My classic car - a purchase prompted by an insatiable fit of nostalgia over five years ago. A Craigslist find that nearly mimicked the first new car my mother bought way back in 1981 and drove happily for 15 years until the arrival of my little brother negated the presence of only four seats. A car whose odometer I had advanced less than two thousand miles since I took ownership. It was finally time for my 1981 Toyota Celica GT Liftback to have its day in the sun. It was time for the 2016 Hemmings Sports and Exotic Show!
This was my fifth time traveling to Saratoga Springs, NY, to the adjacent grounds of the Saratoga Automobile Museum, for an event hosted by Hemmings. At the end of last year's Concours, I got talking to a few of the editors about having a Toyota class at an upcoming show. I can't exactly take all the credit, but whatever suggestion I made burrowed itself deep enough into one of their psyche to cause a Toyota-specific class to emerge for the 11th Annual Sports and Exotic Show. It was entitled Toyota Sports Cars and GTs (pre-1992) and my copper metallic coupe was a prime candidate for participation.
In the five years that my name has been on its title, I've driven it to the odd cruise night, jaunts to the grocery store, local C&Cs, and more recently, a longer drive to New Canaan, CT with a detour on my way home in White Plains to visit Dominick European Car Repair (to visit friends, not for fixing). Before moving to my current home about 14 months ago, the car sat in a storage unit for over a year, out of order, thanks to a leak in the stopping system. With all of that sorted, I had all the confidence in the world that the 22R and the body that surrounded it would be able to make the trek. The ride to Saratoga would be just under 3 hours, but more importantly, cover 178 miles. With a portable speaker for my iPod and a newly purchased charger case for my phone, I was ready to tackle the trip.
And so was the car.
Usually, the starting sequence involves priming the gas pedal four times, cranking the starter for approximately 7 seconds, then repeating the steps a second time until the car fires to life. This morning, however, it was as if the car was as ready to roll as I was, awakening on the first turn of the key. The time was 3:38 a.m. and the open road awaited.
Although the positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to driving a classic car, a few of those negatives are amplified on drives further than a spin around town. The sun, in August, doesn't peek its head above the horizon until midway through the 5 o'clock hour. That means you're traveling through the darkness on the NY Thruway by what seems like the lightbulb from your vacuum cleaner. Sealed beam halogen headlights can't hold the proverbial candle against the bi-xenon units that are in my GTI. Another demerit would be the suspension's ability to replicate the movement of a waterbed. Additionally, the recirculating-ball steering is vague, and requires a watchful eye to make sure it continues down the intended path.
Besides those inherent traits that come with old car ownership, and magnified by being used to daily driving a much newer car, the ride up was uneventful. Even the brief bit of rain did nothing to dampen my voyage north, although I did get some water coming in from the top rear corner of the side windows. I blame that on faulty latches not seating a proper seal. Also worth mentioning, I've always noticed that while on the highway, my registered speed wasn't quite jiving with the other cars on the highway. The 85 MPH speedometer in the car would be close to maxed out, yet other motorists would still be passing me as if I were standing still. I downloaded an app that confirmed my suspicions; the calibration of the speedometer was off my as much as 10 MPH as the velocity increased. With that information and the desire to keep the RPMs below howling, it was right-lane cruising for me and my Japanese stallion. I wasn't traveling at quite a glacial pace, but it should be noted that two Prestige haulers (carrying some beautiful 356s) did pass me just before the clock struck five.
Even though the sputtering of the raindrops ceased as I entered the showground, the clouds continued to hover throughout the morning. Which, when it comes to car shows and cars showing up, is twofold. On one hand, the clouds were a great way to diffuse the overpowering sunlight that can cause unfavorable shadows in photographs. However, when people see clouds in the forecast, let alone rain, they start to second-guess their attendance. Regardless of the latter, the line of cars entering the park was a steady stream all morning. One thing I kept keen on, was how many other Toyotas were lining up next to mine. I had managed to convince (with very little effort, mind you) my buddy Greg to make the trek up. Greg hails from north Jersey as well, but didn't want to set his alarm for the middle of the night to join me on a cruise up. I don't blame him. His 1984 Toyota Celica Supra is one of the cleanest of the marques, and was featured in Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car magazine in one of its earlier issues, as well as a place on the field of the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance back in 2014. You can see it in the background of the cover photo above.
The Toyota count didn't top the five finger mark, but the cars that did show solidified the quality over quantity proverb. Greg's aforementioned MK2 brought home the gold in the featured class, with another local Toyota, a pristine supercharged MK1 Mister Two, grabbing the second-place glass. Another MK2 Celica Supra also took the biggest piece of pie for the Favorite Japanese Car. I was quietly relieved that Hemmings didn't enact a "No Toyota Left Behind" act, because driving up to collect a "Thanks for coming, here's a ribbon so you don't feel bad about yourself" Participation Award (sponsored by the Tissue Commission) would have really made it difficult for me to capture the winners' parade. At least that's what I whispered into the side-view mirror of my car before I left it in the garage later that evening.
Other Featured Classes included Alfa Romeo Spider (all years) and the Fiat 124 Sport Spider (all years), with the latter impressing the spectators with a car count nearing 30. Jaguar (pre-1992), Porsche 356 (all years), BMW Motorcycles (pre-1992), and Modern Exotics (any make, from 1992 to present day) rounded out the rest.
One surprise for me came early on in the morning, when a Volkswagen Amarok TDI, a full-size pickup truck not offered for sale in the US, came chugging in pulling an enclosed trailer. But what's inside the trailer? I'm sure many people wondered. For me, I was more interested in what was pulling the trailer. The vehicle belonged to a company based out of Texas, which, given that state's proximity to Mexico, made the Amarok's presence in the US that more plausible. And while I will be the first to admit that it's not the most comely design, being able to experience it first-hand north of the border was quite a treat. Oh, and for those wondering, it was a very nice Austin-Healey 100-6 hidden away in the trailer.
Another car worth mentioning, mostly because its owner was so enthusiastic about it, was the 1969 Citroën DS21 of Ira Goldstein. Ira was quick to demonstrate the hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension much to the wonderment of onlookers. He was also keen to point out the reasoning of the roof-mounted turn signals in housings that can be described as trumpet-like. According to Ira, the housings hide the bolts connecting the fiberglass roof to the metal body. A fascinating piece of automotive history. It took home the award for the Favorite French Car.
As with every other show ever attended, the end came much faster than anticipated. I wasn't keeping track of my pedometer, but given the smaller show field as compared to their Concours event in September, I'm willing to bet I walked somewhere in the neighborhood of five miles. As the winners queued up, the clouds took a leave of absence and the green grass was brighter than it had been all day. The awards ceremony was emceed by Editor Dave LaChance and trophies were distributed to their respective recipients by Senior Editor Mark McCourt, both of which had cars on the show field. The cars were directed to the "podium" by the expert flagging of President & Publisher Jim Menneto, proving no matter how high up the ladder you climb, it's always important to assist the guys below you. But the show would not have been possible without the hands-on assistance of everyone involved. From the gentlemen in the early morning staking the class designations into the ground, to the lovely ladies at the welcome tent, the Hemmings crew worked tirelessly together to ensure a good time was had by all. Additional support came in the form of a few different trailers serving food (and water to stay hydrated, of course) all day, to the DJ spinning some stereotypical car show tunes. It all meshed together nicely.
The Best in Show went to a car that caught my eye early in the day, a 1968 Triumph TR250, owned by Jim Whalen of Loudonville, NY. The one-year-only model, finished off in striking Valencia Blue, featured the optional Surrey Top, providing a targa-like driving experience when the weather cooperates. According to the owner, it's a numbers-matching car, "right down to the key." I was fortunate enough to share some shooting time with Associate Editor Terry Shea, who had the car positioned perfectly to capture the color and the curves.
Once the crowd had dispersed and only a few cars lingered on the field, Greg and I decided that we were going to have our own "Best in Show" shoot. The manicured grounds of the Saratoga Spa State Park, complete with its columned buildings and sprawling reflecting pool, made for a picturesque background, no matter where the sun was positioned in the sky. After a few satisfactory glamour shots, it was time to hit the road, as home was still more than three hours away. I bid adieu to the folks behind the bylines and hopped in the Celica, the car firing up as eagerly as it did 12 hours prior.
With my wolf pack growing by one, the ride south consisted of banging along at faster pace than the journey north. Although my speed could not be confirmed by my faulty speedometer, the temperature needle tickling the 'H' led me to believe that it was time to throttle back, lest I want to eat my dinner whilst sitting stranded on the side of the motorway. It was time to crank the heat, lower the windows, and watch intently as the distance grew between needle and danger zone. I alerted the leader to dial down the digits so my mechanical misfortune didn't result in further calamity. We two Toyotas settled into a comfortable cruising speed for the duration of the drive, the roar of the 22R a perfect complement as the background soundtrack for the memories of the day.