The blue moon was no match for the sun's ability to caffeinate the sky, providing ample light to kickstart the morning proceedings. It was just after sunrise and I was well on my way to Saratoga Springs for the 10th annual Hemming's Sports and Exotic Show, the real life interpretation of their fantastic monthly magazine. The ride north for me was around three hours, as I decided to nix the plan to detour east towards the Taconic for the more scenic route. In all honesty, the New York Thruway is breathtaking enough and I wanted to make sure I arrived before the participants.
The ride up was uneventful, with the exception of one casualty. It was either a very large moth or a small bird and sounded like someone bounced a tennis ball off of my windshield. Additionally, if it weren't for the painted lines and the occasional car, the tranquil landscape with its dense foliage could have been mistaken for something out of the Paleozoic era.
For me, this was the second time appearing at this show and the third time on the grounds which it was held. The Saratoga Automobile Museum is nestled in a wooded area also known as Saratoga Spa State Park, home to many great landmarks including a thoroughbred track and the SPAC. It is absolutely beautiful and can absolutely be enjoyed with or without the sound of a carbureted motor droning out the ambient nose of the local creatures.
The weather forecast looked as if Mother Nature was on Team Hemmings that day, although not without first teasing a bit with an early morning sprinkle. When I arrived, I was reassured by the few folks there that the show would go on and that the rain date would not be necessary. If the clouds hung around for the majority of the morning it would be a total success. Unfortunately, the sun made sure that was not meant to be.
Registration opened at 8 a.m. and the bulk of the cars started rolling in around that time. Those that came before were treated to tears of the gods, while I enjoyed the diffused light that came with the clouded skies. The rain held off, the sun broke through, and there was a steady stream of entrants for the next few hours.
The Sports and Exotic Show is good for bringing out the obscure cars of our hobby. Sure, there was the lion's share of MGs and Triumphs and Austin-Healeys, but it was the ones that I haven't seen before in person that really caught my eye. When the 1973 Toyota Corona Mark II 2-door hardtop pulled in, it stopped me in my tracks. The look was so distinctive, so captivating. It was finished off in white, with JDM wing mirrors and early MK2 Supra wheels. Under the hood was a 7M-GE, most likely from an MA70 Supra.
Sticking with the Toyota stable, a very cool 1977 Celica Liftback was also in attendance. Under its hood was a JDM-sourced 18R-GR. The real eye candy of this motor were the twin Solex carbs with polished trumpets. I spent some extra time with the car after the show. The enthusiastic owner Craig, with his thick Rhode Island accent, was ecstatic to get some pictures in front of the historic buildings. I can still here his voice in my head. "Wow...that's exactly the shot I was thinking!"
Being the 10th anniversary, Hemmings invited the previous nine Best of Show winners to be showcased for all to see. Unfortunately, only a third were able to attend, but those three were all in the same tip-top shape as they were when they originally took home the top honors. I was really looking forward to last year's winner, a 1932 Maserati 4CS with a Brianza body, but sadly it didn't make the trip out. The 1953 Nash-Healey of Joe Conlon was stunning as ever in its Pinin Farina suit, the inboard headlights still a controversial design cue. I remember the Opaline green 1967 Austin-Healey 3000 of Peter Army from last year, although it wasn't a winner then. The final Best of Show returnee was the 1957 Triumph TR3 owned by Gene and Glenda Tricozzi. The combination of deep black paint with a red gut really shined in the Saratoga sun.
The thing I enjoy most about the show is the atmosphere. The combination of the beautiful show grounds, paired with a staff that is out and about interacting with the owners, really leaves a great impression. Walk up to anyone wearing a Hemmings shirt, whether it's senior editor Mark J. McCourt or account executive Bradford Kosich, start a conversation about a car, and it's as if you were buddies since grade school. They never make you feel as if there may be something better going on at some other location. Perhaps chalk it up to Vermont hospitality that I'm just not used to, but whatever the reason, they always made you feel like what you have to say is important, even if it's not (Your thoughts on a Saab 900's seductiveness IS important though - ed.)
This year's featured marques included BMW M cars, Lancia, Lotus and Microcars, with the latter category only accruing four entrants, three of which were vintage BMWs. The highlight of the Lancia group for me was a 1955 Lancia Aurelia Spider, a car that was purchased by its current owner in 1995 for a mere $3,800. Not only is the car worth substantially more (and that's an understatement), but he also drove it to the show, smiling all the way I'm sure.
The Driveable Dream division put a warranted spotlight on cars that would otherwise be in the parking lot at a show like this. It included a few Saabs, two older Preludes, and a 1960 Rover 100, among others. I look forward to the DD section of the magazine because it provides coverage of cars that are enjoyed on a regular basis without their owners worrying about door dings, paint chips and other calamities that a Concours restoration wouldn't want any part of.
I'm not sure if this just isn't the place for them, or there was something greater going on in a different part of the region, but there was a noticeable absence of vintage Ferraris, Maseratis and other period-specific "supercars." I recall last year a greater variety of the trident and a few more cars that really got my heart beating a bit faster. Whatever the case, I'm still impressed at the caliber of the crop that were parked on the lush lawns.
At the end of the day, the sun was high in the sky as the winners of their respective classes were announced. A C&C buddy brought home the second place trophy for Late Model Exotics with his 2015 Porsche 911 GT3. A light blue Lotus Elite S1 took the second place for its class, recalling a similar result at Greenwich back in May. As the cars rolled past the judges, the applause grew louder when it came time to announce the Best of Show for 2015. Fresh from a 30+ year restoration, the 1957 Jaguar XK140 SE, owned by Ray and Judith Ricker, wasn't trailered from its Rochester garage. No, it was driven the 200+ mile journey without so much as a hiccup. The white FHC with wide-whitewalls and a red leather interior was purchased 36 years ago as a driver's car before being put under the knife for longer than I've been alive. It was beautiful. It was exemplary. And it was totally deserving of the award.
There is certainly a difference between attending a local Cars & Coffee and a full on show, replete with judging and a subsequent award ceremony. But for me, it's the totality of it all, whether formal or not, that makes arriving early and staying until after most of the cars have headed home worth it. Even after I take a beating from the sun and my morning coffee has long since worn off, I find it hard to just jump in my car and leave. I think the younger generation have given it the acronym of FOMO, or fear of missing out, but it's entirely true. I never want to drive home with that 'what if' feeling lingering in the back of my mind. That is why I will always take way too many pictures. It's not as if I'm going to post 974 images for the gen pop to peruse. I would break the Internet. Perhaps it's just the reporter in me, even though I 'retired' from journalism nearly a decade ago, trying to capture all of the specific details. Whatever the reason, I will continue to do exactly what I'm doing and that is bringing you what I perceive is the best in subjective car show coverage, even if it is painful for me to pick the perfect palabras. It's what keeps me rolling.
Check out the incomplete gallery HERE! (Remember, I'm not posting all 974 pictures for the Internet's sake.)