The Battle of Britain Part Two -or- The 1997 New England 1000
I, my trusty navigator Clark Nicholls, and CatieCat my 1962 E roadster had decided to have another go at the New England 1000 Rally this year. We were able to reserve the number six starting position which Clark assured me, being his lucky number, would bring certain victory. So off to New England we went in search of a so far elusive first place finish.
The ride to the Basin Harbor Club was wet and cold and a preview of the weather for the upcoming week. Arriving late Saturday evening we decided to head straight to the bar where we met fellow Jag enthusiasts (1959 XK-150) Ron Gaeta and Whitney Lowery celebrating their engagement to be married! We joined our hosts and rally organizers Rich and Jean Taylor in helping them finish off their champagne and headed of to a good night's sleep.
Sunday, May 18 dawned warm and sunny and the hopes for a week of good weather were high. After a hearty breakfast we received our route books and got quite a shock when we reviewed the competition in our class - us against three 300 SL Gullwing Mercedes. A further shock when we realized Ron and Whitney in the 150 were also up against three Gullwings in their class. The lone Spitfires against the Messerschmidts of the Luftwaffer! The Battle of Britain was on! The only other Jag on the event, a 1973 XKE owned by Randy and Jan Short, at least had an Aston Volante in their class for support against two Porsche Carreras, BMW 3.0cs and a Mercedes 280 SE.
An eclectic variety of classic automobiles arrived during the course of the day for participation in the afternoon Concours d'Elegance among them a 1936 Bugatti Atalante Coupe, 1953 Cunningham C-3, 1949 Alfa 6C2500 Super Sport, 1956 AC Aceca, 1966 Morgan, 1962 Ferrari 250 GTE/GTO and a 1951 Allard P1 Monte Carlo as well as a host of Ferraris, Porsches, Corvettes and assorted British compatriots.
Monday, the first day of the actual rally, saw a return of winter. The cars left in a steady downpour headed for the first checkpoint in Cambridge and then off to the lunch stop at Jay’s Peak. The route then took us through Smugglers Notch on the way to Stowe Mountain Resort our stopover for the night. At dinner that evening we learned we had gotten through the first day and four checkpoints with no penalty points…. but so had Peter and Karen Efros in their 1953 MG TD.
Tuesday’s activities started with two gymkhanas. We missed a gate in each event but despite the penalty points incurred we still finished within the top three positions in each event. Then it was off to Brandon and onward to lunch at the Wilburton Inn. We were asked to "pose" the E in the sculpture garden with the "Temple of the Fender Bender", made of recycled auto parts. After lunch it was off to Mt. Equinox Hill Climb for the 5.2-mile ascent to where we finished with the fourth best time of day behind the two Porsche RS’s and a Ferrari 246…. a small victory for the Axis powers!
From Equinox it was off to the Old Tavern, a beautiful old federal style building which counts Ulysses S. Grant and Henry David Thoreau among its former guests, in Grafton for the evening. The results at dinner that evening had us in high spirits as we had again managed to escape any rally points…. but so had Judge Efros (Peter is a judge in New Jersey when he is not out terrorizing the countryside in his MG). This was going to be a tough battle!
Wednesday started with a short drive to the MG Museum in Westminster. Here a collection of 27 MG automobiles from the very earliest to the latest is housed including an example of the rare Inskip four-seater conversion which fascinated me since they were done only a few miles from where I grew up on Long Island. The weather began to turn raw again as we headed out for the run to Bennington and a visit to Hemmings Garage, lunch and a tour of the Hemmings Publishing facilities. From there it was off to Mt. Ascutney for a somewhat less punishing 3 mile hillclimb where we managed a tie for second best time of day again in a battle with the two Porsches. It was time for a little rest and recreation as we motored to the quaint little town of Woodstock for the evening. Dinner at the Prince and Pauper revealed that we had scored one penalty point for the day at the Mt. Ascutney checkpoint…. but so had the Judge, again at the same checkpoint. We were still locked in a dead heat for first in the rally!
Thursday saw more cold, wet weather with flurries and sleet as we headed north to the Rock of Ages quarry and monument manufacturing site. The view from the top of the Quarry into the bottom of a seemingly bottomless pit was truly awe-inspiring. After a tour of the monument manufacturing facility it was off to Thunder Road, a small high-banked oval with an optional "wiggle’ through the infield (which we used) for another speed event. After one warm-up lap it was as fast as you could for a timed lap. We pried our fingers from around the steering wheel and grab bar to discover we had tied for best time of day with…. you guessed it, the Porsche Carrera and a Mercedes Renntech 600 (not officially on the rally but a potent competitor). We were gaining on them for the final victory!
From Thunder Road we headed to the Hilltop Café for lunch and from there were on to the Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Morrisville for the next-to-last checkpoint. As we were waiting for our appointed time to enter the checkpoint, our nemesis, Peter and the MG were nowhere to be seen and we had left the last checkpoint at almost the same time. We figured he had gotten lost and would be late, incurring some penalty points and a victory would be assured. Just as we were about to enter the timing lane we heard a roar and a squeal of tires behind us and don’t you know it …hear comes da judge! We took off for our run through the timing lane and arrived one second early, another penalty point! Depressed at this point, since we knew Peter had only one point, we waited for him to enter the checkpoint. He got his time in and drove over to where we were parked with a dejected look to tell us he had scored a point and assuming we had not. When he asked how we had done a smile returned to his face when he realized all was not lost, we were still tied and there was one more checkpoint to go. So it was off on the last leg and a return to Basin Harbor Club. We were able to maintain a fast pace, arrived early and passed the timing line with no further penalties. We had covered over 1050 miles in the past four days and were glad to be back.
We met Peter at dinner that evening and found out he had aced the last checkpoint as well leaving us tied for first overall with victories for each of us in our respective classes. We had also performed well enough in the hillclimbs to finish first in class and second overall in the speed events behind the Porsche Carrera RS of Henry Michie and Rich Chapel. We had indeed won the war with the top four rally finishers being of British origin with second going to John Burton and Helen Wickett in a 1967 Lotus Europa and third to Ron and Jim Bailey in their 1961 TR-3, with fourth, fifth and sixth to a Porsche 356, Mercedes 300SL and a BMW 3.0CS. Ron and Whitney in the XK-150 finished second in class, a very respectable tenth overall. One of the most deserved awards of the evening, the "Vintage Spirit Award" went to Dean and Wendy Edmonds for completing the entire event, including hillclimbs, in their 1932 Type 55 Bugatti, a completely open car, despite the sometimes-horrible weather. True sportsmen (and Jaguar fanatics) these two.
As always, Rich and Jean put on a first class event and at the same time were able to make a significant contribution to some very worthwhile charities in Vermont. There is no better way to enjoy a fine classic automobile than by entering an event such as this. This year's event starts on May 17, 1998 at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport Maine and runs mostly in Maine with a day in northern New Hampshire. They can be reached at 800-645-6069 or at www.vintagerallies.com. Our thanks to Lee Maas and Jaguar Cars for making our participation in this event possible.