Sterling Moss and Dennis Jenkinson we’re not, but Warren’s driving and my navigating, along with straightforward route instructions, a fun group of people and a wide range of vintage and modern cars made the “Kettle Call Rally” around Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin this past weekend a fun and memorable event. Despite the drizzle, some stop and go due to a downed power line and propane leak, everyone persevered and had a good time.
About a week ago my friend Warren Rauch from the Twin Cities Section of the Mercedes-Benz Club called me and asked if I was interested in going to Elkhart Lake, WI to participate in a rally he was planning to attend, he would drive, I would be his navigator. I had been kicking around the idea of heading to Elkhart Lake, to Road America, for the Vintage Sportscar Driver’s Association Fall Vintage Festival and Races as I have in year’s past, to work at the track with my SCCA buddies on the race grid. I felt a little guilty leaving them slightly short handed on the grid at the track while I drove around the beautiful back roads around the Kettle Morain, but not guilty enough to keep me from going.
Warren didn’t opt to take his 300SL roadster or any of his other cars he could have loaded up for the trip to Elkhart Lake. He decided to take his newest acquisition… a big, stylish, rather mafioso, 1978 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 liter sedan that he picked up on eBay about three weeks ago. The almost 6 hour drive from Minneapolis to Elkhart Lake is a heck of a shakedown run for a car, but it made it just fine.
Reunited with the ex-Brooks Stevens XK 120
I had driven down Friday night on my own and camped overnight. I got to Siebken’s, the meeting point and location of the driver’s meeting for the rally, fairly early. I though I recognized a car under a cover, a unique black and white two tone Jaguar XK 120. I thought, “Naaa, why would that car be here?”I thought it was the ex-Brooks Stevens XK 120 that participated in some of the very earliest races in Elkhart Lake. I walked into the breakfast at Siebken’s and saw a woman talking to someone about that car, looking through a photo album with photos of the car, in period, racing. I approached this lady and asked “Did someone bring that car here today? From Kansas?”
“Yes, yes, I think he is from Kansas, Mr. Morrison brought it” she finished, and just as she said that who came through the door, but Roger. I introduced myself to him, as I hadn’t seen him for several years and thanked him for bringing the car out. He greeted me with his wide smile and very deep voice. “Well how’s your father, and your mother?” We exchanged pleasantries and speculated on the weather and the rally and settled in for some breakfast.
I had last seen that car while visiting Roger’s eclectic and very cool car collection in Salina, Kansas while visiting my folks several years ago. My dad, another long time car guy, knows Roger and when I came to Kansas he arranged a visit to Roger’s place. Roger is a consummate ‘car guy’ and one of the very nicest I’ve met. Always very welcoming and interested in people interested in cars, always gracious, always a gentleman. It was that Jag that really did something to me that day while visiting his collection. Of course XK 120s are beautiful cars, but this one had significant early SCCA history, Elkhart Lake history, I feel quite a connection to Elkhart Lake, so the car just spoke to me… I sat in the driver’s seat and this photo was taken. Some version of this photo has been on a bulletin in my house, in some form, ever since.:
Despite the rain, Roger brought the car out and really put it through its paces during the Kettle Call Rally, you’ve got to respect a guy who isn’t afraid to use these cars as they were intended to be used, that’s what all the guys at Elkhart Lake and Road America are about really… it’s why these events exist in the first place.
In Good Company
Warren and I met up at Siebken’s and had a couple of cups of coffee and something to eat, met some of the other rally participants. Folks from Wisconsin and Chicago mostly. Some were driving Jags, a couple of E types, there were scads of Porsches, as always at any real sports car event… mostly modern 911s, but a couple of more vintage 911s as well, a 355 Ferrari, a 512BB, an Alfa Duetto Spyder, another Jaguar XK 120, a couple of Corvettes, I could go on and on. One of the coolest cars was a 1953 Ferrari 166MM, it was the first car to tear off from the starting line and did so in glorious 12 Cylinder Ferrari fashion, leaving smoke and a watery rooster tail in its wake on the wet street, there was no foul weather gear for that car, an 8″ tall windshield and no top!
We took off at 30 second intervals to begin the 75 mile or so route that made a rough figure eight pattern using the town of Elkhart Lake as the center point more or less. The route was really great, excellent roads for British sports cars from the fifties and sixties, narrow, tight turns, with speed limits of between 35 and 55. We went around a few corners, blind, that had speed limit signs of 45mph on them… which seemed way to fast for us. A piece of large farm machinery could be behind the next blind curve and that would be the end of you if you were in a TR3 or something like that. You might be okay in a big 6.9 Mercedes-Benz… but we didn’t want to push our luck.
We came around one corner only to find a bunch of our rally participants pulled off to the side of the road and a local fire truck blocking the route. There had been a propane leak apparently so they re-routed us to the next point on our route instructions where everyone zeroed their odometers to essentially ‘start over’ in terms of mileage. No matter, I don’t think anyone was real competitive about the whole thing, it was much more of an excuse to drive fun cars and socialize, like any good vintage rally.
Once we all made it to the finish line back at Siebken’s, where we started some of the cars were parked on the lawn of the Osthoff resort for an afternoon car show where American racing legend and all round amazing guy, John Fitch, was on hand, looking at cars and telling stories. What a thrill to see him. We should all be so lucky at 93 years old!
We sat down to lunch and enjoyed each others company for a while longer. When we were done Warren and I headed to the race track where I worked the grid for the rest of the afternoon and he walked around soaking up all the cool vintage cars rolling about. The VSCDA Fall Festival is always the last vintage event for the year at Road America, so it’s always bitter sweet. My vintage racing thirst will be quenched next Spring when the SVRA spring event in May is held again at Road America.
I hope we can do the Kettle Call Rally again next year… what will we drive? I guess we have plenty of time to figure that out.