On Friday, July 18th I met a friend of mine at about 5:15 in the morning on a highway exit to meet up and drive to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, the home of Road America, and this particular weekend, the HAWK Vintage Races with Brian Redman. See photos below, or more than 100+ photos in this album on my Flickr page.
As I pulled into the parking lot we had decided to meet at, I saw my friend Kevin’s 1960 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider (top down) coming down the off ramp to collect me in my 1966 Mercedes 230SL. He drove in, circled around me and with a wave of his string backed driver’s gloves, off we went with a simple yelling of ‘let’s go’ over the sounds of our revving engines.
We wanted to beat any rush hour traffic that might come along on a Friday morning, it was still dark outside, I knew we’d miss all the poor slobs driving into work, it was so early. Our plan was to take Kevin’s regular route east out of the Twin Cities and then southeast into Wisconsin where we would pick up the last man in our classic car convoy and take back roads for about 7 hours to Elkhart Lake, arriving in time for the Friday night race car Concours d’Elegance on the streets of downtown Elkhart Lake. They actually drive the race cars the three or four miles from the track, on public roads, into Elkhart Lake where, basically, a big street party ensues until dusk when the cars (many without headlights) roar back to the track to the delight of the onlookers lining the streets.
About an hour into our drive we crossed over the Mississippi River into Wisconsin where we picked up the third participant in our convoy… my buddy Mark in his Champagne Yellow 1965 Porsche 356. We stopped at a gas station briefly where Mark passed out our newly acquired Cobra ‘Walkie Talkies’ so we could make ridiculous small talk while weaving our best ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ CB lingo into the conversation… they proved to be a lot of fun.
I was scheduled to work, as usual, as an SCCA worker this weekend, on the false grid, lining cars up for the next practice session or actually gridding cars in their numbered grid positions based on qualifying times, I’ve been doing that with the SCCA for about 15 years now I guess.
It was, as usual, an insanely cool weekend of great cars from all over the country, from pre war cars to ALMS cars that were racing competitively just a few years ago, and everything in between. And, of course, the cars parked at the track and in downtown Elkhart Lake (especially Saturday night for the Street Car Concours) were just as cool as what was on the track all weekend.
This event is like the Monterey Historics in the mid-west, many of the same cars, owners and drivers come to this event, it’s absolutely a blast and you should put it on your calendar and attend at least once in your life.
Kevin and I drove back Sunday, Mark came back Monday… none of us had a single mechanical problem, our (almost) 50 – 50+ year old cars performed flawlessly on the long drive to and from Elkhart Lake. On the back roads, in those old cars… a few times, I could have sworn it was the mid 60s. These cars really can be like time machines, not that I much new what the 60s felt like… while the other guys I was with sure remember them… I wouldn’t be born for another decade.
Each year I make the trip from Minneapolis to Elkhart Lake, WI for the big vintage sports car race weekend at Road America. This year I made that trip in high style… read on… lots of race car photos from the event at the bottom of this post.
If you’re not familiar with Road America, it is a 4 mile long sports car racing course, with 14 turns, up hill, down hill… built in the early 1950s. Everyone who is anyone in sports car racing over the past 60 years has raced there from Mario Andretti and Al Unser to Carrol Shelby and Phil Hill. Each July Road America hosts the largest gathering of vintage race cars in the Midwest… think Monterey Historics in the middle of Wisconsin farm country. More than 600 race cars generally participate, racers come from all over the country with their cars… most arriving as very well funded race teams in semi trailers. There is no prize money, nobody does this for a living, this is a leisure sport for gentleman racers and quite a few ex-pro racers. There are cars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, even worth millions of dollars, going wheel to wheel around the track, some cars were clocked this weekend at over 220mph! Imagine doing that in a 30 year old car!
As any good Dave Knows Cars Blog reader will remember, I recently re-acquired my old 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia, I was planning on taking that on the 6 1/2 hour road trip to the track… but when the opportunity presented itself to take a lightly used 2010 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Based Pleasure Way Camper with just about 14,000 miles on its odometer, I jumped at the chance.
I felt bad, looking at my little Westfalia sitting behind this shiny new Mercedes based rig… for about two minutes, then figured the Sprinter was a much more comfortable vehicle. It has a powerful Mercedes-Benz diesel engine which allowed me to set the cruise control at about 74mph and get over 20 mpg. I could keep up with traffic and stay cool with the A/C blasting all the way down to Elkhart Lake in 90+ degree temperatures in mid July.
I packed up the Sprinter Friday morning with clothes, a few pairs of shoes, real bed sheets and a pillow… no sleeping bag, as I would simply press a button to electrically fold the ultra soft leather rear sofa down into a queen sized bed once I arrived at the campground at the track. I loaded the fridge up with a 12 pack of Sam Adams bottles, a bottle of orange juice and a few bottles of water and switched it over to propane power, the LP powered refrigerator kept everything cold all weekend.
This particular Sprinter is the short wheel based model, the smallest Sprinter RV you can buy. It has two front seats, a galley kitchen complete with a two burner electric stove top, microwave, sink and enough cabinet space to hold everything you’d need for quite a while. Moving towards the back there is a bathroom with toilet and stand up shower. All the way in the back there is a large sofa that can be used as regular seating while driving that folds down into a queen sized bed when you’re ready to sleep. There is a flat screen TV in back along with a DVD payer and remotes for both… so you can watch a movie while on the sofa or in bed. I kind of felt like Robin Leach as I pressed the button to fold down the electric sofa bed… ‘Champagne wishes and Caviar Dreams’.
The drive down was great. I set the cruise control between 70mph and 74mph depending upon traffic turned on the A/C and just cruised. I don’t drive large vehicles very often and, I must say, I don’t generally care for them… things like Escalades and Suburbans, they just don’t appeal to me, they feel truck like and big, I feel like I can’t see around me. While the Sprinter doesn’t have any rear windows on the driver’s side, the passenger’s side is full of them and you can actually look back there to see if there is anyone on that side of the vehicle when you’re changing lanes. The exterior mirrors were great, plenty big, and they had there were integrated blind spot mirrors on both sides which made for a great field of vision. It was so easy to drive and maneuver, you’d never know that you were in such a big vehicle. I parked in a regular parking space when I stopped at a Culver’s for lunch… right next to all the other regular cars.
Once I arrived at the race track I pulled into the camp ground and pulled up to my SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) worker buddies… they were surprised to see me in this rig, they climbed up and walked through to have a look. It was pretty much decided that we all need one of these things. Once in the camp ground I opened the roof vent and turned on the small roof fan.. with the fold out windows open plenty of air circulates throughout the camper. In fact, when I went to sleep I just left two small, screened windows open and left the fan on. At about 4:00am I woke up and got another blanket because I was actually cold!
Saturday night I drove it into town for the downtown Elkhart Lake street car Concours d’Elegance, as always, it was packed with people, a big street party where the crowd mingles around the cars. I was able to park a couple of blocks away from downtown and I actually parallel parked the Sprinter… I found a big space, so I didn’t have to work very hard, but there it sat, parallel parked on a residential street.
Saturday night was as nice as Friday night sleeping in the camper, again, I just used the roof top vent fan with a few open screened windows, it kept me plenty cool. There is a roof top air conditioner that runs off the Onan generator, but I never even used it.
Sunday was a full day of working the false grid with race cars and my SCCA friends, we’re the course workers who arrange and line up all the race cars in their qualifying positions on the starting grid. We make the last safety checks of the drivers, watch for leaking gas, oil and whatever else coming out from under the cars, adjust mirrors, attach window nets, etc. It’s a great, fun way to be as close to the cars as you can imagine, touch every one of them if you want… talk to the drivers, it’s a great part of the track to work.
By late afternoon on Sunday the weekend I look forward to all year long was drawing to a close. I said my good byes until next year, hopped in the Sprinter and headed back towards Minneapolis. It is about a 6 1/2 hour drive one way… the first two and a half hours are on rural Wisconsin County roads, then it’s three hours up I-94 to Minneapolis. It was a great weekend, with an excellent vehicle that was fun and easy to drive, got a lot of looks from people along the way and acted as very comfortable accommodations… how can I ever go back to my vintage Volkswagen Westfalia after a great weekend with this luxo cruiser? That’s a good question… one I will have to try to figure out how to answer… or I’ll just have to come up with the $80,000 needed to buy this used Sprinter Pleasure Way!
Here kitty, kitty, kitty… nobody designs cars quite like Jaguar, no matter how many times they’ve been sold or restructured or whoever owns them now, for more that 80 years Jaguar has been designing beautiful cars and this 2011 XKR is no exception.
Sears Imports purchased this vehicle from its only owner recently, a gentleman who was ready to do some downsizing. It’s a very lightly used 2011 model with 8,930 miles on its odometer. The car is in as new condition, inside and out with a perfectly clean Carfax vehicle history report.
The interior of this car is amazing, condition is ‘as new’, but the overall layout and design is comfortable and luxurious… a true gentleman’s grand touring car. The R designation of this car means that this car is packed with a 5.0 liter V8 cranking out 510 Horse Power and 461 lb-ft of torque… big numbers by anyone’s standard.
Looking stealthy in all black, this car is available today at Sears Imports for $77,900, stock# 20389.
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.
I spent a day with this very car a couple of years ago… it turned out to be one of the best car days of my life! I read today, on a Wall Street Journal blog, about its private sale. It is now being called “The Most Expensive Car in the World”. A museum in California bought it, a 1936 Bugatti for “between 30 and 40 million dollars”.
I knew it was going to be a good day when I woke up, later than I should have (about 8:00), to the sound of morning practice for 1950s and 60s small bore production based racing cars buzzing around Road America, a 4 mile long, 14 turn road racing course in Elkhart Lake, WI.
In any case, it was the Elkhart Lake Fall Vintage Festival 2005,where a couple of hundred vintage cars and enthusiasts meet to actually drive and race their cars, just like they raced 50, 60, even 80 years ago in the case of some of the Bugattis.
Imagine this place, like a nature preserve that happens to have a racetrack running through it… hills and valleys, thick woods all over the place… No hillbillies standing on top of motor homes with confederate flags here or grandstands full of beer drinking animals.
As I walked from my tent on the edge of the woods where I camped Friday night to the starting grid where I would be arranging racing cars for the rest of the day I walked past all the usual stuff. Racing cars of all types and guys tinkering on them, getting them ready for practice and morning qualifying.
MGs, Morgans, Triumphs, Lotus, more Porsches than you could begin to count… from the 50s, all the way up to 1980s era Porsche 911 racing cars. Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, McLarens, Elvas, and lots of Bugatti Grand Prix cars from the 1920s. Millions and millions of dollars worth of hardware, and then I came upon this:
It went from another fun weekend at the track to on of the all time great car days of my life… right up there with my visit to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August of 2000 when I got to see the only other original 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic on the planet, Ralph Lauren’s car, as he almost ran over my toes coming off the podium.
There are only two of these cars on the planet, the fact that one of them sold last week for between 30 and 40 million dollars doesn’t surprise me. While in this car’s presence, in the low morning sun, I just walked around it, I looked at each detail. It is high art, no doubt about it.
I got tears in my eyes, no joke, it’s that significant in the history of the automobile.
The sheer genius and beauty of this machine is incredible. It was the best, most advanced, most cutting edge example of its kind when it was created by Jean Bugatti in France in the 1930s.
I can only imagine what it must have been like to see this car tool by on a Parisian street almost 80 years ago. It was difficult enough to comprehend 5 years ago. I’ll stop with the gushing… it’s ‘just a car’ right? It is modern art, sculpture that has a function, in all honesty. Ralph Lauren’s Bugatti, and 25 or so of his other cars, spent several months on display in the Boston Museum of Modern Art a couple of years ago because they are works of art.
Imagine, a painting sold last week at Christie’s in New York for $106 million… yeah… and you can’t drive a painting. I just feel lucky to have seen, heard, and smelled this car doing what it was meant to do, because in the end… it is just a car. I hope the museum that bought it will use it occasionally like the good doctor who brought it to Elkhart Lake. Enjoy these photos of this vintage racing weekend…