been a busy schedule. While the garage held both the ’68 Mustang and the Isetta, I decided to look for opportunities to get the Isetta out more. The additional time needed to load and unload the car would be less of an issue now.
My friend Larry, who lives in the vicinity of this school, made me aware of this show, which sounded like fun. It was also a chance to lend support to a bunch of teenagers who wanted to experience the makings of a car show in their own back yard.
The kids of course, enjoyed my car, and I in turn enjoyed the variety of vehicles in attendance. Two young men floored me, as they showed me around their VW bus while wearing tie-dye shirts. Flashing the peace sign was their idea, not mine!
MAY: AACA NJ REGION ANNUAL CAR SHOW
I had only recently become a member of the NJ Chapter, so none of my mates in the club had seen the Isetta yet. Entering the microcar in the same class as the American iron of the ‘50s meant that it was up against some very stiff competition (it also looked like a toy next to these ‘50s gargantuans).
My friend Ron, whom I knew from the multiple New England 1000 rallies we’ve run together, showed up in his ’55 T-Bird and parked next to me. Lo and behold, when it was time to depart, his Bird wouldn’t start! Ron knew the car became fuel-starved because of a hot soak issue, and he said that all he needed to get going was a bit of fuel to pour into the carb. But where to get that fuel? From the Isetta’s fuel tap!
MAY: NESHANIC STATION MEMORIAL DAY PARADE
We were getting good at parade participation, and this one was close enough to my house that I could actually drive the 3 miles back and forth, and I did! My stalwart friend Richard Sweeney did not miss the chance to ride in the car, and waved to the crowd as if he were the mayor.
JULY: BREAKFAST AND ISETTA RIDES AT THE REINAS
As a changeup from the typical Sunday morning breakfast drive, I emptied my garage of cars, set up a table and chairs, brought out the electric griddle and coffee pot from the kitchen, and invited a bunch of the regulars down to breakfast. (My wife said it looked like I could move in there; perhaps that was a hint….) Even Irv Gordon made it (after receiving the invite, he called me up and asked “Rich, do you think the guys would mind if I drove the C70 instead of the 1800? I want to ride in air conditioning”.)
We had something of a mini car show on the lawn and in the driveway, and for anyone brave enough, rides up and down the road in the rolling egg were freely offered.
This show, held in the charming town of Macungie PA since the 1960s, wins the award for “car show name with greatest ratio of consonants to vowels”. I’ve attended “Macungie” as we call it (easier to say) since the early ‘80s, as it was a known gathering spot for microcar owners.
There was no contingent of micro units this year, but I did manage to secure a shady spot on what was a typical hot and humid summer day. This show has always prided itself on an eclectic variety of display vehicles, typically arranged by year, make, and model. One particular memory is of a young woman who described herself to me as an artist. Having gone through my restoration photos, she seemed to take great delight in informing me that I too, was “an artist”. I accepted the compliment!
By the autumn of 2010, I was back to work, albeit only on a part-time basis. With the show calendar quickly coming to a close, I was already anticipating more of the same in 2011.
The Greenwich Concours d’Elegance has a very strict rule: a vehicle can be shown at one of its events only every three years. As Bruce Wennerstrom himself told me, this ensured that repeat audiences would see different cars the following year. I had shown my 1957 BMW Isetta in 2001, 2004, and 2007, and when 2010 rolled around, I didn’t hesitate to apply again. The Wennerstroms welcomed me back for a fourth, and what would turn out to be, final time with the Isetta.
My dear friend Richard Sweeney, NJIT Library Head and non-car person extraordinaire, jumped at the chance to accompany me, which also meant that my long-suffering wife was off the hook this time, although I didn’t hear too many complaints from her about it. Richard was of great help from the get-go, and as we got the car positioned as instructed by the field organizers, Richard wanted to play an active role in standing near the car, chatting it up with attendees. I could tell he loved every minute of it.
To my eye, 2010 had significantly more spectators than I had noticed during my previous outings. Perhaps it was the beautiful weather; certainly, a major factor was the increasing recognition that Greenwich was getting, with some press calling it “The East Coast version of Pebble Beach” – high praise indeed. The caliber of vehicles, always high, seemed to create even more oohs and ahhs among show-goers.
At awards announcement time, the Bubble made the cut yet again, winning “Most Fun Car” for the Sunday Europa show. Well, 3 out of 4 ain’t bad at all. I think Bruce had a soft spot for my little car, as we won in 2001 and 2007 too. Once we reached the awards table, Bruce presented my trophy and again asked me if my Isetta has the ‘big block’. Microphone in hand, I again told the assembly that European cars got 12hp, but we in the states got the 13hp version. Bruce again chuckled; he never tired of that story.
My friend Richard was overjoyed at the prospect of riding in the car past the viewing stand. He couldn’t stop talking about peoples’ reactions, because his interest was completely enveloped in the sociological and cultural impacts of this car on an audience. It wasn’t the car per se; it was how people reacted to the car, whether they were seeing an Isetta for the first time, or reliving memories of one from long ago. He never let go of his idea of making a documentary about the car and the public’s responses to it.
We got the car loaded onto the trailer and got back on the road just as a major late spring storm hit. We made it back safely, though, and I thanked Richard profusely for all his help. All he could say was that he’d gladly do it again.