Steve again agreed to fly east from his California home to meet me at my New Jersey home, from where we headed to our host hotel, the Black Point Inn, just outside of Portland Maine. All systems were working well in the Mustang; the heater core replacement was holding up, and I had driven the car enough to give me faith in its ability to get us there, around, and back.
Steve was driving it for the first time, and the recirculating-ball power steering took some getting used to. The steering had about 30 degrees slop at the top of the wheel, and at first, the instinct is to ‘oversteer’ then correct – you feel like you’re on a sailboat when the car is driven that way. But it only takes 5-10 minutes to get accustomed to dialing in the correct amount of lock.
We arrived in ME with no issues, except that it was a cloudy and cool day. We paid no attention to the weather forecast. First, this was vacation; second, the rally is a rain-or-shine event; and third, in all our previous NE1000 outings, we had never had more than a day of wet weather, so why shouldn’t we expect the same this year?
The selection of cars continued to amaze us. There were no fewer than 3 Ferrari 246 Dinos, 6 Porsche 911s, 2 Austin Mini Coopers, the usual assortment of Jag’s and Benz’s, and a one-off 1955 Chrysler Ghia show car. Our V8 Mustang was one of two cars grouped into the “Historic American V8” class, the other being a ’64 Sting Ray convertible driven by our friends Chuck and Beth.
It bears repeating: the folks who bring out their valuable classics for the New England 1000 do it to drive them. While all of the cars are road-worthy, many of them, especially cars of the ‘50s and ‘60s, are not what you’d call weather-proof compared to a modern car. The British vehicles, for some reason, seem especially suspect to the ingress of water onto their occupants.
And this is how the week went: every driving day, from Monday through Thursday, saw rain. It didn’t rain every minute of the day, but, the threat was always there. The photos bear proof that we did not see the sun for the duration of the driving. Our friend Carol caught a local weather report, and informed us that a large storm system had parked itself over the entirety of New England for the week.
Remember that heater core? Well, the two young men in the Mustang hardtop, with roll-up windows, good weatherstripping, and a functioning heater/defrost system, stayed warm and dry. Observing some miserable fellow rallyists, I started to feel just a little bit guilty. To the credit of every participant, no one dropped out (not even the guys running side curtains).
Friday morning, just in time to load up and begin the trek home, the rain stopped, the sun popped out, and we had a rather dry ride back to NJ. Wet weather or not, we again proclaimed the 2005 edition to be a rousing success. Given the rain, we were secretly glad to have turned in the ragtops for a hardtop!
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.
By the year 2001, my rally brother Steve and I had participated in three New England 1000 rally events: 1998, 1999, and 2000. We had every intention of making it “four in a row”, except, we had a small problem. After each running, we had excitedly exclaimed to our girlfriends how thrilling it had been to drive the bucolic highways and byways of New England in a classic convertible with like-minded enthusiasts. After all these years of listening to our exploits while they sat at home, they wanted in.
For Steve, that meant gearing up the Tiger for yet another run, and given its exemplary performance so far, there seemed to be nothing that would prevent the Tiger from achieving a Grand Slam.
For me, that meant obtaining a rally-eligible car.
To car collectors, this is what is known as a “good problem to have”. Many a hobbyist will tell you that the thrill is in the hunt. While I generally agree, my hunt was complicated by the facts that a) I had just gotten engaged, and there was a wedding to plan; and b) we had just purchased a house, and were planning to move into it in March.
What do we do when faced with such challenges? Of course: we confine our search for a rally car to the local area! So it was with a great amount of fortuitousness that I happened to see an online listing for a 1972 MGB roadster, in western Hunterdon County (only 30 minutes away) for sale for $5,000. I drove out to see the car; it had some issues; I conveniently ignored them. I offered the owner payment with a personal check; he accepted. I drove the B home. Things were looking up!
To prepare the car for the upcoming rally, I installed a set of Vredestein tires (I must like that brand, as the Alfa has Vredesteins on it), and while the tires were off, resprayed the painted wheels with wire-wheel paint from Moss Motors. An oil change, a quick tune-up, and we were rally-ready.
This MGB was my first British car. Like all Bs before and after, it had a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine, in my case, producing about 95 horsepower. Carburetion was via two SUs, complete with manual choke. Transmission was a 4-speed manual, without the desirable overdrive. The color was a true ‘70s pumpkin orange, complemented by a beige and black interior. (I was later informed that the seats were out of a later-model MGB.) Braking was discs in front, drums in rear, and steering was rack & pinion. As a 1972 model, its chrome bumpers were much better-looking than the big rubber bumpers soon to come. It was an easy car to drive, and a very easy car to work on.
The complete story of our participation in the 2001 New England 1000 rally will be covered in the next blog post. Suffice to say that after three years of joyously sharing seat time in that Sunbeam Tiger, this MG proved its mettle as a formidable (albeit slower) competitor.
For the third consecutive year, my rally brother Steve and I entered the New England-based vintage car rally hosted by our friends Rich and Jean Taylor. While Steve’s Sunbeam Tiger was the steed of choice yet again, a few details were different. For one, Steve’s job had temporarily relocated him to Sweden, so participation required a flight across the big pond. (Care and feeding of the Tiger was left to me, which I recollect involved filling it with fuel.)
Second, in honor of Y2K, the rally was renamed The New England 2000, with a promise that the driving would encompass 2,000 kilometers (or about 1250 miles). Really not a large change from years past, until you factor in the drive we made from central Jersey to the rally and back. Our total round-trip mileage in the year 2000 was closer to 2,000.
Perhaps most interestingly to Steve and me, the breadth and variety of automotive entries exceeded what we had witnessed in ’98 and ’99. The official route book showed 65 vehicles registered! (Rich and Jean advertise that the field is capped at 50.) No doubt, not all them showed up, as the book must go to print several weeks before the event, and we’ve seen how peoples’ plans change. But the magnificence of the cars in attendance was akin to my favorite automotive picture book coming to life.
This volume allowed the Mercedes Benz 300SLs (10) to have their own class, as did the Porsche 356s (6). Cars that I saw in the metal for the first time included a Toyota 2000GT convertible and a BMW 507 (piloted by an all-female team). A pre-war supercharged Bentley, several Jaguar E-Types, a Shelby Mustang, and a to-die-for Ferrari 330 GTS were other favorites. Well-known drivers included Miles Collier of the Revs Institute and AutoWeek publisher Leon Mandel, who spoke at one of the week’s dinners. Sadly, he passed away just two years later.
The photos show more rainy days than we were forced to tolerate the previous two years, but hearing these classic cars run and watching them move in all kinds of conditions only served to reinforce why we were doing this. Speaking of photos, I’ll let them tell the rest of this story.
There are plenty more rally stories to come. Stay tuned.
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.