Lime Rock Fall Vintage “Sunday in the Park”, Sep. 2020

At 7:10 a.m. on Sunday, September 6, 2020, I was in the parking lot of local bagel shop, buttered bagel and hot coffee in hand. Sitting in my Volvo V60, I used the car’s navigation system to find “Lime Rock Park”, amazed that I located it so quickly within that sometimes-quirky system. Estimated drive time was 2 hours, 30 minutes. With that, I pulled out of the lot, and was on my way to attending my first car show since the global pandemic shutdown began.

There are no words I can use which would add in any meaningful way to what so many have already expressed about the year 2020. I had resigned myself months ago that the entire year would be one huge write-off for participating in the car hobby, yet when I discovered that Lime Rock was planning to move ahead with its 38th annual “Sunday in the Park” concours, I reconsidered my rather conservative position. I knew the show well, and knew that even at its most crowded, the size of the track and the spacing of the show cars would allow for plenty of social distancing. Reading Lime Rock’s website, I learned that they planned to limit attendance by restricting the number of ticket sales, and they would also be enforcing a mask mandate. The final vote-in-favor was the weather forecast, which promised sunny skies, low humidity, and temperatures no higher than the low 80s.

Volvo’s navigation didn’t let me down, and I arrived at the track at 9:40. As soon as I drove onto the bridge over the track, I saw that indeed, this would be an experience different than almost every previous visit. Usually, the parking lot would be more than half-full by this time, and there would be rows and rows of trailers and tents visible in the distance. Instead, parking appeared to be about 25% full, and there was no camping this year – it had been removed as an option.

I parked and headed down the paved ramp toward the track, fearful that maybe there would be an equivalent lack of show cars on display. That wasn’t the case at all, even if the number of vehicles was less than the usual turnout. By my most unofficial calculation, I would guesstimate that both counts (cars and spectators) were about 50% of a typical Lime Rock Fall Vintage show. Almost everyone was masked, and track workers on foot and in golf carts were actually on patrol. If they spotted someone sans mask, the Lime Rock rep stopped that person and told them that masks were required. Good for them! It greatly added to my own comfort level as I walked the show.

The display cars did not disappoint: as always at Lime Rock, there were the pre-arranged “classes”, different every year, which allow for great variety within each class (for example, “Untouched and Preserved Originals and Barn Finds”). The show organizers also managed to squeeze in some fun at the expense of the coronavirus by naming one class “Distancing at a Distance – Vintage Travel Trailers & Campers”. The other major group of show vehicles is collectively known as the “Gathering of the Marques” – for these cars, there is no pre-registration. As one drives up to the gate, the driver makes it known that they intend to park their car with others from the same marque, and there is no model year cutoff. It does make for an eclectic gathering, and show goers have the option to linger or march past.

The spectator parking area itself can provide plenty of automotive entertainment too. New Englanders seems especially fond of motoring to this show in their ‘60s four-wheeled icons and parking them among all the other daily drivers. I suggest that the Lime Rock Park officials consider trophies to vehicles at least 50 years old found in the parking lot!

Awards were handed out between 1 and 2 p.m., at which point, show participants began to leave. I had covered the entire track by about 2 o’clock, so my time was up too. The drive home was hampered by a little more traffic than I encountered in the a.m., but I still managed it door-to-door without stopping in just under 2 hours and 45 minutes. I was really glad I went. It felt great to be outside and back at a show again, my first since attending Atlantic City in February. The Lime Rock Fall Vintage weekend has been a favorite of mine for 30 years, and I can only hope that the 2021 visit will feel like normal again.

 

DOMESTIC

1911 Cadillac

This restoration was over-the-top, yet the accompanying signage claimed that the owners regularly tour in it, and that’s believable too. I loved the “outside” speedometer, and the likely-original worn clutch and brake pedals.

1928 Packard with 5th wheel trailer

I’ve seen this rig before, I think at Hershey. Its originality is impressive. I also overheard the owner say that the car is driven regularly. Take note of the 5th wheel, back when they really were wheels!

1964 Chevrolet Corvair

This Monza coupe was found in the barn-find class; the accompanying signage indicated an original 30,000 miles. The condition and colors made this a standout among 1st gen Corvairs.

1956 Packard

This 400 model coupe was from the last year of “true” Packards. The signage indicated it was equipped with the optional torsion-leveling suspension.

 

C8 Corvette

This was my first in-person sighting of the mid-engined marvel from GM. It looked a bit underwhelming to me, an opinion I chalk up to its plain off-white exterior and interior.

 

ITALIAN

1938 Lancia Aprilla

New England Rally friend Chuck Schoendorf showed this immaculate Lancia in the pre-war class. The car’s engineering was ahead of its time, with 4-wheel independent suspension and a narrow-angle V4 engine.

 

Iso Rivolta

Renzo Rivolta’s ISO firm sold manufacturing rights for its Isetta to BMW, and used those profits to design and build this Italian-American hybrid, with a Corvette V8 under the hood.

 

1971 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe

Owners Dave and Cathy returned to Lime Rock with this gorgeous 124. I met them both last year and the car looked better than ever. Dave said that the oversize air cleaner is hiding two 2-barrel Webers, and stated that this is a high-horsepower European setup which was a dealer option.

1973 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe

These 124 coupes are rare, and it was very unusual to find two of them at the same show, when there were none of the more-common 124 Spiders.

 

1982 Ferrari 308GTSi

This “common” Ferrari model stood out for its unusual and attractive shade of verde medio, or medium green.

Ferrari Dino GTB coupes

I was struck by all 3 cars being GTB models, B for berlinetta, or coupe, compared to the more common S or spider models with a removable top center section.

 

Alfa Romeo coupe, spider, and sedan

Alfa Romeo Junior Z Zagato

This rare Alfa looked great in blue and I overheard the owner talk about having driven the car in Europe; I was envious.

3 Very Different Alfas

The Spider has a longitudinally-mounted engine in the front, driving the rear wheels. The 164 has a transversely-mounted engine in the front, driving the front wheels. The 4C has a mid-mounted engine driving the rear wheels.

 

 

GERMAN

1963 VW Karmann-Ghia convertible

 

1973 BMW 3.0CS

 

Porsche 911 Targa “long hood”

Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

This 300SL was in the barn-find class, and given the values of these icons, it’s incredible to see one which hasn’t been restored. Based on photos on display, the engine had been yanked for an overhaul. The car, as worn as it is, looked completely functional, and frankly, I really hope the owner does NOT restore it! They’re original only once.

SWEDISH

1965 Volvo 544

This was also in the barn-find class, with signage claiming 34,000 original miles and all-original condition, including paint and upholstery. It could be the only such 544 out there.

1968 Volvo 1800S

 

 

Volvo station wagon display

Volvo, well-known globally for its 5-door estate cars, started to add performance to the mix. Here were a few examples.

ASIAN

Mazda Miatas

Miatas are usually well-represented at Lime Rock. This year, the turnout was a bit smaller than usual.

 

Datsun 240 Z

A lineup in red, white, and blue.

 

 

A FEW PARTING SHOTS
A star mascot

 

Curvy glass

 

A well-accessorized Ferrari owner

 

 

Mr. Brown wasn’t shy about putting his name on his cars

 

 

Free fuel?

 

Dad and son

 

Bye til next year

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 24: The 2000 Lime Rock Fall Vintage Festival

Feeling optimistic after successfully trailering the Isetta in August of 2000 to its first public show, I was ready to repeat the process. Labor Day weekend at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut has long been known to me for its Fall Vintage Festival (the event itself has gone through several name changes while staying true to its mission). Saturday and Monday of the weekend are devoted to vintage car racing, and on Sunday, when local ordinances prohibit racing, the track is given over to a static car show.

I’ve attended Lime Rock on Labor Day weekend at least as far back as 1991, when I purchased my ’67 Dodge Dart after spotting it on the field with a For Sale sign on it. During the summer of 2000, I made use of this new-fangled thing called the Internet, and found an online application form to register the Isetta for the show. It was only a matter of days when I received an email response in the affirmative.

Lime Rock CT, nestled in the Berkshires, is a little further from home than Park Ridge NJ. In a modern car, sans trailer, the trip from central Jersey is 2.5–3 hours. In an Aerostar van, pulling a trailer loaded with precious cargo, it’s a bit longer. Margaretanne and I left the house before sunrise; the communique from the Lime Rock officials requested that the car be on the field by 9 a.m.

Posing with the car. Lime Rock’s lush greenery is on full display in the background.

On arrival, we were greeted by a trio of track workers who were in a tizzy. Apparently, they did not know into which class they should place this microcar. Eventually, I was told “you’re in Class 18 – postwar European two-doors”. Instead of protesting the incorrect door count (what was I going to say? “Oh no, you want to place me in the postwar European ONE-door class”), I motored on, found the class, unloaded the car, and drove it into its display position. As had happened in Park Ridge, a small crowd gathered in amazement to watch this egg move under its own power.

The Isetta among its (class) peers

We set up the folding lawn chairs, and I got to work with the detail bucket. It was hot and humid, and while morning clouds threatened, they were gone by midday, and took some of the humidity with them. Cleaning my car gave me the opportunity to take in my competition. On one side of me was a large Jaguar drophead coupe; on the other side, an Austin/Morris Mini (the original one; the successor had not been born yet). Other vehicles in my class included a VW Bug and a Mercedes-Benz 280SE cabriolet. This was as eclectic a group of vehicles as I could have imagined.

There wasn’t much detailing to do and soon after I settled into my folding chair, the judging team arrived. This was my first exposure to “show judging”, and my slight nervousness caused me at one point to yell out to the judges “what’s taking you so long? It’s a pretty small car!”. This verbal jab resulted in an elbow jab from Margaretanne, admonishing me to behave. One of the judges asked “where’s the spare?” and with that, I folded the seat back forward (the spare is in a recess behind the seat). The judge made a comment about dust on the spare wheel/tire assembly, and this time I kept my mouth shut, making a mental note to clean the spare when I got home.

A spectator ponders if he could fit (probably could)

The judges moved on, and I tried to relax while the show attendees stopped to inspect my Isetta and ask the occasional question. I heard a female voice from a few yards away say “oh, I know that car! I helped procure a bunch of parts for it!” It was Linda Gronlund, whom I knew from her days at Volvo Corporate. She had left Volvo to work at BMW USA, and was still employed there. She had indeed played a role in helping me obtain some genuine BMW parts as long as I was able to provide her with genuine BMW part numbers. It was nice to see her, and most tragically, it was the last time I ever saw Linda. Almost exactly one year later, she was a passenger on United flight #93 which crashed in PA on 9/11/2001.

Sometime later in the day at Lime Rock, another voice, this time a male one, called my name out loud after reading it from the windshield entry card. It was Bruce Wennerstrom, who chaired the prestigious Greenwich (CT) Concours d’Elegance. I knew Bruce because Volvo had been a corporate sponsor of his event, and part of my job responsibilities included chauffeuring new Volvos to be put on display at Greenwich. Bruce and I exchanged pleasantries, and then he utterly shocked me by asking “would you like to display your Isetta at the Greenwich show next year?” I was flattered, and flabbergasted. I stammered a “yes” and told Bruce that I was honored.

By 3 p.m., Margaretanne and I were talking about getting an early start to our long trip back home. The award ceremony had just begun, and I didn’t feel it necessary to stick around for it, that is, until I heard “Isetta” over the PA system. I walked up to the awards table and, in a day full of surprises, had my biggest surprise when I learned that my car had won 1st in its class (dusty spare and all). While I am not in this hobby for trophy-collecting, it is nice to be recognized.

Margaretanne is quite proud of the award

 

As is the car’s owner

 

The Isetta was done with car shows for the year 2000. There was already something to look forward to in 2001, and that would be Greenwich in June. I had all winter to detail that spare.

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Lime Rock Park Historic Festival 37, 2019

Lime Rock Park, an historic race track nestled in a valley within the verdant hills of northwest Connecticut, held its Historic Festival #37 over the 2019 Labor Day weekend. The races run all weekend except Sunday, as that is prohibited by local ordinance. Many moons ago, Festival organizers reasoned that the non-racing day could be put to great use for a car show, and “Sunday in the Park” was born.

For me, the static car show in Lime Rock has been an annual treat going back to the early 1990s. So many factors make this show special, including location, size, quality, and variety. Lime Rock delights in creating its own classes based on decade, country of origin, and vehicle type. It keeps things interesting for the spectators. Added to that is the tremendous support from marque-specific clubs, resulting in hundreds of vehicles lining the perimeter of almost the entire track.

Although the park is a 3-hour one-way trip for me, the long Labor Day weekend means that a one-day round trip on Sunday isn’t so bad, as vacationers squeezing in a last summer getaway won’t be clogging the roads until Monday. Pedestrian traffic at the track wasn’t so dense to prevent unobstructed photos, which are presented below, in semi-organized fashion. Enjoy the automotive eye candy!

 

ITALIAN
The Italians are coming!

 

Fiat 500

 

Lanica B20

 

A selection of pre-war Alfa race cars

 

The Al Cosentino Fiat racer

 

Lancia Scorpion

 

 

Alfa spider

 

Iso Rivolta

 

Chrome-bumper Fiat 124 spider

 

GERMAN
VW step-side pickup

 

1st gen VW Scirocco

 

Porsche 914

 

A pair of clown shoes (BMW Z3 coupes)

 

AMERICAN
Studebaker Hawk

 

Studebaker Avanti

 

1940 Ford coupe

 

Lime Rock enters 21st century; Teslas recharge onsite

 

2nd gen Chevrolet Corvair

 

1962 Chevy Bel Air ambulance

 

BRITISH
MGB-GT

 

Lotus Elan (for sale: $19k)

 

Aston Martin

 

Morgan coupe

 

Mogies line up

 

 

SWEDISH

 

JAPANESE

Mazda Miata in 4 generations:

1st gen (NA)

2nd gen (NB)

3rd gen (NC)

4th gen (ND)

RETRO DESIGN, AND THE ORIGINAL INSPIRATIONS (or, “Oh my child, how large you’ve grown!)
Fiat 500

 

P.S.
“patina”

 

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

 

Lime Rock Park Historic Festival, Sep. 2018

Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park held its 36th annual Historic Festival during the Labor Day weekend, running from August 30 through September 3, 2018. If you enjoy vintage racing, then Friday, Saturday, and Monday are your days to watch classic race cars battling it out around this historic track. By local ordinance, racing is not allowed on Sundays. The Festival organizers have taken advantage of that restriction by hosting their “Sunday In The Park” event, with hundreds of classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) cars arrayed along the entirety of track’s perimeter.

Each year there is a special featured marque, and for 2018, that marque was Bugatti. By my count, there were 70 of these famed French cars on display, a number that might be rivaled only by the former Schlumf Museum’s holdings. The strong turnout speaks to the high esteem with which Ettore’s cars are held. Many of the race cars appeared to be in original condition, while most of the road-going cars have been restored at some point. No matter, as Bugatti owners (like Bentley owners) are known to drive their cars rather than treat them like trailer queens.

While the Bugatti display bordered on overwhelming, there were plenty of other vehicles on the field to draw one’s attention. This show tends to attract primarily European cars, and the British, German, Italian, and Swedish turnout did not disappoint. A relatively new feature at Lime Rock is the so-called “Gathering of the Marques”. Open classes, sometimes labeled by Country of Origin and sometimes specified by make and model, are created, and owners are invited to park their vehicles on the track.

The Gathering of the Marques attracted particularly large volumes of BMWs (especially the 2002 model), Porsches (especially 911s), Mazda Miatas, plus the cars of Sweden, Great Britain, and Italy. (Where else but at Lime Rock would a fan of Italian cars such as myself see an Alfa 1900, Fiat Dino Coupe, and Lancia Stratos all on the same day?) A smaller but significant selection of domestic iron provided a nice contrast to the European cars.

The flea market area which used to exist near the start of the straightaway has all but disappeared, but a few vendors had interesting cars for sale, at what appeared to be reasonable prices. And let’s not forget that the paddocks are open to the public on Sunday, so race vehicles otherwise not on display can be ogled as part of the entertainment.

 

The threatened rain showers never materialized; in fact, the temps remained reasonable, staying in the high 70s/low 80s. Anything would have been better than last year’s deluge. It’s a three-hour one-way drive for me, but the quality and variety of offerings has drawn me back almost every Labor Day weekend for the past 25+ years. The track’s setting, nestled in a valley in the Berkshire Mountains, only adds to the ambience. The Lime Rock Fall Historic Festival is a must-see event on the calendar for auto enthusiasts in the Northeast.

 

Click on the photos to enable full-screen view!

 


BUGATTIS:


 ITALIAN:

Fiat Abarth Double Bubble

 

1955 Alfa Romeo 1900 (for sale for $395,000)

 

Lancia Fulvia Zagato! Here’s looking at you, Lenny!

 

Lancia Appia four-door pillarless sedan

 

1974 Lancia Stratos Stradale

 

1983 Lancia Rally 037 Stradale

 

Alfa Romeo Zagato GT Junior

 

Alfa sedan rear ends

 

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider

 

Alfa Romeo Spider

 

Lancia Beta Zagato

 

Fiat Dino Coupe, powered by Ferrari V6 Dino engine

 

Chrome-bumpered Fiat 124 Spider

 

Lancia Fulvia Coupe

 

Pre-war Alfa monoposto race car; note “SF” (Scuderia Ferrari) emblem

GERMAN:

1950 VW; note lack of chrome

 

BMW Isetta bubble-window coupe

 

Row of BMW 2002s poses with hoods up

 

Audi GT Coupe

BRITISH:

 

Jaguar E-Type Series II Coupe

 

Triumph TR3

 

Triumph GT-6

 

E-Type OTS stunning in gunmetal grey & red

JAPANESE:

 

Mazda Miatas

 

First-gen Mazda RX-7

 

Datsun 240Z

DOMESTIC:

Early ’50s Chevrolet woody wagon

 

1963 Chrysler 300 convertible

 

Lincoln Continental 4-door convertible

 

1955 Dodge, with original flathead-6

VOLVOS:

1968 Volvo 122 wagon

 

OK, Volvo experts, what’s not correct here?

 

Volvo 780 Coupe

 

Volvo 1800ES

 

Volvo 850 T5-R wagon

 

Volvo 1800E Coupe

 

Volvo C30

 

Brand-new Volvo XC40!

 


CARS FOR SALE:

 

 

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2017 Lime Rock “Sunday in the Park” Concours

The wonderful people who host various racing events throughout the year at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut have featured vintage racing on Labor Day weekend for the past 35 years. Since, by local ordinance, racing is banned on Sundays, the Lime Rock staff has taken advantage of that restriction by turning Sunday into one of the largest and most enjoyable special-interest car shows in the Northeast.

According to their website, the 2017 edition of this event, Historic Festival 35, included a Friday parade, three days of racing, the Sunday in the Park Concours & Gathering of the Marques, plus their newest feature, an on-site classic car auction. In years past, my interest has centered on the Sunday Concours, and so it was again this year. To my detriment, in spite of near-perfect weather on Saturday and Monday (great for the racers), Sunday’s weather bordered on a wash-out (bad for the concours).

Looking down the straightaway at the bridge over the track

Nevertheless, the trek was made. The drive from my central New Jersey home includes some terrific scenery through parts of NY and CT, and the Lime Rock track itself is set in a valley in the Berkshire Mountains, making for a truly park-like setting.

My buddy Enzo tagged along, as he had not had the pleasure of visiting Lime Rock before. We arrived around 9:30 a.m., and at first, we were pleasantly surprised at how relatively crowded the parking lots were. Venturing down to the track, which is where the show cars are arrayed (walking the track itself is a treat), it looked like the assigned spots were about 50% filled.

The far end of the straightaway was devoid of show cars

The rain held off for about an hour, giving us a chance to take in as much of the field as possible. But as we circled around and came near our starting point, the skies opened up. The soaking was not helped by the temperature which stubbornly held at 52 degrees F. After about 2 ½ hours, we had had enough. We saw everything on the track, but were unable to take advantage of any viewing of the Dragone Auctions cars.

A number of spectators braved the elements to take in the show

The short, wet visit did not dampen my enthusiasm for the overall ambiance of the Sunday show. Here, in no particular order, are the reasons why I’m willing to drive six hours round-trip to Lime Rock almost every Labor Day weekend:

  • The caliber of the show cars is among the best of any show I’ve attended. In the past, I’ve seen pre-war Alfa Romeos and Bugattis, rare European-spec vehicles, famous race cars, and one-off show cars. The quality of the more traditional entries is always top-notch.
  • The parking lot is a show within a show. This year, even in the deluge, we saw a Triumph TR-6 and an Alfa GTV-6 coupe in the lot. In previous years, it has been typical to see late-model Ferraris and other high-end delights parked like they’re nothing more than daily transportation.
  • True superstars have been known to make guest appearances. Several years ago, I had the honor of shaking hands with Sir Stirling Moss.
  • The Concours “classes” are like nowhere else. Each year, the Lime Rock organization gets creative with class names. You will NOT see cars arranged based on such traditional fare as “Mustangs 1965-1973” or “Front-engine V12 Ferraris”. Here’s a sampling of this year’s classes:
    • “Theoretical Efficiency: Microcars and Minicars”;
    • “Tifosi Fantasy: The Magic of Ferrari”;
    • “A Businessman’s Express: GT cars, ’62-‘67”.

In my opinion, this provides greater potential variety of show cars, and also allows for some inventiveness and ingenuity regarding which vehicles may best fit into a particular class.

  • The Gathering of the Marques deserves explanation. While the judged Concours entries are situated along the straightaway, the remainder of the track is turned over to attendees, giving them the chance to park their (non-judged) vehicles in groups with similar marques or countries of origin. We saw turnout from owners of classic BMWs, Mazda Miatas, FoMoCo brands, and cars of Italy, Sweden, France, and Japan. A vehicle owner just needs to pay the standard entrance fee, and ask to be admitted onto the track. It’s neat that “regular car” owners can be made to feel like they’re part of the show (which they are!).
  • In addition to all this, there is an on-site flea market, various vendor booths, and the freedom to walk the paddocks, taking in the race car prep in all its bloody-knuckled glory. (One year, we watched a race team pull an engine; in another paddock, a head gasket was being replaced.)

My calendar is already marked for Labor Day weekend 2018. If you have not made the effort to attend Lime Rock’s Fall Vintage weekend, I highly encourage you to do so.

 

1960 Porsche 356B; the color was a stunning bronze (not shown well in my photo)

 

1935 Studebaker, displaying wonderful Art Deco lines

 

This Fiat Topolino (“Little Mouse”) was badged Simca-Fiat, built under license in France

 

Any Jaguar E-Type is gorgeous; this ’64 in tan metallic was especially so

 

No matter the model, the Bugatti grille is photogenic

 

My kind of Italian fantasy

 

Ferrari 599GTB

 

Ferrari 365GTB/4 (Daytona) spider

 

1961 Ferrari 250GT Speciale

 

1952 Chrysler Ghia show car

Here is a very famous concept car: the 1963 Corvette “Rondine”. Designed by Tom Tjaarda, the full custom body was assembled upon a mostly-stock Corvette chassis and interior. A Google search shows that this car, the only one of its kind in the world, was sold at auction by Barrett-Jackson in 2008 for $1.76 million. Enzo explained to me that “Rondine” (pronounced in Italian as RON-di-nay) is the Italian word for swallow (the bird). Some of the rear quarter and tail light treatment would show up later in Tjaarda’s Fiat 124 Spider design. It was a thrill to see this car in person.


 

Lancia Fulvia coupe

 

DeTomaso Longchamp (the same one was alongside my Alfa in the AACA Museum)

 

1967 Mazda Cosmo (with rotary engine)

 

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

 

Lancia Aurelia B20 GT

 

Chrome-bumper Fiat 124 Spider

 

Rubber-bumper Fiat 124 Spider

 

Rarely seen on these shores: Fiat 130 Coupe

 

Lancia Flaminia

 

Alfa Romeo Montreal

 

BMW 2002s were given their own display area

 

1st, 2nd, and 3rd gen Miatas in a row

 

Volvo PV544 racer

 

Volvo 123 GT, built in Canada

 

Green speed: V70R in Flash Green

 

Fun x 2: ’58 Ford Ranchero trailering midget racer on purpose-built trailer

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

Drop-top Mopar: the 1967 Dodge Dart GT Convertible

Sometime in the late 1980s, someone told me about Lime Rock, that is, Lime Rock Park, which isn’t really a park, but a race track, tucked into a valley in the rolling hills of north east Connecticut.

Automobile races are held there all season long, but racing holds little attraction for me. However, every Labor Day Weekend, Lime Rock Park hosts what they now call the “Historic Festival” and what used to be called the “Fall Vintage Festival”. The three-day weekend features historic race cars on the track (on Friday and Monday). Because racing is banned there on Sundays, they’ve taken advantage of that restriction by hosting a vintage car show on that day. I began attending the Fall Vintage Festival on an annual basis.

Visiting the track on Labor Day Weekend in 1991, I spied a car in the parking lot with a For Sale sign on it. Normally, I would not have found myself attracted to this type of automobile. It was the combination of asking price combined with some its technical features which drew me closer.

The car was a 1967 Dodge Dart GT convertible, dark blue with a blue interior, and an unattractive (not to mention worn and dirty) tan convertible top. Popping the hood, I saw that the Dart had a V8, not the slant six I was expecting. Inside were buckets, floor shifter, and center console, with the desired three-pedal setup. The asking price was $1,500, and the sign directed me to the guards’ booth for further information.

I tracked down the owner, a young man who indeed was working as a guard at the track. He told me he had owned the car for about a year and just didn’t want it anymore. We went for a test drive, and I was impressed by how well the car drove. Although I certainly hadn’t visited Lime Rock with the intention of bringing home a car, I quickly agreed to pay the ask (concerned that someone else might snap it up), gave him some sort of deposit, and headed home on the promise that I would be back the following weekend with the balance.

Next weekend, I made the 3-hour trip back, and we again met at the track. The payment and paperwork exchange went smoothly enough. But it was then that the young fellow told me “Uh, the car isn’t running so well right now. I don’t know what it is, maybe the carburetor”. (Note: anyone with car troubles who doesn’t know the diagnosis always blames the carburetor.) Sure enough, the engine had a miss, although it was there at all engine speeds, and I suspected ignition.

I now owned the car. Under the circumstances, I had little choice but to get in the car, point it south, and hope that I would make it home. With my heart in my stomach for the entire ride, I did make it, and was so relieved that I put the car in the garage, deciding to deal with the problem sometime later.

 

Home (thankfully) after drive from CT
Still time to take a drive in the autumn of ’91

 

The following weekend, I popped the hood and began to go through the basics: plugs, wires, points, condenser, cap and rotor…. As soon as the distributor cap came off, I saw the crack. This was an easy fix, and given that none of the aforementioned parts looked like they had been replaced in a while, I gave the car a full tune up. It ran spectacularly after that.

 

Ratty but serviceable. Funny, I don't recall the manual brakes.
Ratty but serviceable. Funny that I don’t recall the manual brakes.

 

There was one administrative issue that needed attention: insurance. At the time I bought the Dart, my daily driver was a company lease car. The lease generously included insurance. As I owned no other automobiles, I didn’t even have an automobile insurance policy in my name. This was when I discovered collector car insurance. The Condon & Skelly Insurance Company wrote me a policy, and as a side note, I’ve had collector car insurance with them ever since.

I enjoyed top-down motoring for the little time I had left in the autumn of ’91, then tucked the car away for the winter.

When spring of ’92 broke, the Dart came out of hibernation. Truthfully, the car needed a complete restoration to be any kind of show car, but that’s not why I bought it. It was nothing more than a toy to cruise in during nice weather.

Removing the front tires to perform a routine brake check, I was aghast at what I found: both front brake hoses had been wrapped with duct tape, then clamped with small hose clamps. The rubber hoses were cracked, and it is a miracle that I didn’t lose hydraulic pressure. The temptation to contact and berate the previous owner was overwhelming, but 1) I had no proof that he even knew about it, and 2) many months had passed since buying the car, so I decided to let it go. New brake hoses were purchased, and were easy enough to install. Whew! Glad I caught that when I did.

The next order of business was carpeting, as in, the car had none, and I wanted it to have some. Lack of carpet at time of purchase was an advantage, because that allowed me to see the condition of the floor. Someone had welded in a totally new floor before my purchase. Except for some surface corrosion, it was solid. Removing the seats, I gave the floor a coat of Bill Hirsch Miracle Paint (similar, but in my opinion better than, POR-15). With the floor so sealed, in went a new piece of carpet. The sound level reduction transformed the driving experience.

 

Seats about to be removed for carpet install.
Seats about to be removed for carpet install.

 

Bill Hirsch Miracle Paint going down before carpeting.
Bill Hirsch Miracle Paint going down before carpeting.

 

The blackwall tires were serviceable but old, and I thought that narrow whitewalls would look sharp against the dark blue paint. I got the least-expensive tires I could at the local STS (Somerset Tire Service). Reinstalling the factory wheel covers also brightened the look. The car really needed a new top, but rather than spend the money, I hid it by driving with the top down.

I took the car to the office several times that summer, and let colleagues drive it. They agreed that it was a fun car to drive. The torque from the 273 c.i. V8 was impressive, as was the smoothness of the gearbox and clutch.

It was really fun to drive.
Summer of ’92, this was as good as the Dart looked under my ownership.

 

Working for the Swedish company Volvo, there were Swedes on location who would make comments about my “big American car”. “Big?” I’d reply. “The Dart was the compact car in a Dodge model lineup that included an intermediate-sized car and a full-size car!” It’s all relative. Yes, the Dart, with an overall length of 195”, was five inches longer than the contemporary Volvo 240 at 190”. Good thing I hadn’t bought a Coronet (203”) or Polara (220”)!

 

The final photo, taken just before selling it.
The final photo, taken just before selling it.

 

By 1993, I had a problem. Time spent with the Dart was taking time away from the restoration work on my BMW Isetta, which had been underway for three years. The decision was made to sell the Dodge. By late in the summer of ’93, it was gone.

All my friends in the hobby talk about the cars we’ve owned, and a frequently visited theme is “the ones that got away”. Of all the cars I’ve owned and sold, it’s this Dart that I wish I still had. It had good bones, was fun to drive, simple to wrench on, and had a drop top. Had I had a little more free time (and spare cash) it would have been a straight-forward restoration. But I was determined to finish the Isetta, and with the Dart out of the way, I did. THAT’S a story for another time.

 


 

THE 1967 DODGE FULL-LINE SALES BROCHURE

This brochure, from my collection, includes all of Dodge’s models from that year.

 

Brochure cover - polka dots and white boots were "it" in '67
Brochure cover – polka dots and white boots were “it” in ’67

 

The Dart GT could be ordered with any engine, 6 or 8.
The Dart GT could be ordered with either 6 or 8 cylinder engine.

 

 

Note that convertible had bench seat standard, with buckets optional.
Note that convertible had bench seat standard, with buckets optional.

 

Dart specifications page
Dart specifications page

 

Back cover; note "safety equipment" and also note shorter warranty for Hemi engines!
Back cover; note “safety equipment” and also note shorter warranty for Hemi engines!

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.