By Michael Kotowski
Mind if I take a few measurements on this twelve footer?” I ask the guy at the trailer rental lot as I pull out my tape measure. “Go ahead,” he says, eyeing my classic Mini with a hint of suspicion. I measure the rear door and call out to my buddy Jeff, “five foot, eight inches.” I turn to my Mini and measure the widest part of the car. “Five foot, six inches,” I tell Jeff. “That’s gonna be close,” says Jeff. “Naw, it’ll be fine. We’ll just have to take it easy getting past the rear doors,” I say. “Whoa, hold it right there!” shouts the lot guy. “You can’t put a car in there!”
I anticipated this conversation and was fully prepared.“Why not?” I ask. “My Mini weighs less than 1400 pounds. That’s 800 pounds less than the trailer’s capacity,” I say. “Cuz it’s not a car trailer. No cars,” says the lot guy.
Jeff and I step away from the lot guy and have an under-our-breath conference.
“Okay,” I say, turning to the lot guy, “We’ll use the trailer to haul our pit equipment and figure out another way to haul the car.” I wink at Jeff. We hitch the trailer to my son-in-law’s Dodge Ram, and as we wave goodbye to lot guy, he shouts, “No cars!”
Thinking it might have been pushing our luck to ask the lot guy if he will also rent us some ramps, I decide to borrow a set from my son-in-law. We line the car up to the trailer and measure twice, push once—to paraphrase an old saying. Halfway up the ramp, we’re having second thoughts.
It’ll fit through the rear doors fine—with inches to spare—but there’ll be no room for one of us to get inside the trailer along with the car to chock the wheels, tie the car down, or even to stop it from smashing into the front of the trailer. Defeated, we sheepishly head back to the rental lot to return the trailer and get our deposit back.
“What’s wrong,” asks the lot guy, “car wouldn’t fit?”
Two airline tickets, an adjustment to our hotel reservations, and we were on our way to Portland, Oregon, for the “All British Field Meet,” the oldest and largest all British car event in the USA. As disappointed as I was that ‘Rosebud,’ my Mini, would not be joining us, I couldn’t help but look down from 38,000 feet at the highway below and think of the grueling 2,000 mile round trip we were avoiding. Perhaps this was the smarter move all along.
Jeff was the designated photographer. Despite numerous bags and cases of gear, he decided he needed to rent an additional telephoto lens. The fellow at the camera shop put a $10,000 encumbrance on his credit card and said, “Here ya go, don’t break it.” Yeah, the lens was that big. Jeff could have shot the entire event from our hotel balcony six miles away.
As if to make the huge and diverse fleet of British autos lined up on the grass field feel at home, Portland did its best in replicating authentic British weather—grey and drizzly with moments of pouring rain. That is not to say we didn’t have some nice sunshine in the mix. A particularly large downpour occurred during the banquet Saturday evening as Paddy Hopkirk began his presentation. The awning kept us dry and the sound system overcame the sound of the pelting rain.
Paddy charmed the crowd with tales of past glory, illustrated by vintage videos and images. He also brought us up to speed on his present-day efforts helping older drivers retain their driving skills through the “IAM RoadSmart” program.
Mr. Hopkirk is to Minis what Dan Gurney is to Ford. Although he is best known for his success in Minis, like Dan Gurney, he drove many different marques during his long and storied career. His first victory came in 1953 at the Cairncastile hillclimb in Northern Ireland driving a VW Bug.
Paddy’s driving skills behind the wheel of a Triumph TR3 got him noticed by Triumph’s manufacturer, the Standard Motor Company, where he went on to become a factory driver for Standard, and later, the Rootes Group, driving a Sunbeam Rapier and Hillman Husky. After a test-drive in Pat Moss’ Austin-Healey 3000 and being impressed with the car, Paddy signed up to drive for the British Motor Corporation and took his Austin-Healey 3000 to second place in the Liège-Sofia-Liège rally, despite driving on a shredded tire.
Paddy is perhaps best known for his astounding wins in the fabled Monte Carlo Rally, driving his Mini Cooper alongside Jaguars, Mercedes Benz’, Lotus-powered Cortinas, Ford Falcons, and a field of cars with three and four times the displacement of the diminutive Mini.
An outright win at Monte Carlo in 1964 along with co-driver Henry Liddon made Paddy Hopkirk a household name, at least in Europe. In 1982, he won the RAC Golden 50 in a Mini Cooper with co-driver Brian Culcheth. His ability to expertly pilot Mini Coopers continued into the 1990s as he and co-driver Alec Poole won the Pirelli Classic Marathon. In 2010, the newly created International Rally Hall of Fame inducted Paddy among its first four charter members. A well deserved honor, to be sure.
2019 was the 60th anniversary of the Mini, so of course it was the featured marque at the ABFM. While there were every manner of British car and vintage represented, clearly the Mini was front and center.
As we passed the empty stall reserved for Rosebud, I had a moment of regret—several moments, actually. Jeff and I were thoroughly enjoying ourselves at what was essentially Rosebud’s own birthday party, while Rosebud sat in a darkened garage a thousand miles away. It didn’t seem right. A few moments later the clouds darkened and it began to pour rain.
Spectators were caught short and began sprinting for the tents and awnings ringing the showgrounds. The car owners, on the other hand, who were, only moments ago, under the tents and awnings to get out of the sun, ran out into the rain and toward their cars with all the panic and alarm of a parent running to shield their child from a swarm of bees.
Flapping tarps were secured, bonnets hastily fastened, and scrapbooks hurriedly gathered up and thrown into boots. Cabriolet owners cursed their balky retractable top mechanisms while attempting to shield 70-year old leather interiors and walnut dashboard veneers from the onslaught. Once the immediacy of the moment had past, I’m sure their attention turned to the thorough soaking the mostly Lucas ignition systems received. It is ironic that automobiles manufactured in a country fabled for dampness fare so poorly during inclement weather. If there were ever an ode written to British cars, “Candle in the Wind” would be an appropriate title.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, the clean, clear air freshly ionized from yesterday’s storm. The show cars were mostly replaced by an automotive swap meet. I say mostly because there were some stragglers, victims I assume, of wet ignition systems.
The swap meet prompted me to once again reaffirm my decision to leave the car at home. I’ve been known to over-purchase car parts, having only recently dumped the last of my leftovers on eBay from a restoration seven years ago. One checked bag and one in the overhead limits one’s ability to drag, say, a rusty sub-frame home.
The ABFM was held on the grounds of Portland International Raceway, and the track provided a much enjoyed soundtrack to the weekend event. There was no mistaking the thunder of the big bore racecars. Whenever the Mustangs, Cobras and Corvettes were running of the front straight, conversation on the showgrounds ground to a halt until the field was well on its way to Turn One. As enticing as the low-frequency thump and wallop of the V-8s were, it was the raspy, crackly note of the Minis that got Jeff and I off the lawn and into the bleachers. Four races and a field of thirty Minis on the track kept us entertained.
We positioned ourselves at the apex of Turn One. That afforded us a clear view of three, tight little turns that, along with some aggressive curb hopping provided moments when both inside wheels were airborne and it wasn’t at all certain the landing would end well.
By late Sunday afternoon it was time to go. Jeff and I tossed our swag bags into the back seat, hopped in our rented Ford Fusion and gave thanks for a dry floor and working windshield wipers. My plan, as soon as I returned home, was to go out into the garage with two slices of cake and a couple of candles for a private moment with Rosebud and wish her a happy birthday. MM