If you’ve been working on mechanical projects and upgrades on your roadster all winter and are ready to do more with it than drive to the park on Sunday, then perhaps a vintage tour or rally should be on your agenda.
These are multi-day events through scenic areas on great sports car roads with fellow enthusiasts. They generally fall into two categories: touring events that are all-inclusive driving vacations, and competitive time-speed-distance (TSD) rallies with scoring and trophies for the winners. Some of the entrants in rallies choose to do them non-competitively, treating the event more like a tour. And don’t go by event names, some are called rallies but are really tours.
Some of these events are prestigious, luxury tours for valuable, pre-1958 collector cars, while others are geared simply to car enthusiasts. Some are focused on the route book, while others are focused on stops at wineries. Some cross high desert, while others cross high mountain ranges with the possibility of snow. But they all involve camaraderie and many days of driving enjoyment with your car.
Longtime racer Johnathan Edwards of Sausalito, Calif., initially thought he’d merely use the California Mille as a test for his 1957 MGA that he converted to a race-prep rally car for the Carrera Panamericana Road Race in Mexico. He enjoyed the roads, the driving and the group so much that he participated in the Mille for many years.
“It’s really an enjoyable cruise,” says Edwards, “but there’s also some spirited driving. There are some very good drivers pushing their classics pretty hard, from million-dollar machines to vintage cars from the ’30s.”
The route itself is another main event draw. “There are so many gorgeous views of the ocean along Highway 1, river gorges, vineyards and the High Sierras,” says Edwards. “One year we hit snow and my hands were frozen without a heater so we skipped the stages and drove to the hotel to get a parking spot under the entrance cover, then waited for the group in the bar. You can do exactly as you please on these events, that’s the wonderful thing about it.”
The prestigious California Mille, started in 1991, is based on the historic Mille Miglia race that ran from Brescia to Rome and back until 1957. Only the cars that could have qualified for the original event are eligible; many are in show quality condition.
Other vintage tours have popped up in various spots around the country, often with less stringent requirements. Most donate proceeds to charity, stay in luxury hotels, limit entries and involve unique attractions. They typically take different routes each year since there are so many repeaters on the tours. Some stay in one hotel for the event, while others move from hotel to hotel and offer a van to transfer luggage. Differing scenery, driving roads and tour highlights give each its own appeal.
The Colorado Grand was the first vintage tour in America, starting in 1989. It’s renowned for prewar models and one-of-a-kind cars; a virtual rolling museum through the mountains. The Copperstate 1000 in Arizona includes a stretch of road with 158 curves in 12 miles on Highway 89A from Jerome to Prescott Valley, plus a flight to the rim of the Grand Canyon. The Texas 1000 includes stops at two private classic car collections, plus the Continental Tire test track for a gymkhana and time trials.
Barnstorming Maine is accompanied by Brian Redman, former factory racer for Jaguar, Porsche and Ferrari, and three-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It features Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and Maine’s rugged coastline. “We show participants a side of Maine they wouldn’t normally see,” says CEO Vaughn Stinson. “The natural beauty is stunning.”
The scenic roads are also the highlight on the Bluegrass 1000 road tour through the rolling hills of Kentucky, according to Bill Tilford, organizer and ’79 Triumph Spitfire owner. “We drive along the Kentucky River where it made a deep cut creating beautiful palisades, and follow the natural contours of the Appalachian Mountains on twisty roads,” he says. With a detailed map and instructions, teams can do the roads with the group or at their own pace.
One of the Bluegrass highlights is a chance to do the road racing course at Bluegrass Motorsports Club. Stops include bourbon distilleries on the bourbon trail, Lincoln’s birthplace, and renowned horse farms like Three Chimneys and Afton Farm. “We have fun the whole time,” says Tilford, “the camaraderie is fantastic.”
Will Brewster Photo: _TEF8718.jpg
Caption: Rally organizers will handle all of the logistics, including the route and lodging. Most also bring their own mechanical support team.
The Bluegrass, like most of the other vintage tours, provides excellent mechanical support to participants, taking the worry out of the event that former gremlins might surface and ruin the tour. Two service technicians travel with the group offering free assistance, a roll-back wrecker follows along to pick up cars with problems, and it hauls a new Mustang convertible for the driver. Ford dealers in the area offer their lifts for free, so the wrecker takes the car to a dealer where the event mechanics try to get it back on the road. There’s an advance car so there are no surprises on the route, two paramedics following, a secure lot for car tow trucks and trailers, and pre- and post-event storage for cars.
Comprehensive support services—and Moss Motors—saved the day for Sir John White, a member of English royalty who comes over to participate in the Going to the Sun Rally, a tour through Montana and Wyoming. Steve Gordon, automotive advisor and former board member, explains that while running sweep on the route just outside Yellowstone’s north gate in Montana, he came across Sir John’s ’64 MGB on the side of the road.
Gordon quickly diagnosed the problem—a bearing had gone out in the generator. Since there was no cell phone coverage, Gordon used an event satellite phone to call Moss Motors. Although it was just before closing time, Moss checked and found the part in stock, and shipped it overnight to the closest town. The event tow truck took the car to the town where event mechanics pulled the old generator. The part arrived at 10 a.m. and the MGB was able to rejoin the tour about an hour later.
“Owners bring well prepared cars to the event because they want to get the most out of the experience,” says Gordon. But event organizers send participants advance car prep advice and a list of spare parts they should have with them just in case.
Driving adventures on the Going to the Sun rally include switch-backs through the Beartooth Mountains up to 10,000 feet of elevation, long straight sections that the Ferrari guys love and remote areas in Yellowstone, says one of the founders, Jim Sitton who drives a 1956 Jaguar XK140. “They’re fun, rhythmic roads and we all love to drive,” he says, noting that 80 percent of the participants have a F1 license or are vintage racers.
Also included is lunch at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, a car show at a ranch, and wildlife spotting that could include elk, moose and buffalo. The event has an avid following with an 85 percent return rate. “It’s like a family reunion each year,” says Sitton. “By the end of the event people are swapping cars and drivers.”
Tim Suddard photos: IMG_4224.jpg, CA Mille, Quail.jpg, IMG_7787.jpg, IMG_4235.jpg
Caption: Vintage tours might wind through snowcapped mountains, towering rock formations or coastal crags. Of course, having the right companion helps. Henry Garazo says his orange MGB is a blast on winding roads, while Johnathan Edwards reports that his MGA can easily stick with the lead pack.
Rallies for Serious Competitors
For drivers who want the thrill of competition and the challenge of winning, vintage rallies add an extra layer to multi-day driving events. Rallies are focused on driving precision and navigational calculations along the route rather than the scenery, although they still take in stunning landscapes and stay in luxury hotels.
Participants generally start at one-minute intervals and must calculate the time they should be making each turn to the second maintaining the noted speed. Monitors hidden along each rally stage track progress, and points are given for every second a car is early or late for the checkpoint. The winner is the car with the lowest points. It’s modeled after famous European rallies such as the Alpine Rally and Targa Florio.
Drivers who have never competed in a TSD rally should not be intimidated. Most of these events offer a school before the start of the event to explain the course, route book and calculations required for the distances and times.
The timing and scoring part of the rally make it more fun and enjoyable, says Henry Garazo of Fairfield, Penn., who has competed in this TSD rally in his 1971 MGB converted to look like a ’65 Sebring car. “You’re looking at the route book, calculations and visual cues, and trying to be as close to zero time as possible. If you’re not careful, you can get a big penalty,” he explains.
He adds that unforeseen delays can cost time too, like a stoplight, getting behind a tractor or stopping for a school bus. “That’s where it starts to get fun,” says Garazo. “You find yourself 48 seconds behind and have to make up that time somehow over the five minutes left on the stage. You can take a time slip for the delay, but what fun is that?”
Garazo says the participants are fantastic and knowledgeable about cars, the roads are spectacular with no gravel or traffic, and the driving is a blast. “It’s great to see 40-year-old sports cars thrashed on the back roads and driven the way they’re supposed to be,” he says. “It’s hard core. You hear tires squealing and drivers locking up the brakes.”
But he adds you can do a more laid-back version of the event, keeping an aggressive rally pace, having fun in your car, making the lunch stops and hanging with other car enthusiasts. “One of the best parts of the day is hanging out in the parking lot after dinner and talking about cars,” says Garazo.
Car Preparation Tips For Vintage Tours and Rallies
by Steve Gordon
The following vintage car prep tips can help you avoid mechanical problems during a thousand-mile tour or rally:
• Change all fluids and filters: engine, transmission, differential, coolant, brakes, clutch, windscreen washer, etc.
• Consider the day and night temperatures you will encounter during the event when choosing oil viscosity and coolants.
• If there will be high elevation driving and your carburetors have adjustable jets or diaphragms, make sure the linkage is in good working order. Take along an extra set of jets and required tools to make adjustments. Take two extra sets of spark plugs in case yours foul up.
• Check the tires and spares for age, wear and pressure. Regardless of the amount of tread, tires six years and older can get very hard and their driving characteristics unpredictable. One minute they grip and the next they are sliding without warning.
• Make sure your windshield wipers work and the blades are in good shape. This is important when there are bug hatches, thunderstorms or snow flurries.
• Check all belts, hoses and fuses.
• Change or clean fuel filters and sediment bowls.
• Do a complete chassis lube, and don’t forget the steering box or rack fluid.
• Pack and adjust the wheel bearings.
• Check the condition of your shocks and sway bar bushings. Replace if necessary.
• Make sure seat belts are comfortable and in good condition.
• Adjust the valves.
• Check front-end alignment.
• Carry a fire extinguisher, tool kit, flares and roadside emergency pack.
• Order and take along all the spare parts you might possibly need during the event.
Steve Gordon is the owner of Vintage Auto Services, a British sports car restoration, repair and maintenance shop in Oakland, California.
By Kathleen M. Mangan