Stories from the 2019 AACA Spring National in Parsippany

As I said in my post about the recent AACA Spring National, it’s really about the people and their stories behind their automotive treasures, more than is it about the cars themselves. This has been true at so many recent car shows, and it was evident again last weekend.

Below are three stories about three individuals whose paths crossed mine on Saturday: one whom I met for the first time that day; one whom I thought I was meeting for the first time when in fact we had met six years prior; and one whom I had gotten to know but had not seen in almost 20 years.

 

RIDING IN RON’S E-TYPE

Saturday morning; in a golf cart with Leif Mangulson, the Chief Judge, who wants to show me the spot to locate the club’s PA system. While we’re stopped, a gentleman approaches the cart. “Hi Leif, I’m Ron, and we spoke numerous times. I have the Jag”. Hmm, I ponder, a Jag. This gets my attention, and I find it impossible to not speak. “Excuse me, Ron, my name is Richard. What kind of Jaguar do you have?” “Oh, a ’66 E-Type”. “Fixed Head Coupe or Open Two Seater?” I ask, trying to impress him with my use of the preferred Britishisms for the hardtop and roadster. “Mine’s the OTS”. “Oh, and as a ’66, it’s got the 4.2 liter engine, all-synchro gearbox, and better seats, yes?” “Yes, and my, sounds like you like these cars. Why don’t you make a point of stopping by to see it on the show field?”

Not only did I “stop by” to see the car – it was one of the cars for my Judging Team to evaluate! I was happy to see Ron again, and I assured him, AND my Team Captain, that I could fairly and objectively perform my duties within the engine compartment. When we were done, Ron again invited me to seek him out before the car was loaded back onto his trailer.

It was late in the afternoon by the time I worked my way back to Ron’s gorgeous opalescent silver-blue roadster. Ron and his son were packing up their chairs and other paraphernalia when Ron turned to me and asked “Would you like to ride with me back to the trailer?” The look on my face provided the answer. But I did ask “do I need to remove my shoes?” Ron laughed and said not to worry about it.

Ron entered the driver’s side while I squeezed in the passenger seat. With a little choke, ignition key turned to “on” and a push of the starter button, the big 6 immediately came to life. At 5’ 10”, I was surprised that my head grazed the erect convertible top, but at the same time, the seat cushion felt either overstuffed or not broken in, which could explain the lack of headroom.

The passenger’s view from within an E-Type

With the shift lever in 1st, Ron eased out the clutch and we were moving. The view out the front over the L-O-N-G hood was gorgeous. We were in a parking lot with dozens of other valuable cars, so he kept to a reasonable speed, perhaps 20mph tops. But the ride was sublime. My first ride even in an E-Type was worth it, and I certainly hope it’s not the last.

Watch out for that DeLorean!

When I got out, I couldn’t thank Ron enough for his kindness and generosity. Turns out that he lives about 45 minutes south of me, and he invited me to keep in touch. I certainly shall.

 

OWEN AND THE ISETTA

As I alluded to in my previous post, judging a class of cars was a rewarding, if very time consuming, undertaking. One of the most rewarding aspects of it was the sharing from the vast pool of knowledge among the five of us. We were judging Class 24, two-seat sports cars, so each of us had some level of familiarity with these vehicles, and the stories started to pour out.

Somehow, I let it be known that I had owned a BMW Isetta for the better part of 30 years. A while later, when judging was over, Owen, our Team Captain, came up to me. He asked me “do you still have the Isetta?” “No, Owen, I sold it.” “What year was that?” “I sold it at the RM Auction in Hershey in 2013”. With that, Owen removed his wallet from his back pocket, reached in, and pulled out a black and white photo. It was a snapshot of an Isetta with two boys standing next to it. One boy, a teenager, was quite tall, and the younger fellow was pre-school age.

“Wait!” I exclaimed. “I’ve seen this photo before, but I’m not sure where.” Owen asked “do you read Auto Restorer magazine? The photo was in there”. “Nope, that’s not where I saw it”. “What color was your car?” “Red, solid red”. Owen said “I now know where you saw it”, and related this story to me.

He was able to recite in some detail the location of my car within the RM Hershey tent, and remembered that he had approached me in 2013 to tell me how his parents bought a new Isetta which they kept for many years. He had shown me that photo in Hershey, explaining that the tall fellow was his older brother, and the little guy was he at 5 years old. A few days later, Owen kindly mailed me a photocopy of that photo, along with the letter he had written to the magazine.

The Isetta with young Owen, as printed in Car Restorer magazine

The coincidence of again meeting someone who had shown me a photo of the family’s Isetta 6 years ago was uncanny. That we would end up on the same Judging Team goes to show how small this automotive hobby can be. But Owen would not be the ONLY person on the Team with whom I had a connection.

 

YES, THAT IAIN TUGWELL

Day-of-show judging at an AACA event always starts with the judges’ breakfast. There, you meet your team, get an overview from the Team Captain, and preview the list of vehicles to be judged. I was a bit late for breakfast, so while the others talked, I was still getting up several times to fetch my eggs and coffee.

When I got back to the table, I finally saw the list of cars, and noted that the printout also included the names of all my fellow judges. A quick eyeball scan revealed that I knew no one at my table, except….. How often do you come across a first name like “Iain?”

I looked up from my coffee. He was sitting directly across from me. The din in the room forced me to raise my voice almost to a yell. “Hey Iain! I KNOW YOU.”

His expression told me he didn’t quite know what to make of that comment. I continued. “I don’t expect you to remember, but the first time was 1998. A buddy of mine and I were on the New England 1000, in a British Racing Green Sunbeam Tiger”. Slowly, his puzzled frown changed to the slightest of smiles. Once I heard the accent, there was no mistake. “Oh yes, the Tiger, yes, I do remember it. How are you?”

Well, other than shocked to hell, I was fine. I grabbed my phone and texted Steve, the Tiger owner.

“You are NOT going to believe this. I’m at the judges table at the NJ AACA show in Parsippany. On my team is a guy named Iain Tugwell. Yes, THAT Iain Tugwell.”

Iain smiles for the camera

As if I needed to prove it, I snapped a shot with the cell and sent that to Steve too. To the two of us rookie rally drivers, Iain Tugwell was a legend. He ran the Sunday night “Famous Navigators School”, teaching us the finer points of scoring zero in our rally stages. There was probably some ex-military in him, as he was so set in his ways we nicknamed him “The Carmudgeon”. He was probably on the NE1000 with us until about 2001 or so, making it 18 years since we last connected.

Judging with him was fun; he was the old Iain, short, brusque, to the point, but ultimately big-hearted and good-natured. Later on, I got to meet his wife Jane, and then bade them farewell, as they departed the hotel immediately after judging ended, to get home to Buffalo before midnight. I promised Iain that we would again see each other at an AACA event. I certainly hope to make that true.

 

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

 

Replacing the Alfa’s Alternator

I just recently came across these photos, which I had frankly forgotten about, which is why this technical procedure, performed in May, is only getting its own blog post now.

 

If your memory is good, then you’ll recall reading back in May’s report on this year’s New England 1000 that the Alfa’s alternator failed us in the middle of the rally. If your memory is not so good, or if you’re just joining us, you can read about it here.

The truth is, I should have been wise to an impending failure, as even with the Red-Top Optima battery on trickle charge, the car would still occasionally need a boost. Alternator output measured at the battery was barely 13 volts, a weak statistic which I rationalized to a low idle.

As mentioned in the rally write-up, the drive to our starting destination was done in a steady rain, with lights blazing and wipers flailing. It’s likely that was enough to seal the fate of the battery.

Tuesday morning, we bought a NAPA-brand battery, and leaving the Optima in its place in the trunk, we simply swapped the cables onto the new unit, using bungee cords to keep it from sliding around. The alternator wasn’t completely dead, just on life support. With the new battery, we had zero starting issues the rest of the week, and coasted home on Friday.

Once again I must give a shout to my friends at Classic Alfa in the UK. A new alternator, ordered Tuesday afternoon after they had closed for the day, arrived at my house on Thursday evening. I dare say that most U.S.-based suppliers would not have been able to get me one with such speed. So Memorial Day weekend was spent in part performing the alternator-ectomy.

Old alternator and attendant wiring connections

Access to the unit in the engine compartment was quite good, improved by the battery’s relocation to the trunk, performed by the previous owner (PO). The PO had also removed the factory generator (which I still have) and installed this alternator plus an external voltage regulator. My new replacement alternator has an internal regulator, and it’s a so-called one-wire job.

 

Old one again. Note alignment of upper bracket.

I photographed the wiring to help with any reinstallation questions, then removed the two components. I noted that the alternator’s upper mounting bracket was at a slight angle, and vowed to focus on improving that geometry when putting it all back together.

With everything hooked up, I measured a steady 13.8 volts at the battery (yet another new Red-Top that I purchased to be on the safe side). I was able to recover the old Optima by very slowly trickle-charging it, and both that battery and the barely-used NAPA one were sold to a young man in my office who is always working on 3-4 project vehicles at a time. (And for the record, both the old alternator and regulator were put in the trash. I don’t keep worn-out parts around.)

New alternator in place, and better aligned too

The only issue, and it’s the smallest of nits to pick, is that the one-wire alternator needs to be ‘excited’ after initial start before it will charge (much the same can be said about me). The ammeter reads zero until I bring engine revs above 3,500 rpm (waiting a few minutes so that oil circulates), at which point, the amp gauge needle jumps to life. It’s a small price to pay to be secure in the knowledge that the battery’s got the juice to crank that 1300cc monster to life.

 

A good number

 

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

2018 New England 1000 Rally, Summary Report

The 2018 edition of the New England 1000 rally was held during the week of May 21. The rally started and ended at our host hotel, the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY, with additional overnight stays in Newport RI and Lenox MA. The group also visited Wayne Carini’s F40 Motorsports and Mystic Seaport.

In all, about 35 cars drove in the event (the number is estimated because first, not every car listed in the tour book showed up; and two, some of the cars spotted earlier in the week seemed to have dropped away by the end of the week). The oldest vehicular participant was a 1952 Cunningham convertible. Tied for newest set of wheels were a 2017 Audi R8 and 2017 Porsche 911.

For rally co-driver and co-navigator Steve Hansen and me, this year was a double-milestone: it was our tenth NE1000 (although not all 10 were driven with each other), and it was the 20th anniversary of our first such rally in 1998. We both recall that during our initial drive to Freeport ME in Steve’s Tiger, we pondered what other vehicles might be joining us. Instead of the resto-modded Camaros and slightly rusty Chargers we envisioned, the first car spotted in the hotel lot was a white four-door Bugatti. We instantly knew we were in for something special.

Rallyist extraordinaire Steve H behind the wheel

This year’s rally was different in several ways:

  • The semi-official featured marque was Cunningham. The realized dream of Briggs Cunningham, a total of 25 road cars were manufactured. Four were scheduled to run the rally, but only three actually did so. It was a rare thrill to see three in the same place at the same time, and even more rare and thrilling to hear them run and watch them move.
  • For the first time in our experience, one of the four “rally days” consisted of no driving events. Tuesday was spent in Newport RI; participants were given the option to ride on an America’s Cup yacht, visit an automobile museum or two, and/or tour the “cottages”, as Newport’s mansions are euphemistically called.
  • Also for the first time, there were no optional driving events, such as hillclimbs, gymkhanas, or drag races. In large part due to only three days of touring, we drove slightly less than our usual 1,000 miles. As per the tour book, the mileage total for the week was 837.

Those of you in the Northeast know all too well what disappointing spring weather we’ve had. Things were no better as we departed Neshanic Station on Saturday. We drove in a near-steady rain on Saturday afternoon, the trip made more bearable only by its brevity (Mohonk is just two hours away). Sunday dawned damp and cloudy, but by that afternoon, we saw the sun, and except for some sprinkles on Tuesday evening, we were spared further precipitation.

Our steed, my 1967 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior, was in its fourth (2013, 2014, 2015, 2018) NE1000. Its performance was almost flawless. Tuesday morning, intending to drive into town, the car would not crank. The battery was drained, but the car instantly roared to life with a jump start. With the help of Peter and Keith from RPM (thanks guys!), we determined that the alternator was intermittently charging. It’s very likely that the Saturday drive, with lights and wipers on the entire time, helped accelerate the battery’s depletion.

The local NAPA store, in exchange for some credit card info from me, donated a new battery, and our starting problems were solved for now. From my phone, I ordered a replacement alternator from my preferred supplier, Classic Alfa in the UK. The alternator was on my front porch on Thursday afternoon, a day before we arrived home. How’s that for service?

Participation in multiple events has taught me that rally photography is a tricky proposition. Once the driving starts, opportunities for the camera can be few and far between; after all, I’m either driving or navigating. Below is a sampling of pictures, organized roughly chronologically by location. Please note that all these photos are different from the “Photo Gallery” pictures posted last week. Enjoy the shots!


ARRIVAL, SATURDAY & SUNDAY

Although the official festivities begin on Sunday afternoon, many participants (including us) arrive on Saturday to feel less rushed as we perform any final car prep. Here are some of the cars as they arrived in a lot set aside for the rally participants.

Lamborghini Miura

 

The ceremonial mounting of the rally plate

SUNDAY CONCOURS

Every year, the rally events begin with an informal “concours” on the hotel property, done as much for the owners to show off as to present our wares to the hotel guests and public. At Mohonk, we were crowded onto a narrow walkway.


F40 MOTORSPORTS VISIT

On Monday, we made a scheduled stop at F40 Motorsports, the home of Chasing Classic Cars starring Wayne Carini. Mr. Carini was on the premises, and gave a short informal presentation. Better still, he led us into the back shop where many treasures are hidden away. He was warm, gracious, humble, and obviously a very knowledgeable enthusiast.


THE AUDRAIN MUSEUM

On Tuesday’s “open” day in Newport, we had every intention of visiting two of the local car museums. Our battery issue, while fortuitously falling on the non-driving day, shortened our available time. We were only able to get to the Audrain Auto Museum, located in downtown Newport. The building itself is an architectural masterpiece. The smallish display area featured American muscle.


MYSTIC SEAPORT

Wednesday found us in Mystic CT, with about 2 hours to kill at the Mystic Seaport Museum before our scheduled lunch. As lunch ended, the parking lot served as an ideal staging area for our departure, and was also a great photo op.


THE RALLY ENDS

By Thursday, everyone feels a sense of accomplishment at just having driven the roads. That evening’s banquet dinner will reveal the final score, including how many teams “zeroed out” (this year, only one). As the cars arrived back at Mohonk, they were prepped to be either driven or shipped out on Friday morning.

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