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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”)!
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.