2 December 2007

Touring Rallies

How to treat your vintage car before, during and after the event.

West Texas is the Texas of sagebrush and chili, of oil wells and cactus. Out here, west of the Pecos, the roads follow the natural undulations of the land with horizon-long straights and wicked curves. The scenery is spectacular, especially when you’re out running with Ferraris, Jaguars, Porsches, Corvettes, Alfas and Morgans – all driven by like-minded people who feel the lure of the open road.

After hours of enjoyable motoring, you then find yourself checking into a resort where your luggage has been transferred by the rally organizers. Later, you’re seated in a formal dining room enjoying sublime cuisine. Repeat this regimen for four or five days in a row, throw in an autocross or side-destination tour and you’ve caught the allure of a touring rally.

The more notable ones include Martin Swig’s California Mille, the Colorado Grand, the Muscle Car 1000, the Carolina Trophy, and Rich and Jean Taylor’s time-distance Vintage Rallies, which include the New England 1000, Mountain Mille, Northwest Passage and Texas 1000. Many of these are modeled after the famed Italian Mille Miglia, the Brescia-Rome-Brescia classic that ran from 1927 to 1957. Some of these events limit their fields to cars of a certain age or historical significance. Others have more liberal requirements.

Rallies can cost $5,000 per car and up, but your hotels, meals, route books, special clothing and other amenities are covered, which makes them competitive with many other types of vacations – but much more fun. The events will take you on roads you’d never venture on yourself without a built-in support system. And if your car should break down and the rally mechanics can’t fix it, they’ll usually put your car on a flatbed and you into a replacement car, often provided by the rally sponsor.

Still, most of us would prefer to “run what we brung.” Therefore, it helps to know how to prepare, what parts and spares to bring, and how to detail your car back to show-and-shine condition.

Get rally ready

Preparing is pretty obvious. If your car has been sitting in a garage or a collection, it will need to be driven. “I’ll drive a car 200 miles a month before a rally,” says Joe Hayes of Chicago, who has run dozens of rallies in everything from a Ferrari Spyder to a Gullwing Mercedes. “If it makes it that far, it’ll make it 2,000 miles.”

Equally critical to a successful rally experience is bringing along the right parts, tools and spares in case a problem develops on the road. Noted collector Miles Collier ran the Texas 1000 with Scott George, the man who manages his impressive collection of vintage automobiles. “We do a lot of tours with a variety of cars – the Colorado Grand, the California Mille and all of the Vintage Rallies events,” George says. “My goal is to bring things that are unique to the car were they to fail.”

Jason Urban, a rallyist from Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, owns a 1959 Alfa Giulietta Sprint that he ran in the New England 1000 this year. “I figure I’m not going to be able to buy anything on the rally route but nuts and bolts with a car like this,” Urban says. “So I look for the weak points on the cars – and bring an extra water pump or fuel pump. But I take the added step of bolting those parts on to see if they actually fit.”

James MacDougald of St. Petersburg, Florida, ran last year’s Texas 1000 in a 1964 Corvette, a marque for which parts are much more readily available. MacDougald usually carries a tool kit, a knockoff wheel remover, some fan belts, hoses, a quart of oil and an oil filter. Still, he suffered a fuel system failure in his 1964 Sting Ray, which left him and his wife stranded out on a deserted stretch of road south of Ft. Stockton. Fortunately, many rallyists stopped to offer help before the official rally mechanics showed up. Even though he was able to buy a new fuel pump at a local auto parts store, he eventually opted to drive one of the new Porsche 911s offered by the event sponsor.

If you don’t have the replacement parts, you can carry tools and repair materials. Urban says one of the handiest tools is a small scissor jack – along with one jack stand. “We carry duct tape and electrical tape in multiple colors,” he adds. “Panty hose can be rigged as a temporary fan belt. Paper towels are always handy, too."

Recover from the run

What about bringing your vintage car back to top condition after the event? Much depends on the rarity of the car and whether it is part of a treasured collection or simply a nice collector car that begs to be driven. “Once we get back home, I give the car a good scrubbing and make a list of everything that went wrong,” Hayes says. “Then I send it off to the repair shop right away.”

Urban says he takes everything out of the car and airs it out. “Once we get it dried out, we check the radiator, fluids, tires and tire pressures,” he adds. “Then we wash it thoroughly and clean off tar, bugs and debris, among other things. We take a hose and spray underneath the car. Then we take it around the block a few times to help dry it out. It usually takes us two to three hours to get it back into shape.”

At the other extreme, George applies a very thorough post-rally procedure to bring the Collier cars back to show quality. “Basically we give it a bath with mild soap and water, cleaning everywhere under the wheel wells,” he says. “Then we jack it up, pull off the wheels and do the same to the inner part of the wheels, wiping it down after. Finally, we’ll spray down all the bare hardware with oil to protect the plating.”

George even goes to the extent of changing the oil, having a sample of the used oil sent out to be analyzed to make sure the engine is happy. He also drains the fuel and adds some fresh racing fuel and then runs it dry for 20 minutes or so before storing the car.

“We have quite a process,” George says. “This car will spend about a day and a half being cleaned and then we’ll most likely spend a day and a half to three days making any mechanical repairs. We also will probably bleed the brakes.”

All of these steps are well worth it when the payoff is driving a glorious car with people who are just as passionate as you are.
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To see this article in its original format, view the pdf version of the Winter 2007 issue of Hagerty magazine.

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