British Car Enthusiasts Alive

This year, I spent part of May and most of June on the east coast, first as a judge at the ever-more-enjoyable Greenwich Concours d’Elegance. Best of Show went to a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith convertible owned by well-known collector Noel Thompson. This choice pleased me particularly because it featured a massive yet rakish one-off body by Inskip, my erstwhile employer. There were more British cars, some mainstream, others decidedly obscure…all noteworthy.

Jaguar was well represented, with fine examples of most XK models and six-cylinder sedans, plus a splendid C-Type and an equally meritorious D-Type. The C-Type belongs to Drake Durrin, whose father, David, campaigned the car actively in the 1950s. Earlier still, this car had been driven to victory in the 1952 Seneca Cup race at Watkins Glen by John Fitch, who still is active developing automotive racing and highway safety systems and as America’s foremost motorsports statesman. As was the case in 1996, John Fitch again served as a judge at the concours. The D-Type was entered by Arthur Urciuoli, who brought two other vintage racing thoroughbreds, a Ford GT MkIV and an F2 Ralt. Jaguar Cars North America was an event sponsor, with a display of current models. Jaguar’s hospitality tent was the site of a proper high tea on Saturday afternoon, and the company provided XK8 convertibles for several VIPs; namely, Tom Bryant, editor of Road & Track, and William Jeanes, who edits the recently introduced publication Classic Automobile Register. Both magazines are published by Hachette Filipacchi, which has its U.S. headquarters in Greenwich.

Reflecting the concours’ 1997 theme (Celebrated Cars of Celebrated People) was a beautiful black and garnet Bentley S1 Continental that originally was owned by David Niven. Also on exhibition was a Rolls Royce PV Landaulet that is purported to have been owned by the King of Bahrain, a claim attested to by his Highness’s highly visible coat of arms (hell, it was impossible to ignore) as it is displayed boldly (and, might one observe, immodestly) on the limousine’s doors. A personal favorite is the Brewster (also a company owned by Inskip) Henley roadster of the early 1930s. David Flange’s black beauty on a Phantom II chassis was a deserving trophy winner. So too was Curtis Blake’s Silver Ghost Pall Mall tourer and Drake Durrin’s Phantom 1 convertible.

In addition to the expected Triumph TR3 and TR4 models, there was a rare Triumph Italia 2000 GT, fewer than 300 of which were produced by Vignale on TR3A running gear. This nicely restored coupe, owned by Dave Hutchison, was purchased from another Triumph enthusiast, Si Rossi, whose day job is head of the Mercedes-Benz public relations department.

MG and Austin-Healey models also were exhibited, with Malcolm Pray’s yellow TF capturing my vote for sporting a Westchester Sports Car Club badge. Mark Wallach, better known for his contributions to automotive wood panel and steering wheel restorations, exhibited a very nice 1953 Bristol 403. Bob Millstein exhibited his superb Aston Martin DB4 GT on a short wheelbase chassis and with faired-in headlamps. Like the later DBS, this model was lowered by a 3.6 liter, twinplug engine that did its deep breathing through Weber carburetors. Aside from its even rarer Zogato-bodied stablemate, it is perhaps the most sought-after of post-war production Astons.

At the Greenwich Concours, there were a half dozen booths where viewers could purchase various art and automobilia. One of those vendor booths displayed sports car racing photographs by Tom Burnside. His recently published book, American Racing, is a photo essay of some 600 black-and-white pictures taken during the decade between 1955 and 1965, aka The Golden Age. With text by Denise McCluggage, American Racing is coffee table material, easily worth three times its modest $39.95 price (Moss #29S-200).

When Burnside phoned a week after the concours, inviting me to Vermont for the 45th Mount Equinox Hillclimb, I accepted in a nanosecond. This is one event I never had attended in all the years I lived on the east coast. It proved to be a truly delightful experience.

Mount Equinox is the world’s oldest and longest hillclimb held on a paved surface; 5.2 miles comprised of 53 turns connected by some straightaways. Exactly half the field was of British origin, including the three fastest cars up the hill. Bob Girvin, the event chairman, drove his Chrysler Allan GT to second behind Dudley Cunningham’s Lotus XI, separated by 10 seconds. Third was New York enthusiast Bob Millstein, this time with the XK120-based Hunsgen Special, who was the only other driver to post a sub-five minute time.

MG was represented by two cars, a cooking A roadster, and a great-sounding modified TD. A factory-bodied XK120 was driven up the mountain by one of the weekend’s few distaff contestants, Karen Miller, who posted a respectable 5:57.72 time. Most famous of the marque was C-Type #002. Mother was campaigned for years by Gordon McKenzie, who was renowned, in the days before Nomex, for competing in his clan kilts. Owned for the past two decades by Ed Sutherland, the veteran Jaguar recently underwent a thorough mechanical restoration, while the bodywork retained its hard-earned racing scars. A one-time Mt. Equinox champion, the car once again posted a competitive time of 5:07.52. No less than three Lotus Sevens were present, as well as a Lotus 18 Formula junior. All were quick indeed. At the other end of the scale, Gil Steward’s Bentley 4.5 tourer undoubtedly was the largest and heaviest of this year’s entrants. A nicely turned out Turner Mark I was well driven to a 6:52.44 time by its owner, John Kieley, while Dave Brownell, editor of Hemmings and Special Interest Autos, drove his Morgan Plus Four in good style, a time of only 6:26.49.

Only two miles away, at the Robert Todd Lincoln Estate, more than 600 collector cars were exhibited at the 11th Annual Hildene Car Show. Our late afternoon visit was worthwhile, as we found some rare jewels among the dozen or so British cars on display. Included were a Standard Eight tourer, an Elva Courier, and an early Austin-Healey four-banger, plus a Jaguar MkVII and XK120.

Soon Brian suggested a day trip back to Vermont later the same week, this time to check out the Westminster MG Museum. Jerry Goguen, a former Boston Symphony trumpeter, has an exhibit of two and a half dozen examples dating from the late 1920s up through the 1970s. The Inskip stretch TD and the ex-Dave Ash #51 Sebring MGA were of particular interest, but I was really taken with EX 182, the 1955 Le Mans prototype, as well as by some of the pre-WWII models, overhead cam models that often featured superchargers, cars that were driven by the bravest and most talented drivers of the period. And, while the 18/80 sedan and tourer open visitors’ eyes to a dimension most never heard of, the classic line of the Tickford TB drophead gets my unreserved admiration. By the way, congratulations to Gene Roth, whose Tickford-bodied pre-war car took Best of Show at the Palo Alto Concours this year. And then there was a pair Bertone-bodied Arnolt MGs, post-war equals of that earlier Tickford-bodied TB.

The trip was nostalgic, so much so that I find myself having second thoughts about living much longer on the left side of the continent. Maybe, just maybe…

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