We had had such a grand time on the 2013 New England 1000: we saw old friends, made new ones, and the Alfa performed almost flawlessly. That rally ended a 6-year drought, and I was determined to drive the Alfa in the event again in 2014, but rally brother Steve had some scheduling conflicts. I turned to another Volvo alumnus, my friend Bob, whom I knew was a fan of European sports cars and had the additional advantage of residing in central Massachusetts. Bob said he was in, so the Alfa was prepped and away we went.
Some of the work done to get the Alfa in shape included the removal of the air conditioning system. The factory belt-driven fan and shroud were reinstalled, and not only did the overheating problem cease to be, the engine actually ran on the cool side, at least according to the water temp gauge. This gave me great peace of mind given the distances we would be covering.
The 2014 host hotel was the Harraseekent Inn in Freeport ME, ironically, the same host hotel for our very first rally in 1998. The drive from my domicile to Freeport is over 6 hours in a modern car, a bit longer in the Alfa. Bob’s house, coincidentally, is almost exactly halfway between the two, and he and his wife graciously invited me to stay over, breaking the drive up (and back) in half, which was a pleasure.
The assortment of interesting and unusual cars was even more so this year. There was a Corvair Fitch Sprint, a Fiat Abarth, an Arnolt-Bristol, a 1955 Chrysler 300, a genuine Studebaker Avanti, and a very rare Ferrari 250 GT Pininfarina Berlinetta Speciale, which despite its rarity was driven to and from the event as well as the 1,000 miles of the event. It was also nice to see an MGB and Triumph TR-6 as reminders of the good ol’ days when the NE1000 field was populated by more popular (and affordable) sports cars.
This was my 8th time out on the NE1000, run by Rich and Jean Taylor of Vintage Rallies, and to my recollection, this would be the first time that the entire rally remained in one state. If we had to select a state to do this, Maine would not be a bad choice. It’s large, diverse, lightly populated, and extremely picturesque.
One of the many perks provided to us rally participants is the chance to visit car museums and collections, both public and private. This year we made it to the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum and the Bob Bahre Collection. Even though I had been to both on previous rallies, there always seems to be something new to take in. One such highlight was Bahre’s ‘30s-era unrestored Alfa Romeo 8C, and I had to pose with it.
The weather stayed cloudy and cool, with little precipitation. The overcast skies helped with the photography, but it was a bit nippy on the optional boat ride. One thousand miles over four days goes by very quickly, and before we knew it, it was over. On our way out of town Friday morning, we took advantage of the proximity of LL Bean’s HQ store literally just down the street before heading home.
The Alfa did it again! I had owned the car a little over 14 months and had already put close to 3,000 miles on it. It was a keeper, and I had every hope of driving it in next year’s NE1000.
THE BOB BARHE COLLECTION
Bob Bahre keeps his vast collection in a specially-built “garage”, if one can call a 2-story building where each floor can accommodate about 30 cars a garage. The majority of his collection focuses on American luxury cars of the 1930s, but it does get eclectic. The less interesting cars stay in the cellar. The fact that a Tucker lives in the cellar tells you something about this collection.
Early in 1998, a glossy brochure arrived in the mail. It almost immediately made its way into the recycling bin. “Rich and Jean Taylor present the 1998 New England 1000”. Recognizing the name ‘Rich Taylor’ from his stint on the staff of my favorite mag, Car & Driver, I decided to read on.
“Each of our events is a five-day rally over paved roads, plus flat-out Special Stages. Each day covers about 250 miles over some of the most beautiful and least-traveled roads in America. Events are restricted to 50 cars, driven by you and a small group of like-minded vintage sport car enthusiasts. The New England 1000 is held the week before Memorial Day, and is open to pre-1974 sports, racing, or GT cars.”
I was somewhat familiar with the Mille Miglia road rally in Italy, but the concept of an “antique car rally” held on U.S. soil was new to me. While I was intrigued, there was one small issue: I didn’t own a rally-eligible car (the BMW Isetta restoration was not quite finished in 1998). However, my good friend Steve had recently obtained a nice 1966 Sunbeam Tiger. I showed him the brochure. There was little need for discussion. “Let’s do it!”
Calling the 800-number in the pamphlet, a male voice answered the phone: “Vintage Rallies”. “Hi, is this Rich Taylor?” “Yes it is, what can I do for you?” Holy cow, Rich answers his own phone. A credit card deposit was made, and we were in.
The Tiger was in quite good condition; it had been given a rather thorough restoration by its previous owner, so it needed little prep for rallying. We noted the mention that helmets were required if one wanted to participate in the off-road timed events, so helmets were dutifully obtained.
Most of our time in the months leading up to our May push-off was spent mentally picturing the other participating vehicles. We imagined everything from hopped-up MoPars to modded Mustangs to big-block Chevys, with the occasional MG and Triumph thrown in. We could not have been more off-base.
Departure day arrived. The Tiger’s trunk proved plenty adequate to handle our suitcases and helmets. Our destination on this beautiful Sunday in May was the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport Maine. It was going to take us about seven hours, with stops, to get there.
We arrived in Freeport around 5pm, with no roadside dramas to report, and as we drove around to the rear of the building, the sight was unforgettable: the hotel’s entire lawn had been taken over by an impromptu car show, featuring the week’s rally cars. MoPars? No way, Mr. Iacocca. Instead, there were Jaguars, Alfas, Benzes, Aston Martins, more Jaguars; and in the center of it all, like a Queen Bee, a gleaming white 4-door Bugatti. We were going to spend the week in exclusive company.
We parked in a sectioned-off area of the hotel lot dedicated to the rally cars, had dinner with fellow rallyists, and learned that the Sunday Car Show was a planned part of the festivities. Now we knew better for next time. After dinner: Famous Navigator’s School, wherein we were taught all the intricacies regarding synchronization of stop watches, driving etiquette amongst ordinary civilians, and the importance of placing your car’s front bumper across the finish line at the exact required moment, lest you earn unwanted points, one point for each second early OR late. Oh, the pressure.
Monday morning, we got up, had breakfast, and headed out to the Tiger with our route book. The parking lot was already abuzz with activity. Rally cars were staging themselves up to be flagged off at one-minute intervals beginning at 8:15AM. There were SIX timed stages that first day, plus two so-called transit stages (untimed). Steve was driving, and I was navigating. For the next stage, Steve graciously allowed me to drive, with him navigating. From that point onward, we had established a pattern that driver and navigator would alternate stages. It’s an agreement we’ve kept to this day.
Here’s a rally secret to share with you: navigating is SO much more difficult than driving. The navigator must be constantly be mindful of the printed directions, public landmarks, vehicle speed, and miles traversed, AND he must communicate driving directions to the driver in a clear manner. The driver? He needs to drive while heeding the navigator’s calls. Oh, and if the rally car in front of him turns right when his navigator tells him to go straight, then of course, he should go straight. Unless, of course, that’s incorrect…. (There is tremendous pressure to follow the rally car in front of you rather than refer to your navigation sheet.)
The concept of a TSD (Time, Speed, Distance) rally like this is to “zero out” each stage. A zero score is a perfect score; you’ve hit each finish line at the exact time you were due. As mentioned earlier, being early OR late is penalized, one point for each second you are off your mark. (The New England 1000 caps the maximum points you can earn per stage at 500.) It’s all in good fun, as we were learning.
But nothing was more amazing than the sight of other rally cars on the road with you. To be motoring with a Mercedes Benz 300 SL roadster in view out your windshield, and a Jaguar E-Type in your mirrors, is not something to be taken for granted. Vehicles you’ve drooled over for years, meticulously primped and pampered for show, were now screaming along at 6,000 rpm.
It is not an exaggeration to state that my participation in this rally forever changed the way I felt about the old car hobby. I would never feel the same passion again about static car displays. Once I was exposed to owners who were willing to take their prized machinery and drive them at speed, in rain or shine, then I knew I wanted to be part of that as frequently as possible.
Monday flew by. So did the rest of the week. I saw that the days were quite full, what with early departures, driving, lunches, more driving, and dinners. There were few photographic opportunities during the rally stages, so I was glad to have taken the pictures I did on Sunday. Thursday’s banquet dinner was yet another highlight, with comical speeches, a charity auction, gag gifts, and a trophy for everyone, no matter what your score. You really felt like you were part of something.
If you want conclusive proof that we enjoyed ourselves, know that during Thursday’s festivities, my rally brother Steve wrote a deposit check for the 1999 New England 1000. We would be returning in the Tiger. That’s a story for another time.