Thursday, August 24 2017 10:53

Road Rallies

Written by Edwin Malet

Antique Cars, a Quiz, Teamwork and Chester County. Road Rallies and a Grand Prix Race.

Tooling down a winding country road, hair and scarf dancing in the wind, goggles pressing the driver’s face. The sunlight sparkles off the freshly waxed cowling and polished hubs. The low growl of the motor is the soundtrack.

On the curb, spectators rubberneck, admiring the sleek machine. Then watch as the car disappears and the hum of the motor dims.


Chester County Road Rally

On September 9, the autos of the Chester County Road Rally (CCRR) start their engines. About 70 miles and 4 hours later (averaging under 20 m.p.h.), they’ll shut them down.

A road rally is not a race. It usually lasts several hours, but some last several days. The drivers strive for an optimum, not the fastest, time. Frequently, the driver (and team) must answer questions about the route: How many Maui Jim Sunglasses in a particular store? Who was born at a designated site, according to the road sign?

CCRR rallymeister Bill O’Connell says the rules are strict: “Spelling and correct answers are graded. It’s not horseshoes, so close doesn’t count.”

The CCRR is part of the Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance, one of the top events in the world of vintage automobiles. The Concours is very exclusive: only 100 cars are accepted each year. Last year, “Best of Show” was won by a 1931 Marmon convertible sedan. “Best of Show Sport” was won by a 1958 Ferrari Berlinetta.

Driving the CCRR, however, is not a requirement of Concours entries. Only about a dozen enter this road rally. For the non-Concours CCRR entrants, there’s a fee, entry is limited and it’s often sold out.

Vintage cars—and driving teams—must be prepared for the roads. For example, Pascal Maeter will show a 1955 Austin-Healey at the Concours, and he’ll drive it there believing it’s meant “to be used, not just shown.”

But for the CCRR, Maeter will drive a 1962 fuel-injected Corvette. And his daughter will navigate, “unless she chickens out again as she did last year,” he says.

Tom Lee is a judge at the Concours, where he’ll show his red 1930 Cord L29 Cabriolet, a beauty that five years ago won the DuPont Helmsey award for style. “Cleaning, polishing, waxing … it takes a while to get cleaned and shiny.” Of the CCRR, though, he says, “The best part about these cars is taking them out, driving them and sharing them with others. It is much more engaging than seeing a car in a museum.”


Rally ‘Round the Races

Sunday morning, October 8, will mark the 11th year of the Brandywine Conservancy’s Rally ‘Round the Races. In early autumn, expect the trees to begin showing their color along the drive.

This rally takes about two hours and explores the Brandywine Creek Greenway and surrounding countryside. Here there’s less emphasis on antique cars than in the CCRR, though the rally still gets several.

Most ralliers at this popular event where children are welcome use their family car and bring friends and family members. Given its sponsorship by the Brandywine Conservancy, the rally’s questions about the route have a clear environmental theme. At the end, the teams dine at a secret luncheon destination.

Everyone who starts, finishes. And rarely is there a breakdown. Since the directions are in “code,” some do get lost, but they usually find their way back on track. Just in case, a “Lost Ralliers” envelope is included. If it’s opened, though, eligibility for prizes is lost.

Last year prizes included a Brandywine Conservancy membership, Museum Shop items, and tickets to the Young Friends of the Brandywine’s popular Halloween party. In years when it rains, expect a joke prize, such as a bucket of car cleaning products.

Amy McKenna, a real estate agent at County Properties, is a veteran of a long roster of rallies in County Lines country and elsewhere. She’ll be driving her 1958 220S Cabriolet Convertible or 1967 Mercedes SL.

McKenna used to work on the cars with her father over 40 years ago. Now she considers them “part of the family [to be handed] down to the next generation, whenever that comes.” Always, she takes her girlfriends “as they are more adventurous and it allows us to spend time together.”


Stroud Water Road Rally

You’ll have to wait until next June for the 2nd Stroud Water Road Rally and to see if it follows the same plan as its premier: an 80-mile course through the countryside of Chester County, ending on the grounds of Runneymede Sanctuary. There was an environmental theme, with, of course, a big emphasis on water and watershed facts.

Eric Degenfelder, of Axalta, one of this past year’s sponsors, drove a 2012 Jaguar XF, for which he was careful to “make sure that the paint … was shining brilliantly and ready to show off.” Commenting on the other cars, he observed “the rally included some spectacular vehicles” including several Porsches and a Morgan.

Driving his 1974 Triumph TR6, Joe Mackin, in contrast, said he did little to get the car ready for the rally: “Besides cleaning it, I’m embarrassed to say I did nothing more than have my very knowledgeable mechanic confirm it wouldn’t leave me stranded somewhere, and thankfully it didn’t!”

But he did put more thought into his navigator, George Metzler of Rittenhouse Builders, who kept him “on the straight and narrow.” Contemplating the beautiful scenery, he confided, “I love seeing our beautiful County from another perspective. I also enjoy seeing the other cars in attendance, all of which were nicer than my car!”


I love seeing the countryside, too.

Even more, I love seeing a vintage auto cruising the countryside, enjoying the cooling weather.

And even more, I love seeing, feeling and experiencing the countryside from a vintage auto, preferably a convertible.

So, does anyone need a navigator?



2nd Coatesville International Vintage Grand Prix (CVGP)


The Coatesville event is not a road rally. But it does involve driving classic cars.

The CVGP takes place September 23 on a 2.2-mile closed course around and through Coatesville—closed to all but about 60 vintage cars and motorcycles.

Denis Branca, event chair, points to a distinguished lineup of owners and drivers. Dick Vermeil, former Eagles coach, and his 1927 Miller Schofield Sprint car, will enter. Also scheduled for this year, talented local drivers Dave George with his 1936 Bear Special Indy Champ, Len Rusiewicz with a 1969 Ferrari, and Roger Radbill’s 1923 Mercer Raceabout as the oldest car there.

For his part, Tom Lee, also of the Chester County Road Rally, will enter his 1938 K8 Sprint Car—the Riley Special #5. It’s a Ford Model B, 4-cylinder that’s won several big New England races in its time. Estimated top speed: about 60 m.p.h. on the back straightaway at the CVGP; probably 100 m.p.h. on a longer straight.

Lee says the streets of Coatesville are “exciting but a bit challenging. … You’re driving right down the town roads. There are people along the sidewalk. … There are hay bales to slow you down, but you’re right next to the crowd.”

In preparation, Lee follows the Vintage Sports Car Club of America guidelines. “You go over every aspect of the car—every nut, bolt, springs, suspension, safety equipment—verify that there are no fluid leaks, and that all of the body panels are secure. There are about 75 different things that I check before each event.”