The New Jersey Chapter of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club (AROC), under the able leadership of Chapter President Enrico Ciabattoni, held its first event of 2019 by organizing a luncheon on Saturday April 13. Our hosts were the fine folks at Driving Impressions, a Dover N.J.-based business which sells racing accessories in the front, and has ample garage space out back.
We had a small but enthusiastic turnout of about a dozen, consisting of a mix of AROC-NJ members with some local friends. The lunch (Italian food, whaddya expect?) was grand, but we were really there to get together to talk about our #1 passion, cars. There was lots to talk about, starting with the cars on either side of the lunch table. The service bays were occupied by Italian cars OTHER than Alfas, and there were interesting non-Italian toys too.
One corner of the garage is rented to a tech who specializes in Porsches. A 928 with its drivetrain removed was high up in the air, and next to it, on the ground, was a 356 coupe which appeared to be in original condition. It actually gave off the vibe of one of those barn-find 356s I’ve seen at auctions that hammer for 300 large.
Three Italian cars competed for my attention: a current-generation Fiat 500, with turbo and other goodies under the hood, claimed to be the fastest 500 on earth (based on a magazine article I was shown, so it must be true); a Fiat 600, with its cheeky water-cooled four-banger out back, appeared to be in the throes of major reconstruction; and a Lancia Delta Integrale, all ‘80s squared-off inside and out, lounged in the corner, looking like it was daring the turbo 500 to a duel.
A quick peek outside revealed the 3 classic Alfas which dared make today’s drive. It stayed warm and dry, so it was an ideal day to cruise in our classics. Alas, no modern Giulias or Stelvios made the trip.
With the AROC National in Pittsburgh fast approaching in July, there was some discussion among the Alfisti about who was attending, who was driving there, and who might want to caravan. Your author has volunteered to lead the caravan; now I just need someone to agree to join it.
It was reported the other day that in New Jersey, there has been rain on at least one, if not both days of the weekend for the past ten weeks. The corollary to that is that the weather forecasters have been batting about .210 (if they were ball players, they would have been sent back to the minors by now).
So it should not have come as a surprise to awaken on Sunday June 10 to showers, even if 24 hours prior they had not been predicted. It was two months ago that the NJ Chapter of the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club (AROC) selected this date for its spring driving tour through Hunterdon County. But Alfa drivers love to cruise so much that a little moisture wasn’t going to deter us. We met as planned at the Readington Diner on Route 22 in Whitehouse at 10am, and after a brief driver’s meeting, ten people in six Alfas were off.
The half-dozen vehicles were neatly divided into two groups of three: in the ‘older’ group were two ’67 Giulias, a sedan and a coupe, along with a 164 four-door sedan. Alfa Romeo’s current model lineup was thoroughly represented by the 2nd group of three: a Giulia sedan, a Stelvio SUV, and a 4C Spider. The factory couldn’t have planned that better if it tried.
From the diner, we drove about 4 miles on Route 22 before turning south. From that point on, 100% of the driving was on two-lane secondary roads. We wound our way around Round Valley Reservoir, and meandered through the towns of Stanton, Barley Sheaf, Cherryville, Quakertown, and Pittstown before descending into Frenchtown, on the NJ/PA border. The rain at this point was nothing more than a nuisance, and made me long for intermittent wipers on my ’67.
Back on the road, we turned left and began to head east, passing through Sergeantsville, Ringoes (named after John Ringo), Unionville, and Reaville. We briefly entered Somerset County, driving through Cloverhill and Montgomery, before circling round, winding through Wertzville, and finally turning south toward our destination, the town of Hopewell in Mercer County. We covered just over 70 miles in slightly under 2.5 hours, including our break.
Lunch was at Antimo’s Italian Kitchen, and it was charming. Our wait staff catered to our every need, and the food was delizioso. Perhaps best of all, new friendships were formed, as several of today’s participants were on their maiden voyage with the Alfa club.
The roads were lightly traveled; the scenery was verdant and historic; the overcast skies kept the temperatures reasonable; and no one broke down. What else but to conclude that our NJ AROC Hunterdon County tour was a roaring success?
On Saturday, November 11, 2017, the New Jersey chapter of the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club (AROC) held its Fall Foliage Driving Tour, starting at Fullerton Alfa Romeo in Bridgewater, and ending at Duke Farms in Hillsborough.
The day dawned sunny but quite cold, with sunrise temps below freezing. The wind, which had been a factor the previous day, was all but nonexistent, which made the cold more tolerable. The thermometer moderated as the day progressed, and it turned out to be a beautiful day for a driving tour.
The dealer did a great job hosting us in the a.m., with plenty of coffee, bagels, and other breakfast treats available. Early arrivals were there before 9:30, and during the subsequent hour, 17 cars and close to 30 attendees streamed in. While there, we enjoyed alternating our gazes between the new Giulia sedans & Stelvio SUVs, and the classic Alfas parked outside.
After a brief driver’s meeting, we were off and running. Our first leg had us heading north/northwest, through Oldwick and Long Valley. After an hour on the road, we arrived at our planned rest stop in Chester NJ. The intent was to give participants a chance to wander the streets of this quaint town, filled with antique shops, bakeries, and the like. But true to the Italian spirit, almost everyone stayed in the parking lot, hovered around our Milanese metal, and swapped stories (mostly lies about horsepower).
By 12:30, the second leg of the drive began, and we were on the road again, now headed back south. We briefly doubled back on Lamington Road (Route 523), then turned south/southeast, through Whitehouse Station and Readington. We arrived at Duke Farms exactly at 1:30, which was a good thing, as our catered luncheon was scheduled to start at that time. By complete coincidence, the second leg was also an hour’s length. Both drives were blessed with relatively light traffic, colorful autumnal leaves, lots of sunshine, and no breakdowns.
The café staff, led by Debbie, went overboard with our catered meal. We walked in to find a smorgasbord of sandwiches, wraps, salads, fruit, plus cookies and coffee. A section of the dining room was reserved for us, and we continued to catch up with old friends and/or make new ones, all while stuffing our faces.
Our chapter president, Enrico, declared the event a success, and there was widespread agreement among the chapter members. Based on today’s turnout, we are all counting on AROC’s NJ Chapter to hold more such events in 2018.
(Special thanks to my wife Margaretanne for accompanying me, and taking all the on-the-road photos.)
The original name of the company we know today as “Alfa Romeo” was A.L.F.A., which is an acronym. In Italian, it stands for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, which translates as “Anonymous Lombardy (Region) Manufacturer (of) Automobiles”.
During World War I, an industrialist named Nicola Romeo took over control of A.L.F.A., which was then in liquidation. He immodestly changed the name of the company to Alfa Romeo, with “Alfa” no longer an acronym. A recession during the 1920’s forced Romeo out of the company, but the name change stayed.
None of this stops people from continuing to spell the car name as “Alpha” (as if the car were Greek!).
You know it’s late in the collector car driving season when the 8 a.m. arrivals at your starting point are still in the shadows, waiting for the morning’s yellow rays to rise above the concrete and steel horizon.
And so our final Sunday morning breakfast drive for 2017 began, but we knew the day’s weather would be in our favor. Those of us in the Northeast are coming off what may be the best week of weather we’ve had all year: sunny, dry, daytime temps in the mid-to-high 70s, with the thermometer dropping into the 40s and 50s at night. And all this in late October to boot.
For our October 22 drive, we had 14 travelers occupying 11 cars. While the turnout was a bit less than our last motorcade, many of our regulars showed up, drawn in part by the attraction of a favorite destination: The Silver Spoon Café in Cold Spring NY.
The route to Cold Spring is an easy one, and includes Seven Lakes Drive in Harriman State Park. It’s a shame that we didn’t give ourselves a chance to stop and admire the view. At such an early hour, the water, smooth as glass, acted like a mirror for the fall foliage. The scene would have made a lovely backdrop for our myriad group of sporting machines.
We arrived at our destination in under an hour, and the attentive staff at the Silver Spoon had a table for 14 waiting for us (calling ahead and being patient when they say “we don’t take reservations” can still provide your desired result).
The Silver Spoon staff hustled to serve 14 or 15 hungry drivers, and the sometimes erratic service was not entirely the fault of our intrepid waiter. Plates remained unclaimed as diners endeavored to remember what they ordered! Even with the delay, the food was excellent, washed down with coffee by the gallon.
As is customary, as the meal ended, the crowd lingered in front of the restaurant, with no one in any great rush to depart. The warm October sunshine will do that to you. It sounds far away to say “see you on our first drive in 2018”, but it will be here soon enough. We’re also hoping to organize an off-season trip to a museum as we did last winter. For this scribe, it’s now time to put the babies away for the year. I’m pretty sure I still have some Sta-Bil in the garage.
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.
My excitement was barely containable. For the FOURTH consecutive year, I would be driving in Rich and Jean Taylor’s wonderful vintage car rally, along with about 50 like-minded car enthusiasts. My good friend and rally partner Steve would again be joining the troupe, with one significant difference: we would each be taking our own cars. Steve would be teamed up with his girlfriend (now wife) Carol in their Sunbeam Tiger, and I with my fiancé (now wife) Margaretanne would drive our recently-acquired ’72 MGB. Oh boy.
They can’t say they didn’t ask for it. As alluded to in an earlier post, after three straight years of hearing us rave about the rallies, the ladies wanted in. We departed from Steve’s home in Morristown NJ and caravanned to the rally starting point in Lake Placid NY. My B, purchased just a month prior, was relatively untested, and I’ll admit to some trepidation about its roadworthiness (Lucas electrics and all that). However, Steve’s British car (aside from its Yank lump) had been a bastion of reliability all these years, so I did my best to cast aside doubts.
Arriving at the Mirror Lake Inn on Sunday May 20, the field of rally vehicles did not disappoint; if anything, this year’s variety of cars got more interesting. The number of domestic vehicles was greater than previously seen, and included a ’64 Corvette Sting Ray, ’70 Ford Mustang, ’63 Dodge Dart, ’61 Chrysler 300G, and ’62 Ford Thunderbird (ALL convertibles).
The European sports cars continued to dominate the field, and we became almost blasé at repeated sightings of Mercedes 300-SLs, Porsche 356s, Aston-Martins, Jaguar XKs, and Ferraris. The BMW 507 seen earlier returned; and of special note to me, our friend Dave Allison, who had previously entered an Alfa Giulietta spider, a Porsche 356, and a Lotus Elite, showed up with a 1971 Austin Mini. His conclusion? Of the four, the Mini was his favorite to drive!
And drive we did; as always, it’s almost exactly 1,000 miles over four days (that’s why it’s called the N.E. 1000), not including our mileage up and back. Fears about the MGB were totally unfounded; we suffered no ill effects from driving an almost-30-year-old car (not counting a very fiddly convertible top). For my wife, truth be told, getting up early and adhering to a rigidly-scheduled day was not her idea of a vacation, but she did admit that the concept and the camaraderie made it fun.
The return trip was uneventful. I kept the MG for the remainder of 2001, but with the BMW Isetta finally being show ready, I wanted to focus on only one collector car. Besides, the newish ’93 Mazda Miata in the garage offered plenty of sporty top-down driving whenever I wanted, so in the spring of 2002, I sold the B for exactly what I paid for it.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2001 rally, Steve and Carol relocated to California. Due in large part to our geographical separation, it would be another four years before we again entered a vintage rally together, driving a yet-to-be-purchased vehicle. Stay tuned for that story.
On the evening of November 18, 2016, the AACA Museum in Hershey PA officially opened its “Amore della Strada” Italian machinery exhibit with a reception at the museum. The public was invited to attend, and turnout was large, making for crowded aisles. The doors opened at 6pm, and your $20 admission included antipasti, beer, and wine. Those who owned cars on display were admitted “gratuito”.
There were approximately 20 Italian cars, and perhaps a dozen or so Italian motorcycles. The museum is arranged in such a way that there was no practical way for the curators to place all the special exhibits together. Therefore, they were arranged in smaller groups of 2, 3, 4, or more, and placards with each vehicle provided sufficient history regarding the make and model. Owners who were loaning their wares for the five-month duration of the show were dutifully acknowledged. (Last week’s blog entry covered this author’s drive to deliver his ’67 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior to the exhibit.)
Fiats and Alfa Romeos seemed to comprise the bulk of the vehicle displays, and some might agree with me that it was a refreshing change of pace for an “Italian Car Show” to NOT be dominated by late-model supercars from the Big 3 of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati. (Of these three makes, I counted only two Ferraris.)
Among the Fiats, we saw three 124 Spiders, two X1/9s, and an 850 Spider. The X1/9s were a study in contrasts, as the bright green one was a first year example wearing the original bumper-less design, while the white one from 1987 wore no Fiat badges at all, as it was manufactured and sold by Bertone, and badged as such, since Fiat left the U.S. market after 1982. The only Italian prewar car on the floor was a delightful 1937 Fiat Topolino (Little Mouse).
The four Alfa Romeos included two Giulia coupes, one early step-nose and one 2nd generation design, a rare Montreal Coupe (with a factory V8), and the last Alfa sold in the U.S. market (until Sergio’s recent resurgence), the large front-wheel-drive 164 sedan.
The show included vehicles that required an explanation how they passed the entrance exam, as two of them had big American V8 engines, and one had a British 4-cylinder lump. The DeTomaso Longchamp and Italia Omega are vehicles belonging to a class long known as ‘hybrids’ (decades before that term was used to describe a gas/electric vehicle).
Most car aficionados have heard of the DeTomaso Pantera, sold here by Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the early 1970s. The Longchamp is the squared-off, four-seat sister to the Pantera. The one on display featured a Ford 351 Cleveland engine mated to a 3-speed automatic. I’ve seen many a photo of Longchamps, and this was the first one I’ve ever seen in the metal.
The car labeled as a 1967 Italia Omega is more familiarly known to me as an Intermeccanica Italia. Based on my reading of the car’s placard, the history of this car company is convoluted at best. (Indeed, none of the several import-based compilation books in my library make any mention at all of this company.) The vehicle in the museum was an attractive convertible, using a front-mounted Ford 302 V8 paired with a 4-speed manual transmission.
The 1961 Triumph Italia on display is one of 329 built. While the design is certainly in the Italian mold, the sheetmetal hides what is essentially the drivetrain and chassis of a stock Triumph TR-3. One of the outstanding features of the Italia is that it is the handiwork of a young Giovanni Michelotti, who would later pen the restyle of the TR-4 into the TR-6.
Scan through the photos below for shots of other vehicles which were on display. (And as always, click on any of the photos to enlarge them.)
Among the motorcycles, which are not my primary interest, I could not help but be drawn to the 1958 Iso Moto, built by the same company that originally designed the Iso Isetta. Like the Longchamp, it was a first for me to actually see one of these in person.