The top 10 automotive adventures for 2006
The call of the open road. It’s what motivates us to forgo new dishwashers and remodeled guest rooms in favor of polyurethane suspension bushings and tube shock conversion kits. The true allure of these cramped, noisy, oil-burning little hulks is their ability to help us escape the shackles and burdens of reality and hit the road—for one mile or 1,000—and feel truly free.
Whether you decide to partake in any of our recommendations or not, keep this in mind: if you view your British classic as nothing but a garage ornament, you’re missing out on an entire community of like-minded enthusiasts who love nothing more than to share stories, help out fellow grease monkeys with projects, and simply partake in the British Motoring lifestyle.
Life in the modern world has gotten quite complex in the past few years, so why not take a little break from reality and travel back to a simpler time when like-minded friends could hit the road or kick back at a car show with some beautiful machinery and a cooler full of sandwiches. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got a road trip to prepare for.
10. Hit the Road
Vintage cars force us to absorb and experience the environment around us much more than sealed-up modern transportation. With the windows down and the sound of clattering lifters to keep you company, the sights and smells of an unknown road are much more accessible from behind the wheel of a classic. The destination never really matters; it’s all about the journey. Use these tips as a starting point, and venture off the path when you can.
- Highway 40 from Lake Havasu City, Arizona, to Flagstaff, Arizona. This little chunk of Route 66 offers a view of the American Southwest most people have never seen before. You start off in the resting place of the London Bridge, and as the road slowly snakes into Northern Arizona, the temperature drops and you soon find yourself in dense forest, with untouched natural beauty that rivals the best Yellowstone has to offer. Finally, the trip culminates at a fun logging town that houses Arizona’s third-largest university and a popular downtown area filled with shops, bars, and eateries.
- Sturgis, South Dakota. The bikers have known about it for years, and it’s about time the car geeks discover the unrivaled beauty of South Dakota. We listed Sturgis because it’s a good jumping-off point for several amazing day trips, so make getting to the town your first goal. From there, there are hundreds of miles of mountain roads to explore in the Black Hills, offering craggy rock vistas and amazing elevation changes. Several national parks are also nearby, including Mount Rushmore, Badlands, and Wind Cave. All offer excellent drives when the weather is pleasant. Check out sturgis.sd.us for more information and dates when the bike rally will be in town.
- Pacific Coast Highway. While PCH, as it’s known, runs nearly the entire length of California, our favorite section is from sleepy college town San Louis Obispo to the ritzy seaside berg of Monterey. This is one of the most challenging, beautiful, and famous roads in the world, and for good reason. There’s a 150-mile stretch that is literally carved into the side of a cliff, with mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Take an entire day to leisurely meander up the coast, or blast (safely, of course) through the tight corners on your way to one of the world’s best racetracks. Speaking of which…
9. Go Racing
Many collectors think racing their vintage car is dangerous, damaging, and risky. The truth is, there are racing organizations for virtually every type of enthusiast, car, and driver.
If you’re a hardcore speed freak, organizations such as VARA (Vintage Auto Racing Association) and HSR (Historic Sportscar Racing) offer genuine wheel-to-wheel competition in dozens of classes on top tracks all over the country. Most vehicles that participate are specially prepped racecars complete with roll cages and fire systems, and drivers have to be at the top of their game.
Casual enthusiasts looking to strut their stuff a few times a year have options too. Regional SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) chapters organize autocross events in parking lots across the country. While just as fun and challenging as open road racing, autocross courses are tighter and slower, which means there’s significantly less risk of damaging your engine or going off the track and scuffing up your paint.
Finally, many marque-specific car clubs organize track days at local racetracks geared more towards having fun and experiencing a little speed than actually competing against a clock or other drivers. If you want to get the feel of driving your car on the track without actually competing, look for vintage events that offer lunchtime track drives. Many larger events offer these opportunities to increase spectator support.
8. Run a Rally
Talk about an open-road rally and most people think of either all-wheel-drive racecars sliding around dirt roads and blazing past dumbfounded bystanders, or stupid movies filled with celebrities blasting across the country in tarted-up sports cars for comic relief. The reality is somewhere in between.
The beauty of these events is that you’re not racing, but the trip is more than a simple drive from point A to point B. It’s an adventure. Get a gaggle of old car owners together, give them a common starting point and a common finish line, suggest a scenic route or challenging road, and let them loose. Friendships, breakdowns, roadside repairs, boisterous meals and wind-in-your-hair high-speed travel ensue.
Depending on your car and pocketbook, you can choose from dozens of different rallies organized around the country, with themes ranging from pinky-in-the-air elite to beer-and-burger hijinks. Examples include the California Mille, an invitation-only road trip for extremely rare automobiles, and the California Melee, a parody of the original event that encourages fun and debauchery over exclusivity. Other examples include the Iron Bottom Rally in Southern California, Targa Newfoundland in the upper Northeast, and the Texas 1000 every October.
7. Visit an Auto Museum
In case you haven’t heard, classic cars are the new Rembrandt. High-end collections have been cropping up across the country, and many collectors are converting their private treasure troves into public museums. We’ve listed a few of our favorite auto museums here, but there are literally hundreds of them across the nation.
- Petersen Automotive Museum. It may not be the oldest, and it may not be the largest, but the Petersen is arguably the best car-themed museum in the country. Exhibits change fairly often, and the permanent collection includes dioramas of turn-of-the-century roadside scenes and early 1950s body shops.
- Volo Auto Museum. Located 50 miles north of Chicago in Volo, Illinois, this collection has been around for decades and is extremely comprehensive. The Chicago Visitor’s Bureau ranks Volo as one of the Top 101 destinations in the Chicagoland area.
- National Auto Museum. Formerly known as the Harrah Collection, this Reno, Nevada, based museum was started by casino magnate Bill Harrah and includes everything from Briggs & Stratton Buckboards to a lightweight alloy-bodied XK-120 racecar. Automotive art, photography, and a world-class research library make the National Auto Museum a must-see trip that can take days to peruse.
6. Hit the Auction
Critics claim that high-profile auctions organized by companies like Barrett-Jackson and RM are artificially driving up collector car prices, making once-affordable classics virtually untouchable for the working man or woman. We’ll leave that debate to the economists and collectors, because it’s just plain fun to grab a snack, flip on the Speed Channel and watch incredibly rich people bid crazy amounts of money for cars. What could be better than the car fans’ ultimate reality show? Seeing it in person, of course! The beauty of events like B-J’s auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Palm Beach, Florida, is that you can watch the action and get the thrill of the bid without having to actually spend your own money. Of course, if you want to buy a cool classic, you can, but we generally recommend staying away from the high-profile auctions in favor of attending smaller regional events.
5. Attend a Major Road Race
NASCAR may be the dominant motorsport in American racing, but in our humble opinion it tends to get a bit repetitive. Sports car racing is much closer to the wheel-to-wheel action our British cars were designed for, with vehicles that actually resemble production cars and racetracks that require the steering wheel to turn in both directions. The SCCA puts on late-model sports car events across the country, but the most exciting racing to watch in person is arguably the American Le Mans Series. Rules are based on the French race of the same name, and blisteringly fast Aston Martins duke it out with Porsches, Corvettes, and Audis on America’s most famous tracks.
If you have the wherewithal to travel to England for a race, the British Touring Car Championships come in a close second on our motorsports priority list. The BTCC pits four- and six-cylinder saloons against each other in a fierce battle for apex supremacy. If you can make it to a BTCC event, we highly recommend Silverstone, one of England’s most beautiful and historic tracks.
4. Join a Club
Whether that British classic sitting in the garage is your first or 40th, owning and restoring an old car can be a daunting experience. Joining a make-specific car club allows you to network with like-minded individuals and learn from their experience. Most car clubs organize shows, events, swap meets and road trips that enhance the ownership experience and foster new friendships that can grow beyond a common hate of Lucas wiring. To find a club near you, check out the ads in this magazine or search “British Car Clubs” on Google.
3. Tour Europe in a British Car
Your car wants to visit its homeland. Trust us, it’s true. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the wherewithal to actually ship their own classic car to Europe for a tour through the countryside. Luckily, now there’s a more practical and cost-effective solution.
A company called England Specials in Bremen, Germany, has a huge inventory of new and classic British sports cars for rent, and they specialize in organizing tours and trips. Whether you’re interested in a solo day trip or a full-blown multi-car club event that covers hundreds of miles (or km) and several countries, they can take care of the details. Cars available include an MG-TC, MGB, E-Type Jags, several Triumphs, an Austin-Healey 3000, and an assortment of old and new Rolls and Bentley touring cars. Sounds like the perfect vacation to us. www.englandspecials.com.
2. Pay Homage to the Legends
In the realm of motorsport legend, there are a few events to powerful, so packed with history and heritage, that attending at least one should be on every car fan’s lifetime achievement list. They all take place in Europe, and they’re all expensive, but attending one of these events is akin to making a pilgrimage to motorsports Mecca. Do it once and you’ll have stories to tell for a lifetime.
- 24 Hours of Le Mans. If you don’t know about the history, passion, and all-out power of the world’s greatest endurance race…you’re in the wrong hobby.
- Mille Miglia. Billed as the most grueling race of its era, the Mille ran from 1927 to 1957 and ended after a grisly crash killed several spectators. Resurrected as a vintage race, the course runs a lap around Italy’s boot over public roads, and hosts 375 of the rarest racing cars ever built from ‘27 to ‘57. This race made Sterling Moss an icon, and the new iteration is a truly incredible experience to behold.
- Goodwood Festival of Speed. A diehard racing fan of the highest order, the Earl of March started the Goodwood Festival of Speed on his own property in West Sussex in 1993. The event has grown, and together with the Goodwood Revival it has become the world’s largest gathering of historic racecars and drivers reliving the glory days of the historic Goodwood Motor Circuit. The restored circuit is unchanged from its heyday (1948-1966), and racing fans from all over the world attend the annual event.
1. Take a Kid for a Ride
You probably remember your first ride in a cool car. We certainly do. It was a classic roadster on a sunny spring day, and that ride changed everything. As old cars become harder to come by and new cars slowly transform into microchip-powered disposable transportation, it’s vital that we introduce new generations to the fun and excitement of British motoring. If you have a son or daughter, bring them along the next time you attend a show. If you don’t, take a neighborhood kid for a ride. Trust us, the grin you get as payment will be more than worth it.