At Full Chat: Spring 1999

Nostalgia…35 years ago, I served for a year as President of the Westchester Sports Car Club in suburban New York. After a year as Activities Chairman and another year as the club’s Veep, one virtually could rely on being elected president. Club activities included a monthly dinner meeting, complete with a guest speaker and a motorsport-related film. There also was a monthly road event, usually a TSD rally, but sometimes a gymkhana, concours, or even a bus trip to the ice races in the Poconos. Other variants included some truly innovative gimmick rallies, the quirkiest of which were conceived by Dick and Sal Langdon.

As I recall, credit for both the Alpha-Omega and Color-Code rallies is due this couple who resided at Crotonon-Hudson. Alpha-Omega was diabolical, as those who succeeded in unraveling its secret quickly learned. Upon reaching the specified odometer mileage for the first instruction, and finding no such opportunity for making the turn, the club’s Latin students looked again at the event name and realized that Dick and Sal had snookered them… the rally was to be run backwards. No, not in reverse gear, but from the final instruction to the first one! That meant that navigators had lots of work, as they had to work out distances by subtraction, and had to convert left turns into right turns, and vice-versa.

Even more challenging was the instruction “Turn left (or right) at T.” Think about that for a minute…when approached from one of the off-shoots, a T intersection isn’t even an intersection! The less imaginary rallyists resorted to the “panic envelope” that provided the address and phone number of the restaurant where the rally was to end.

The Langdon’s Color-Code rally was equally challenging. There were no written instructions per se, just bars of color that indexed with cumulative odometer readings. Did dark blue mean to turn right, turn left, or continue straight ahead? Or could it mean that one was to bear right onto blacktop, continue on concrete, or follow some other instruction? Then, what did orange bars mean? Ditto for brown, black, red, and green. If, at a particular odometer mileage, it was impossible to do anything, it meant that the wrong interpretation had been made at the last instruction before this. As we progressed, it became ever easier, as each color, once deciphered, was consistent throughout the rally. If dark blue meant to turn right once, it meant it every time it was used… and so on.

An annual event was the Turkey Tour, a straightforward rally held every November. Instead of the usual silverplate or pewter trophies, winners got turkeys for their Thanksgiving dinner. Betty and I co-drove in the 1954 Turkey Tour in our heaterless MG TF…in those days it was just a minor inconvenience.

Harry Fanelli and I put on an annual economy run patterned after the famed Mobil Economy Run. Just like the big one, it was based on 10-miles-per-gallon and gas tanks were sealed from start to finish. The cars started from the scales at the Neptune Storage yard in New Rochelle, and it finished there, where each car’s gas tank was topped off at the same pump. Not wanting to deprive the members of a chance to compete, we used a clever strategy instead of manned check-points.

The instructions required payment of tolls at a half dozen bridge and parkway points along the route, and contestants had to bring back time- and date-stamped receipts for each. There also was a maximum time for completion of the run, thereby foiling the plans of participants who might otherwise have been tempted to coast in neutral whenever possible. While some theorists opted for the lightest possible weight, others’ strategics went the other way, with one contestant carrying a rusty engine block in the trunk of his Hillman Minx. He did very well indeed!

A few months ago, your editor at Moss Motoring forwarded me a letter from an At Full Chat reader, one Len Fanelli. Of course, Len is a son of my old friend, Harry. And, as evidence that the acorn doesn’t fall very far from the tree, Len, as was his Dad, is in the greasy end of the car business.

Len has spent the past five years wrenching for the White Plains Land Rover dealer, a pursuit of which Harry would have heartily approved. He sent along a photo of Dad’s old MG TD, looking pretty darn good with new paint and upholstery. I was pleased to learn that Harry raced a Curtis Offy in old-timer events until near the end, which for him came in 1996. In his most recent letter, Len mentioned that his dad had purchased the TD in 1978 from Harold Dibblie, another WSCC member, who had owned the BRG MG since 1954. My thanks to Moss Motoring for providing a forum that enables me to regain contact with people and the children of people who played roles in the nearly half a century that has gone by since I bought that first RHD MG TD from Perry Fina in Manhattan. But, Len, you can’t be 50 years old…don’t you realize how old that makes me?

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