The New Jersey Region of the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) held its annual car show on Sunday, May 5, 2019. It has long been the Region’s tradition to hold the meet on the first Sunday in May, and it’s also policy that the show is a rain or shine event.
This was the 4th consecutive year that it rained on show day. In the recent past, the rain reduced but did not completely suppress the turnout. This year was different, as fewer than 20 brave souls brought their cars (your reporter was not one of them). At its peak, this show has been known to garner upwards of 250 classic and antique automobiles, so to state that the car count was off its highs is an understatement.
Even with such a diminished number, the quality of the machinery remained as stellar as always. Below are photos featuring most of the vehicles in attendance. As always, members of the NJ Region had boots on the ground, as registration, parking, judging, and awarding of trophies still went on.
The Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) held it 83rd annual meeting at the “Philadelphia 201 Hotel” in Center City Philly PA on February 8 & 9, 2019. The AACA has a long history of annual meetings in the City of Brotherly Love – you can read more about that history here. The show was also covered on the blog last year. This year, for the first time, I spent Friday night in the hotel so that I could attend both days. My primary interest was the judging school, and more about that in a bit.
This is not a car show per se. Rather, the principal activities for registrants (you must be an AACA member to attend) are seminars on a variety of topics; judging school; a trade show; a general membership meeting; and the Saturday night awards banquet. The host hotel is nicely set up for this, with the trade show in a large room to accommodate vendors’ booths and displays, and conference rooms of various sizes for the seminars. Everything is within a few minutes’ walk, with no need to venture outdoors into the 32-degree winter weather.
The seminars I attended included “Market Value Trends”, “The History of the Ford Mustang”, “Keeping Tabs on Hobby-Related Legislation”, “The History of the Ford Flathead V8 Engine”, “Planning Your Collector Car Estate”, and “Modern Motor Oils”.
Almost every AACA event offers a judging school. By AACA rules, all judges must attend at least one judging school per calendar year, so there’s good reason for the frequent offerings. My plan is to judge at the NJ Region’s upcoming National in Parsippany in June, so I need to increase my judging credits. I attended the school on Saturday morning, and it’s refreshing to (re)learn that as strict as the judging guidelines are, the Club also recognizes that this is a hobby, and we all are doing this for fun.
The trade show is primarily populated by businesses wishing to promote their wares (restoration shops, books sellers, and appraisal services). Several schools and colleges which now cater to the hobby also had a presence. AACA takes up significant real estate just trying to sell clothing and tchotchkes. The NJ Region set up a booth to promote the June National, and I spent several hours each day in the booth to talk up our event with attendees. I was pleasantly surprised to meet AACA members from as far as Indiana and Florida who expressed interest in attending.
The Annual Meeting is quite different from a meet or a tour: you are not there to ogle beautifully restored cars. However, it is very much like any other AACA event in that it’s about mingling with those who share a passion for the hobby. There was plenty of time to catch up with old friends and become acquainted with new ones. For that reason alone, it’s worth making the trek each February to Philly.
MARKET VALUE TRENDS SEMINAR
Larry Batton of the Auto Appraisal Group presented results from the recently concluded Arizona auctions. Larry’s style is unpretentious, upfront, opinionated, and straightforward. Whether you’re an auction veteran or someone who wonders what the fuss is all about, it’s enlightening to hear some of his behind-the-scenes stories.
HISTORY OF THE FORD MUSTANG SEMINAR
Mark Young is a 4th generation Ford enthusiast, and that’s putting it mildly. His great-grandfather owned one of the earliest Ford dealerships, a business he started in 1910. I lost count of how many Mustangs are in Mark’s immediate family, but it’s 7 or 8 (plus a few T-Birds). Mark gave a credible and succinct summary of the original pony car’s success and what it has meant for the Blue Oval fans.
HISTORY OF THE FORD FLATHEAD V8 ENGINE SEMINAR
There were many V8 engines in existence before Ford introduced theirs in 1932. But none were as low-priced nor as mass-produced as the “flattie” was; it stayed in production just over 20 years. Dain King, an entertaining man in his own right, provided the interesting back story (for example, Ford engineers scoured junk yards to buy up V8s from other companies, so they could disassemble and see what they could learn from them).
KEEPING TABS ON HOBBY RELATED LEGISLATION SEMINAR
Colby Martin from SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association) made the presentation, which was not a bashing of government regulations. Rather, it was an overview regarding how a regulated industry which seeks fairness and consistency can have a voice. One point of great interest that he showed was a lengthy list of Congresspeople from both parties who have identified themselves as “friends and advocates for the automotive hobby”. It’s good to know that such people exist.
PLANNING YOUR COLLECTOR CAR ESTATE SEMINAR
Father-and-son duo Tony and Mario Monopoli provided a series of common-sense suggestions to help ensure that upon your demise, your heirs either have your cash, or know how to turn your “stuff” into cash. Tony confessed that for the past few years, he’s been getting rid of his stuff on eBay so that he has the cash while he’s still around. If you’re keeping what you have for now, Tony suggested making lists (what you own, what it’s worth, and where it’s located) and making sure your descendants have copies of the lists.
MODERN MOTOR OILS SEMINAR
Part chemistry class, part history class, and part sales pitch, Larry Giancola, who unabashedly works for AmsOil, provided more information than you need about base oils, index modifiers, and viscosity, as well as phosphorus, calcium, and zinc (for a moment, I thought I was in nutrition class). While touting the benefits of the oil he sells, Larry also kept it real. One revelation was the discussion around Direct Injection (DI) engines and the havoc they are causing. He pointed out that the vehicle manufacturers have specifically requested that the engine oil manufacturers produce an engine oil (SN+) to address this, and they have.
AACA JUDGING SCHOOL
Dain King and Stan Kulikowski did a wonderful job explaining the intricacies of AACA’s judging rules and points system. All class cars start at 400 points, with points deducted for faults. Cars are judged first on authenticity, and only then on condition. To provide a simple example: if a 1940 Ford is on the show field with radial tires (non-authentic), that car would lose maximum point value for 4 inauthentic tires. If a different 1940 Ford had bias-ply tires correct for that year, but only one of the 4 was half worn while the other 3 appeared new, it would lose nothing for authenticity, but lose condition points for only that one worn tire. As stated earlier, they stressed that this is a hobby, and the judge’s job is not to “destroy” someone’s work with a few stokes of a pen. All in all, it was a very enlightening session.
A frequent question I get is “what makes a car a classic?” There is no one right answer. The definition of such a car can be up to you! If you think your vehicle is “interesting” on some level, and the car is used more for special occasions (anything from Sunday drives to cruise nights) than as a daily driver, then it fits the bill. Who am I to say that a 3-year-old Camaro which is only driven in dry weather to GM-themed events isn’t a collector car?
Attendees at Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) shows typically see cars which have been restored to the highest professional standards. A true “#1 condition” car is rare, but you’ll find them in the AACA. These cars are almost never driven on the road; the engines are run long enough to move them into and out of an enclosed trailer to preserve their perfected state, and that’s it for the driving.
My first AACA experience was Hershey in the early 1980s. As a young man not yet 30, the rows of perfect Mustangs and T-Birds depressed me into concluding that I’d never have a vehicle which could qualify there. These owners’ cars were judged by arbiters who would dole out trophies and bragging rights, so there was no such thing as “too nice”.
Except, there was. The Overseers at AACA began to realize they had a problem: strictly speaking, their own rule book said that cars should be restored to be as close as possible to “factory new” condition, when in practice many of these cars were better than new. Trim which the factory buffed was now chromed; single-stage paint now wore a clear coat; and unpainted surfaces were now sealed. It’s a condition called “over-restoration”. Some owners complained that their ultra-low mileage never-restored cars were losing out to restorers with deep pockets and questionable taste.
To its credit, AACA created a new judging class: the Historical Preservation of Original Features, or HPOF. The concept was simple: reward vehicle owners whose steeds still were screwed together as the factory did it. Dull paint and worn upholstery didn’t matter, but original equipment and fittings did. The goal was to encourage the preservation of cars in their original state for future generations to observe, study, and learn from them. HPOF has become a very popular category for owners and spectators alike.
As a separate class, there would be no clash in trying to judge an HPOF car against a fully-restored one. An obvious example from the HPOF rule book is paint: a car must wear all or almost all of its original paint to be eligible in this class. In fact, a car which wins an HPOF award and is subsequently repainted will lose its HPOF accreditation.
When I purchased my 1993 Mazda Miata in 1996, it was a gently-used 3-year-old car with barely 30,000 miles on it. The first-generation “NA” models were still in Mazda showrooms. The Miata got driven a lot, but never in the winter. I kept up with all maintenance on the car, and I can count the total number of repairs on one hand: a clutch slave cylinder, a power antenna, a heater core, and one headlight bulb. (Service items such as hoses, belts, fluids, brakes and tires are all part of routine maintenance.)
Perhaps the most difficult part of owning this car for 22 years (it now has 104,000 miles) has been avoiding the temptation to modify it. The aftermarket business for the Miata has always been strong and keeps getting stronger. I’ve been tempted to add a turbo; replace the stereo; reupholster the seats; install bigger brakes, wheels, and tires; and add interior wood trim. While a few small changes have occurred (I upgraded the floor mats and replaced some lighting with LED bulbs), the car appears the same as it did when I got it in ’96.
This year, the car turned 25 and became eligible for AACA events. I was excited to enter it into the Hershey show in the HPOF category, and last week, the package arrived informing me that indeed, my 1993 Mazda Miata had earned its HPOF badge. I’m a proud papa, and plan to continue to enter this car in HPOF, notably, in the June 2019 National meet which the NJ Region is hosting in Parsippany NJ. There will be plenty to talk about between now and then.
The primary purpose of the annual meeting is the Saturday banquet, during which prize winners from the previous year are recognized. There is a General Membership Meeting on Saturday afternoon. Other meetings for officers, Regional Presidents, and judges are also scheduled. Seminars on various topics of interest to the hobby are held all day Friday, and half the day on Saturday. In parallel, a Trade Show is on site, populated by businesses which support lovers of old cars. For someone like me who attended only on Friday, there is lots to see and do.
If there is an issue with the Seminar schedule, it’s that one cannot attend every seminar of interest! There are five time blocks during the day on Friday, but each time block is hosting SEVEN different seminars in seven different rooms. So you need to pick the most interesting one. Given that each time block is 90 minutes, there is the option of jumping from room to room, with the obvious downside of potentially missing something interesting.
I began Friday morning in the “Market Value Trends” seminar, hosted by the Auto Appraisal Group (AAG) Company. Larry Batton was the presenter, and he showed us various slides which crunched the sales figures from the most recent (Jan. ’18) Arizona auctions. By his own admission, Larry is a numbers guy, and of course, dollars are numbers.
One of his more interesting observations was summarizing “average sale price” for the auctions MINUS the $1M+ sales, and MINUS the charity sales (which tend to be beyond “fair value”). It gave a somewhat refreshing look at what cars really sell for, once these outliers are struck from the equation.
He also regaled the audience with a humorous story about a man who “bought back” his own car at an auction, and in doing so, set a world’s record price for that make and model. A few months later, the owner tried to sell the car privately, claiming that the car was worth what he bought it back for. Larry’s point? Do your homework, ask a million questions, ALWAYS ask to see the title, and seek professional help (a plug for his own company).
Next was a session called “Repair, Restoration, and Maintenance” by James Cross. Jim approached his topic in a folksy, low-key, somewhat random way. He’s an old-school, likely self-taught restorer who has focused much of his own collection on pre-war cars (he owns a 1909 Buick). He entertained AND educated us with his list of home-brewed remedies (for example, ketchup will clean the outside of brass radiators, and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda will clean their insides).
One topic covered by Jim which inspired quite a bit of Q&A from the audience was the repair and restoration of wooden wheels. Based on participants’ reactions, your humble blogger was pleasantly surprised to learn that so many hobbyists still have a need to know how to do this. And this observation brought out the one issue with this presentation (which does not cast the slightest aspersion on Mr. Cross): the room was full of old white men, not one of whom was under the age of 50. All this knowledge is great stuff; but how does it get transferred to succeeding generations? This is not an original thought, of course, and yet it remains a vexing issue for the entire old car hobby.
The third and final morning seminar that I joined was given the somewhat misleading title of “Decorating Your Garage”. Dan Matthews, the presenter, is an extremely knowledgeable expert in automobilia and petroliana, having written three books on the topic. His main focus was giving advice to the audience about distinguishing “real” tin and porcelain signs from “reproduction” ones. His fast-paced delivery did not always mesh well with his goal, but it was enough to highlight some of the clues one should look for.
It helps if one has some basic knowledge (he was able to rattle off statistics such as “there were only 12 made of this particular sign, and the last one sold for $20,000”), and perhaps one of his books on the subject would help the serious shopper. At the end of the day, the warning is one we’ve heard many times before: “if the price seems too good for it to be real, it probably isn’t”.
My two post-lunch choices were much more AACA-specific. The “Publications Seminar” hosted by outgoing AACA Publications Chairperson Mary Bartemeyer was designed solely for those who work with their own Regions’ newsletters. (Starting this year, I will be taking a more active role in writing for the NJ Region’s newsletter.) AACA has a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for these newsletters, and there is special focus on copyright infringement. We were all admonished that you simply cannot take a photo off the Internet and reprint it in your newsletter.
We heard one sad story about a Region which violated a copyright and was contacted by an attorney. When the Regional representative said “hey, we’re sorry, we’re just a non-profit club”, the attorney’s retort was “too bad, this is the amount it is going to cost you to settle or we’re going to court”. Mary made the point that the Club’s insurance does NOT cover such matters!
The final seminar for me was simply called “HPOF” (in AACA-speak, that’s Historical Preservation of Original Features). The presenter was Fred Trusty, who is the Chairperson for HPOF. He started with an interesting look back at the origins of HPOF. This new class one born in the late 1980s in part from the realization that many of the vehicles entered into Class Judging were over-restored, and it was no longer possible to literally see how the factory made these cars. Preserving an original car as “original” was deemed to be in the greater interest of the hobby.
HPOF started off recognizing cars 45 years old and older; that cutoff was then moved to 35 years, and then again to where is it today, cars 25 years old and older. HPOF judges would rather see imperfect yet original, instead of perfect but non-original. There are some grey areas, such as re-painting, however, that also depends on the vehicle’s age.
Regarding paint, two examples were given: a 1920s car that was repainted once, in the 1940s, probably has so much patina that judges cannot tell with absolute certainly how old the paint is. The car would likely be judged to be “original”. On the other hand, a 1970s car with a complete repaint would not be considered eligible for HPOF.
I have a more than passing interest in this class, as my 1967 Alfa Romeo already has its HPOF award, and one of my challenges as its caretaker is to maintain it in as close to original condition as possible, while still driving it about 2,000 miles per year. I also intend to enter my 1993 Mazda Miata (it turns 25 this year) in the HPOF class at Hershey in 2018. I’m anxious to see if it qualifies for an award.
If you are an AACA member and have not attended an Annual Meeting, I highly recommend that you do so. If you are not a member of AACA and are interested in old cars, the history of old cars, and preserving history, I strongly recommend that you join. Ownership of an old car is NOT a prerequisite. For me, the best part about my membership is conversing with like-minded individuals.
You were maybe expecting Chapter Five of the Isetta Saga? It’s coming along nicely, and you’ll read all about it next week, promise.
The original Mazda Miata debuted in the summer of 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show. The first vehicles were 1990 models, making them 28 years old this year. At the time of its introduction, the traditional affordable 2-seat roadster had all but disappeared (Austin-Healey, MG, and Triumph were gone). The Miata’s closest competitor was the Alfa Romeo spider, riding on a body/chassis design that had been introduced in 1966.
In my opinion, the club sometimes gets undeserved criticism for being set in its ways, an organization whose membership is only focused on perfect show cars. As evidence to the contrary, I cite the introduction of the HPOF (Historical Preservation of Original Features) award, which recognizes vehicles which are in essentially original unrestored condition. Another recent addition was the creation of the Driver’s Participation Class (DPC), which has brought many previously-excluded vehicles onto the showfields. And to battle the image of “old guys and their old cars”, great strides have been made to get our youth into the club and involved in this hobby.
Along these lines, I accidentally stumbled across something called the Mileage Award Program (MAP) on the AACA website. Seemingly started in 2012, its purpose is to reward those who actually drive their antiques. I had not heard of it before discovering it online about a year ago.
As I was putting the car away for the winter in mid-November, I recorded that the car had been driven just over 2,000 miles. I noted that fact on the MAP form, and mailed it in. Several weeks later, my “2” pin arrived, and today, I fastened it to the MAP plaque above the front license plate.
The MAP recognition awards are given out at 2,000 and 5,000 mile intervals. (It is not clear to me if the mileage segments are cumulative or not; in other words, when I drive another 3,000 miles, am I then eligible for my 5,000-mile pin? Or must I now drive an additional 5,000 miles? I need to reach out to the club and ask.)
If you’re an AACA member (and if you’re not, please consider joining this wonderful club; old-car ownership is NOT required!), check out this relatively new feature. If you regularly drive your AACA-eligible car, it’s a great badge of honor, as well as a conversation starter if your car has the Mileage Award Program recognition on it.
In 2012, the AACA published its first-ever “Membership Album and Roster”. The hardcover book is in two sections: the bulk of the book contains color photos of hundreds of members’ cars. The final third is a phone directory-like alphabetical list of every AACA member. The book runs 919 pages.
In the 1980s, when I began to attend the AACA Hershey events, Saturday was the day to go. First, as a full-time working guy, I didn’t always have the luxury of taking time off, so it was the only day available to make the trek. Second, the best part of Hershey, “the car show”, was on Saturday.
About 20 years ago, I decided that my Hershey visit deserved to encompass multiple days. So I headed out on Thursday, and spent several days roaming among the flea market stalls and vehicles for sale. Saturday morning, wanting an early start, I found myself at the entrance to the show field by 8 a.m., when a funny thing happened.
I discovered the Hershey parade.
AACA rules require that all show cars be driven onto the field under their own power. So, starting very early on Saturday, all the cars line up and serenely motor their way along a predetermined route. What a delight it was to realize that much better than the static show was to witness these glorious automobiles, from early-20th century brass cars to vehicles “just” 25 years old, making their way, and allowing us the joy to see and hear them.
Since then, the Saturday routine has been the same:
Spend Friday night in a hotel close to Hershey;
Arise by 6 a.m. Saturday morning;
Grab some coffee;
Park by 7:30 a.m., and find a good spot along the parade route;
Stand for the next two hours and take it all in.
This routine was followed again in 2017. The photos which follow were for the most part taken along the parade route. The early morning sun only helped further glamorize what are already impeccably restored automotive gems.
This third report concludes our posts covering the 2017 Hershey events. It bears repeating: if you have not visited this fall classic, held every October in Hersheypark PA, it is worth the trip.
Fall Hershey (formally entitled the Antique Automobile Club of America Eastern Division National Fall Meet, which is why we call it Fall Hershey) is an automotive smörgåsbord: collector-car flea market, car corral, judged car show, and auction, encompassing such a voluminous spread of acreage that one needs at least three days to take it all in.
We’ve covered Fall Hershey on this blog in the past; this year, as a tie-in with the report on the previous week’s Carlisle visit, the focus shall be on the car corral. Unlike Carlisle, where one can offer for sale a fat-tired 2003 Toyota pickup truck if one desires, AACA’s rules apply. Vehicles placed in the car corral must be a minimum of 25 years old, and must essentially be in “stock” condition. Beyond that, asking prices are determined by the sellers, and negotiations are strictly between seller and buyer. A car corral office and public notary are on hand to facilitate exchanges.
Overall, the quality and variety of cars were on par with previous years. Unlike the recent past, and eerily similar to Carlisle, were the long stretches of empty spots. It was not a ghost town, however, I’d estimate that 25% of available spots remained so.
The corral has changed in other ways. Way back in the 1980s and 1990s, most cars for sale were privately owned. Deals were often made among hobbyists who knew each other, or at least had a mutual friend. If buyer and seller were meeting for the first time, the sale would many times be the start of a new friendship.
Today, classic car dealers buy up an entire row in the corral, and place their half-dozen or dozen cars together. (You can always tell: the signage and lettering styles are identical.) Dealers are as likely to be buyers as they are sellers. Asking prices are set by picking numbers out of a hat (I kid, but you do sometimes wonder about the relationship between that number on the windshield and reality).
Dealers spew the same lines: “it’s a good car, runs good, real solid, real nice condition, all restored, very rare with these options”. The lack of specificity is jarring. Not to disparage dealers, but if you do find an individual owner who is selling, you are more likely to learn more about a vehicle’s true recent history.
A private owner will talk specifics: “I bought it 10 years ago, put 5,000 miles on it, drove it in an AACA tour five years ago, re-did the brakes two winters ago, and drove it here from Maryland”. Comments like these were actually overheard this year.
This lengthy preamble is to set the stage for my eclectic selection from the car corral. The thirty cars below are arranged in order of asking price. No attempt was made to ascertain if the seller was a private owner or dealer. While all these cars “looked good”, condition was not analyzed, and mileage was not recorded. You can presume that none was modified to be non-original. In the case of American cars, the level of optional equipment was not noted. The vast majority of signage indicated “or best offer”, so think of these prices as a negotiable starting point.
Organizing them in price ranges allows the reader to make comparative estimates regarding what your collector-car piggy bank can get you. Have fun on your imaginary shopping trip.
Part 2 will be my report on the 2017 RM Sotheby’s Hershey Auction.
The town of Hillsborough NJ held its annual Memorial Day parade on Saturday May 27, 2017. The day dawned sunny and warm, in spite of a forecast which predicted showers, and the turnout from the NJ Region of the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) was extensive and eclectic. The club has supported this parade for years, but this was the first time that your scribe was able to join in the festivities.
We were asked to convene by 9:30 a.m., with a planned kick-off at 10:30 a.m. Over 20 member-driven cars and trucks were in attendance, including a LaSalle, a Stevens-Dureya, numerous Corvettes, several ‘60s-era Pontiacs, the ubiquitous 1957 Chevy, two Model T Fords, two Mustangs, and a first-gen Monte Carlo. Among non-American makes were two Alfas and a rarely-seen Sunbeam Alpine GT hardtop.
In a unique approach, we were asked to arrange ourselves by vehicles’ decade (not exactly year order), so perhaps the multitudes lining the route could get a sense of automotive history parading by. We moved along at something less than 5 mph, tough on the clutch, but the throngs were appreciative of all the gleaming sheetmetal and chrome.
We probably drove 1.5 miles, and it was over. The cars dispersed, having fulfilled our civic duty for the weekend. It was a thrill to see happy smiling faces waving at you, even as one young man yelled out to me, “hey, is that a Jaguar?” I suppose I should have been complimented.
While nowhere near the washout of 2016, this year still required participants and spectators alike to deal with cloudy and somewhat cool temperatures for this time of year. At least the promised rain held off until about an hour before the show was done. In spite of the threats, turnout was decent, with some unofficial estimates putting the vehicle count at close to 200 cars. Spectators turned out in decent numbers too.
I was proud to have my Alfa Romeo, fresh from the AACA museum, on display, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was one of three Alfas at the show, joined by a rare Euro-spec Nuova Giulia sedan, and a one-owner Milano. The Italian car feast was rounded out by a Lancia Fulvia coupe.
British cars included an Austin-Healey, a stunning MGB-GT, and two Lotuses (Loti?), an Elan and a Europa (yes, all Lotus model names begin with the letter E).
AACA rules allow cars to be shown once they reach 25 years of age. So on a rolling basis, each new calendar year means that there is a new “class” of eligible cars. For 2017, 1992 and older cars can be shown, so it was a pleasure to see this beautiful ’92 Mercedes Benz 500SL on the showfield.
Of course, American makes dominate the display, including the so-called orphan manufacturers (those whose marques no longer exist). Below are some examples of these, including Pierce Arrow, LaSalle, Crosley, DeSoto, and Pontiac (still strikes this writer as odd to see Pontiac’s name with the others).
One does not need to be a member of AACA to enter a car into the show. One of the draws for members and non-members alike is the chance to win something, as this show is one of the few in the area which is judged (to AACA standards). The NJ Region recently switched from trophies (aka dust-collectors) to tool and duffle bags, to make for more practical prizes. It’s the generosity of the sponsors who help make it possible to have awards.
After several years of this, Steve took a job transfer to California, but we both wanted to continue participating in the New England 1000. This meant that Steve needed to fly east, and your scribe needed to provide the rally ride. Steve did come back to this area four times between 2005 and 2015. For those rallies, we initially drove my ’68 Mustang California Special. When that car went away, we switched to my ’67 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior.
Throughout this time, I had always informed him that should a left-coast event become available, I’d return the favor and fly west. Besides, the thrill of driving that V8-powered British sports car of his was something I savored to repeat. During the winter of 2016-2017, we found an opportunity that seemed to hit all the right notes.
The rally was called “Drive Toward a Cure”. Scheduled to be held in April of 2017, it would be a 3-day event, starting in downtown Los Angeles, and overnighting in Paso Robles in central CA. Its mission: raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s Disease. We would be driving in its inaugural run. We were in!
With a rally push-off date of Friday April 28, I flew out on Wednesday the 26th, to meet up with Steve on Thursday and attend to any last-minute details. It was great to see the Tiger again. We changed the oil and buttoned up a few loose ends. The biggest difference compared to last time was the installation of a hardtop, which meant no top-down driving.
Friday morning arrived quickly enough. We were up at 4:30 a.m. (my body still on NY time), because we needed to depart his house at 5:15 a.m. to reach our destination, the Petersen Museum in L.A., at 7 a.m.
This New Yorker couldn’t believe the traffic on the highways of southern California at 6 a.m. on a weekday morning! Steve drove in without issue, and we parked at the Petersen to collect our registration papers, get coffee, and meet some of our fellow rallyists.
There were approximately 20 cars with scheduled check-out times one minute apart. One of the unique features of this rally was that there were another 20 cars doing likewise, but starting in Danville, outside of San Francisco. They would head south as we headed north. We would not see those cars until our rendezvous at our host hotel.
We left the parking deck of the Petersen, and drove directly into… downtown LA congestion. We were trying to get to the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), just a few blocks away, but gridlock maximized our time getting there.
Once on the PCH, we were moving along nicely. After a few miles, we turned right, and went straight uphill into the mountains. By this time, there was a lineup of 4 to 5 rally cars behind us, and one in front of us. The lead car was a Jensen Interceptor Coupe, with a Chrysler V8. Another hybrid, just like our Tiger.
The scenery of oceanfront beaches changed to deep canyons full of verdant foliage. The roads were winding, with sharp bends and hairpin switchbacks. For long stretches, there were no guardrails between you and the bottom of the canyon. It didn’t matter. The weather was perfect.
Our first stop was the Mullin Museum in Oxnard. Peter Mullin’s private collection resides here, and it consists of exclusively French automobiles. The museum’s interior design is just as impressive as the cars. The only drawback to our visit was a one-hour limitation, which meant we may have seen about 25% of it.
Yes, we were “encouraged” to keep moving, but it’s important to point out that very much UNLIKE the NE1000, our driving stages were NOT timed. This California Adventure was not a TSD (time/speed/distance) type rally, and as such, it made for a more relaxed driving atmosphere behind the wheel.
Lunch was in the charming town of Solvang (it’s redundant to say “charming” about these California towns outside of the metropolitan areas), and we were back in the saddle to be on time for 7 p.m. dinner at the Allegretto Resort in Paso Robles.
We were very, very late for dinner.
With me behind the wheel, Steve saw it first. The temperature gauge, which we monitored constantly, suddenly shot up well past what had been its normal 200 F. I pulled into a bank parking lot; we opened the hood; and it was a trifecta: the sight of green fluid all over the engine compartment; the unmistakable odor of hot coolant; and a loud hiss as the steaming liquid and vapor tried to escape.
Steve checked the radiator hose clamps for tightness. He had just replaced the factory radiator with an aluminum model to try to stay one step ahead of the Tiger’s Achilles Heel: excess engine heat. Steve reported that all clamps looked good. Because things were so hot under there, we were prevented from further diagnosis.
Our savior on Friday night came in the form of Hagerty roadside assistance, which was part of the rally’s benefit package. Within an hour, a flatbed truck picked up the car, and we rode in the cab with “Junior”. He drove us the final hour to the hotel. We walked into dinner at 9 p.m., tired, hungry, and most upsettingly, unsure of what was ahead for the car.
What transpired on Saturday morning will restore anyone’s faith in human nature. Or, as Steve himself put it, “yes, there is a rally God”. (The details are in the sidebar story below: “Paso Robles Good Guys Rescue Stranded Tiger”.)
While we missed Saturday morning’s driving events, we didn’t miss lunch! After our meal (including a visit from the mayor of Paso Robles, Steve Martin), we were on the road again for the afternoon’s drives. (Another distinguishing characteristic compared to the NE1000: Day 1 is “rallying”; Day 2 is “scenic cruising”.) We drove through the mountainous landscape dotted with vineyards, then out to Cambria, on the coast, before heading back to the Allegretto.
Dinner was at a different nearby winery, and was served family style. You really get to know your fellow rallyists when you must ask the Ferrari driver “could you please pass the potatoes?” The free-flowing wine helped.
Sunday morning started with a surprise visit from the local San Luis Obispo-based AACA club. Several American classics, definitely different from the rally cars, were in the parking lot for us to admire. Soon after, we were headed to brunch at our 3rd winery stop (Paso Robles must have 100 vineyards). After brunch, it was adieus, and we were on our way home.
The trip to Steve’s house was mostly on I-5, a north-south highway in the middle of the state. The ambient temperature increase was noticeable compared to the delightfully moderate Paso Robles, and we were glad for the hardtop. Had we been convertibling, we would have roasted.
The Tiger got us home in plenty of time for a celebratory dinner with Steve and his wife. All hot-running issues were behind us. The car did about 700 miles, and except for the hose failure, proved that you can drive a 51-year-old car in these kinds of adventures. We don’t exactly know what’s next in our quest for another rally, but it’s sure to yield stories.
SIDEBAR: “Paso Robles Good Guys Rescue Stranded Tiger”
After being towed to our hotel on Friday night, it was a non-stop conversation centered around “what do we do now?” While it was necessary to begin to consider options for Sunday (Tow the car home? Leave it in Paso Robles and rent a car? FLY back to L.A.??), we also knew that we had to spend Saturday morning giving our best shot to a repair attempt.
Before breakfast, Steve worked the Google machine and compiled a list of local repair shops. Most of them didn’t open until 8 a.m., so we breakfasted at 7:30, then quickly headed back to the room to work the phones. With both of us making calls, I struck pay dirt on my 3rd try. “Jorge” at Dave Foltz Automotive answered the phone. I must have sounded like a broken-hearted teenager: “Hi, listen, I’m from out of town, we’re driving an old car, it broke down, we’re stranded, WWWAAAAAHHHHHH!!!”
Alright, it wasn’t that bad. Even if I did sound desperate, Jorge was cool and calm. “Listen, I don’t know what it is, but bring it in, and we’ll look at it right away.” “OK, Jorge, but I need it FLAT-BEDDED. Can you do that?” “No, but call Dennis at 123-456-7890.” I called Dennis. “Sure, I got a flat-bed. I can be there in 10 minutes.” Was I dreaming?
By the time we walked downstairs and out to the portico, Dennis and his truck were waiting for us. Dave Foltz Automotive was 1.5 miles away. As we pulled into the lot, I spotted a NAPA store next store. I mean, five paces away.
I jumped out and Jorge greeted me. But every bay was full, and I was doubtful they’d get to it anytime soon. Jorge said, “we’re finishing one up in 10 minutes, then we’ll bring in the Tiger”. Sure enough, the Tiger was next into the shop, and tech Antonio went to work. I sat in the customer lounge, and tried to distract myself with a year-old People magazine.
Within another few minutes, Jorge was in front of me with a blown lower radiator hose in his hands. “Hey, where do you get parts for something like this?” I said I had no flippin’ idea. He said that he’d walk next door to see what NAPA had. Back to People.
FIVE minutes later, the NAPA parts dude shows up holding a new version of the exact hose. I was so beside myself that I wanted to hug Jorge. (But I refrained.) A few more minutes with People, and I heard a honk. Antonio was outside, beckoning me to join him for a test drive. Halleluiah! They did it!
Total time at Dave Foltz: about 90 minutes. Total charges, including California surcharge for handling cancer-causing chemicals (I made that up): $106 (I didn’t make that up). Antonio got his palm greased to the tune of $20. The Tiger was back at the Allegretto by about 11 a.m. Saturday morning.
The fine auto repair personnel at Dave Foltz Automotive of Paso Robles deserve nothing but our highest praise. At 9 p.m. the night before, even my best-case fantasy didn’t have the car fixed THIS quickly.
The rally Gods smiled. “We’ll take care of you this time….”