Stories from the Saratoga Springs AACA Nationals

It may seem like I attend car shows for the cars; however, I discovered long ago that the more enjoyable element is meeting new hobbyists and uncovering the stories behind their prized automotive possessions. The AACA National in Saratoga Springs held earlier this month was ripe with such stories. Here are a few of them.

Bob and his 1969 GTO

My initial attraction to this Goat was the colorful striping; it’s so late ‘60s, and Ford and Chrysler were doing similar outrageous things with paint, decals, and the like. But think about the pure nerve to name a car “The Judge”, as if it ruled over everyone and everything (and that certainly was what the marketing folks had in mine).

The owner, Bob, saw my interest and approached me. He was low-key, but wanted to be sure that I knew that this was a one-owner car, bought new by him just before he entered military service. Here’s a partial quote from the car’s display sign:

“I purchased the car new in March of 1969 (and) married Nancy on June 7, 1969…. Nancy drove “The Judge” to work every day while I was gone (in the Navy). In the fall of 1974, I decided to put it in storage, where it stayed … until the fall of 2012, when I decided it was time to have a concours restoration completed on it….  (The shop) completed the car in August of 2013 and we have enjoyed taking it around the country, sharing the car and its story with others….”

The restoration looked top-notch to me, and it’s wonderful to behold this pinnacle of the American muscle car era, which was soon to fade away. Bob was beaming with pride the entire time he talked to me about his Judge. He had every reason to be completely proud of it.

Dave and his 1955 Thunderbird

Two-seat T-Birds, aka Baby Birds, are not an uncommon sight at an AACA show. There were perhaps a half-dozen in Saratoga Springs, but it was the color of this ’55 which drew me in and brought me to ask the owner “what is the name of this color?” Dave replied “Thunderbird Blue”, at which moment I recalled that I always found that just a bit odd, as the paint certainly has a greenish tint, appearing closer to aqua. This of course led us to talk more about his car, which is when he revealed that he bought this ‘Bird in 1969, and it was the very first motor vehicle he ever owned.

After driving it on and off for many years, he laid it up in 1991. Fifteen years later, in 2006, he decided to embark on a restoration. Dave said that one of the biggest challenges was seeking out a repair shop willing to let him participate in some of the actual work, which was the only way he was going to afford the job. One can only imagine how 15 years of off-the-road storage added to the complexities of the operation.

Whether it was due to the shop’s schedule, Dave’s availability to participate, his ability to fund the repairs, or some combination of all the above, the work which began in 2006 took thirteen years to complete. Looking at the photos, I think you will agree that patience was rewarded! Dave summed up the present situation by confiding “when I saw the finished product in 2019, I realized that the car was too nice to drive, so THEN I had to purchase a truck and trailer; but once this award circuit is done, I’m putting it on the road and plan to enjoy some time behind the wheel!”

Richard and his 1964 Riviera

What grabs you at first glance is the color. Not that “green” is an unusual color for a vehicle of this era; it certainly is not. It’s this particular shade of green, dubbed by Buick’s marketing team as “Surf Green”. The paint is complemented by the pure white interior, both in impeccable condition, and the entire package from bumper to bumper is undeniably appealing.

I’ve seen this car before; in fact, I photographed it at the NJ-hosted AACA Nationals in Parsippany in 2019. This time, I spoke to the owner, Richard, who was in Saratoga Springs seeking his Repeat Preservation award. He’s a long-time Riviera fan, and unabashedly told me that he’s owned “quite a few ‘63s, ‘64s, and ‘65s”, and this one might be my favorite”. He prefers the first two years, stating “those clamshell headlights are a pain, the doors always getting stuck part-way”. This ’64 has factory air which makes long summer drives that much more pleasurable, provided you’re prepared for the frequent fuel stops. He went on: “A lot of guys want the high-output motor with the two 4-barrels. Let me tell you, yeah, the top end jumps from 130 to 133 mph but you go from 12 to 8 mpg, and good luck getting those carbs synchronized!”

When I asked him to pose next to the car, he laughed and exclaimed “why do you want to ruin the shot?”. Only after I got home and looked at the snap did I notice that his shirt and pants matched his car….

Phil and his 1929 Reo

The day before the show, there was an option to take a tour of a private auto collection nearby. The AACA had arranged for a bus to take us to and from that warehouse, and it was on the bus where I met the entire family: Phil, the patriarch, with his wife Kathy, their son John, and John’s wife and 3-year-old daughter. Phil and I ended up sitting next to each other, and what else were we going to talk about but stock futures our own cars. “The family” was showing their 1929 Reo in the show, and it was in Saratoga Springs seeking its First Preservation award.

Now, you don’t exactly see Reo automobiles of any year on a regular basis, but a few are around. (For the uninitiated, Reo is the initials of company founder Ransom E. Olds, yes, the same person who founded Oldsmobile.) What was most intriguing about Phil’s car was that it had belonged to his grandfather. While Phil never revealed when his grandfather bought the car, I knew Phil’s age, and some quick estimations make it at least possible that grandpop bought it new (his grandfather might have been around 30 years old in 1929).

Just as interesting was hearing stories from Phil’s wife about how, before it was restored, the Reo was “just a driver” and they would throw all their kids into the spacious rear seat and go cruising. It sounded like the car was kept in decent running condition and the family didn’t hesitate to put miles on it during their younger years. Now that it’s been fully restored, it’s a trailer queen, and after Saratoga, they are trucking it to the AACA Grand National in Minnesota later this summer. Like Dave with the T-Bird, though, once it’s earned its Repeat Preservation, they said that the trailering ends and the driving fun begins again.

Obviously, the collector car disease has infected the next generation, as in speaking to their son John, he informed me that he already has a small collection of pre-war Fords (THIS from someone who was born in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s!). Hearing this should give us assurance that the collector car hobby will continue in some fashion, especially if it’s done as a family affair.


Bob’s GTO, bought new by him, was in storage for many years, then restored. Dave’s T-Bird, his first car, was put in storage then took 13 years to restore. Richard’s Riviera, one of many he’s owned, looks like it’s “the keeper” for him. Phil’s Reo, in the family since his grandfather owned it, finally got a full restoration after many years as a driver. Their stories are different but have common elements. Patience and perseverance are a huge part of each saga. It’s the passion for a special car, whether it’s a new acquisition or a long-term family member, that brings together people, machines, and memories.

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

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.

 

The AACA Eastern Spring National, June 2019

What a show! Over 400 of the country’s finest classic and collector cars gathered in Parsippany NJ to participate in what was officially known as “The 2019 AACA Eastern Spring National”, but what was simply referred to by the NJ Region members who put it all together as “the National”.

Saturday morning’s last-minute detailing

Here’s the background: sometime last year, after a visit from an AACA Director encouraging us to take the leap, the NJ Region of the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) decided to host a National event (static car show, as opposed to a driving tour). This would be the first time since 1968 that a National meet would be held in the Garden State. It was “all hands on deck”, and dozens of Regional members (including yours truly) volunteered for duty.

The dates were picked: June 28 through June 30, 2019. The location/host hotel was found: the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany NJ, conveniently located a mile from Interstate 287 in the northern part of the state. As with any National, the several days prior to the actual car show would include a chance for car owners and club members to join optional tours to points of interest in the area. For me, Thursday and Friday were consumed with staying at the hotel to assist with behind-the-scenes work on merchandise and raffle ticket sales, as well as transporting the club’s PA system.

NJ Region staff in the merchandise/raffle room

Saturday, the big day, arrived, and many Regional members were already scurrying around the hotel’s hallways at 6am. After I got the PA moved into position, I put my 1993 Mazda Miata on the show field in the HPOF category (Historical Preservation of Original Features), and rushed to judges’ breakfast.

Last year, as part of my contribution to making this show happen, I decided to offer my services as a judge for The National. Serving as an AACA Judge is a major time commitment. First, one is obligated to attend at least one judging school a year (I managed two, one in Gettysburg PA in August 2018, and again in Philadelphia in February 2019). Then, the day of the show, judges’ breakfast is mandatory. This is your opportunity to sit with your Judging Team, including Team Captain, review the list of vehicles to be judged, and make preliminary plans to tackle the task.

We judged the Jensen-Healey. We did not judge the truck.

We were assigned Classes 25 A/B/D, which were two-seat sports cars of a variety of model years. We began our duties at 11am, and judged 10 cars, mostly European sports cars (MGs, Triumphs, Porsches, Jaguars, a Jensen-Healey) plus a Cadillac Allante. When one includes the review and tallying of the score cards, the actual judging took over 3 hours. (Besides the Team Captain, the team includes one judge each for exterior, interior, chassis, and engine compartment. I had engine compartments, and spent my time scrutinizing valve cover finishes, hose clamps, and wiring connections, among other things.)

Fueled by water and chips, judges check and double check the score cards

Finally, released by my Team Captain, I grabbed my camera and dashed back to the show field to snap as many shots as possible. We were blessed with a sunny and dry day, if a bit warm (93 degrees and humid). Staying hydrated was paramount, as was protecting one’s skin from the relentless rays. The 400 or so cars were mostly in the points-judged classes, but we had ample turnout in both HPOF and DPC (Drivers Participation Class) too.

Looking at the placards, while most vehicles were from the metro NY/NJ area, I did note many vehicles from PA and CT, and cars from as far as NC and WI. In my haste, I forgot to photograph my Miata, which was vying for its “Original HPOF” award. I’m pleased and humbled to state that it did achieve that milestone.

Cars 25 years old and older are AACA eligible

The caliber and quality of the show cars amazed me. I’ve been attending Hershey since the late ‘70s; I’ve been to various Concours all along the East Coast, including Greenwich, Misselwood, and New Hope. Subjectively, I thought that the vehicles in attendance in Parsippany were collectively the most stunning group of AACA-eligible cars I’ve ever had the pleasure to gaze upon. Brief conversations with some fellow Regional members revealed that they felt the same way.

Saturday evening’s banquet was the icing on the cake. We finally had a chance to relax, have a drink or three, and chat with friends old and new. I’ll happily repeat myself: the older I get, the more I enjoy the PEOPLE and the STORIES more than the cars. And I’ve got stories, and they will follow as separate posts in the coming days.

 

1951 Willys station wagon

 

1966 Chrysler 300 convertible

 

1962 Hillman Minx convertible

 

1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk

 

1982 Plymouth Horizon

 

1966 Cadillac

 

1963 Chevrolet Corvair

 

1956 DeSoto

 

1968 Cadillac Eldorado

 

1973 Ford Mustang convertible

 

1970 Plymouth Barracuda

 

1970 Plymouth Barracuda

 

1961 Pontiac Catalina bubble top

 

1981 DeLorean DMC12

 

1966 Ford Mustang GT fastback

 

1964 Amphicar (note fire extinguisher)

 

1953 Nash Healey convertible

 

1967 Ford Mustang

 

Baby ‘birds line up for their photo op

 

1956 Ford Thunderbird, one-of-one in “Lincoln cinnamon” factory paint

 

1957 Ford Thunderbird

 

1968 Chrysler 300 convertible

 

1968 Mercury Cougar

 

1968 Pontiac Grand Prix

 

1969 Pontiac Firebird

 

1970 Buick Riviera

 

Boattail Riv’s extend their shark noses

 

1976 Pontiac Grand Prix

 

1964 Buick Riviera

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado

 

1963 Studebaker Avanti

 

1948 Willys Overland Jeepster

 

1959 Chevrolet El Camino

 

1931 Packard

 

Event shirt? Check. Name badge? Check. Car ID card? Check. Judge’s sticker? Check. Can I go out now?

 

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