Thoughts and advice on the care and feeding of fine automobiles from Machine Aficionado and bestselling author John Elder Robison, owner of JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts

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Bentley archives

Land Rovers

The engine started ticking and popping as soon as he shut off the ignition.  He looked up to see the police car with its blue lights flashing in his rearview mirror.  The cop car’s door swung open.  A lawman emerged, a solid three hundred pounds of Vermont’s finest.  He straightened up carefully, then reached into the cruiser, and set a felt hat carefully on his head. When he turned this way his Ray-Ban sunglasses glittered dark under the overcast sky.

He approached the Jaguar.

“I been waitin’ for you,” he said, looking down at the out of state sticker.

“I know.  You see I was comin’ here as fast as I could.”

Back at the British Invasion the Master of Ceremonies had said, “Drive far, and drive fast,” but he wasn’t here now, to pay the ticket.  It was a good thing the guns and the liquor were safely out of sight, and the car was basically legal.  

Three hundred seventy two dollars.  The cop didn't want to take cash, either.  "You gotta pay it at the court."  Sometimes a few hundred more dollars changed their mind, and it was a good deal, to keep the record clean.  Other times they figured to arrest you for a bribe, and things got bad.  It's always dicey, figuring which way to go in a situation like that.  Andrew says it's easier in Russia or Mexico, where you always know where you stand.

“You coulda gone to jail,” he said, “but I gave you a break because you was coming to see me, after all.”

Five miles later, the speedometer was back on the far side of 100.  New Yorkers used to be able to speed right at home, but the cops down there got airplanes, and cameras.  Vermont is like the last frontier, for now.

British Invasion 23 happened the weekend of September 21 in Stowe, Vermont.  Six hundred fifty British motorcars and a thousand-plus owners converged on the Stoweflake Resort, two miles out of town on Route 108.  The public gates opened at nine, and they flooded in too, a tide of seething humanity, shouting and jostling as they waited for the Blood Sport to begin.  They didn't have to wait long.

Land Rover Polo is always popular, and they play the six-truck style up there.  Spikes and battering rams were outlawed years ago at Vermont state fair, but the Invasion still allows them.  It’s the British version of Demolition Derby.  Much more genteel, yet satisfyingly brutal.  Then there is the jousting, and the halberd competition.  I like that the best.

The only hard part is trying to sleep.  The revelry goes on late into the night, with the sounds of metal on metal ringing in the chill air as modern-day knights in armor fight with swords, axes, and spears.  The occasional siren breaks up the rhythm for the ones that go to the hospital, or jail.  Amazingly, the cars themselves are untouched the next morning.   Nothing but a little blood spatter, to wipe off with the dew.  Cars are sacred here.

And some of the best action of the show happens at night.  Bobby Stuart from the Jensen Club set up an impromptu drag race on a deserted stretch of Mountain Road, and they whupped the Aston Martin cretins hard.  There was no sign of the fun the next day - a flatbed hauled the wreckage to Canada before dawn - but two guys in a red Interceptor were boasting of their victory to anyone who would listen, next day on the show field.

The real high point of the night was when the MG club outlaws raced through Smuggler's Notch at 2AM.  They close the road up there this time of year but proper British car enthusiasts always have bolt cutters in their ever-present tool bags, and some have torches. Those little cars went through the hairpins faster than I'd have thought possible, and most of them made it out alive.

As all that unfolded, the Land Rover guys were replicating Gleason's famous night time crossing of Siberia up on the Mansfield ski slopes.  They'd tried to rent daytime access to the mountain, and been rebuffed, but a night raid was more fun anyway.  The mountain maintenance crews are probably still cleaning up the mess.  

It was two and a half days of gasoline-fueled debauchery.  There was something for everyone.  Solid Land Rover diesels.  Bangers and mash.  Elegant prewar Jaguars.  Drunkards with flagons of stout.  Rare Aston Martins.  Vicious Manchester United fans.  Whatever you wanted, as long as it was British, was there for the finding.

Whether you could do anything with it when you found it . . . now, that was another matter.  It was only seven o’clock, but already the bartender was out of ale.  “Ten casks,” he said, looking with wonder at the singing and carousing patrons. Two supine revelers blocked the road back to the hotel.  I stepped out of the car and dragged them out of the roadway.  Better that, than to leave them to be run over by the next sods, who might not be so considerate.

The next morning I heard one woke up, and the other was eaten by animals.  Bertrand says he heard him screaming, but I couldn't tell . . . the yelling all runs together after midnight.

Our Jaguars didn’t win any prizes this year, but they didn’t sustain any damage either, and sometimes that is prize enough.  But you never know.  I have no idea where the six thousand dollars in my glove box came from.  All I can say for sure is, it’s not there now.  Any car show where you return home a few grand richer is a good one, I say!

We made it home on Sunday.  Here are a few pictures of the spectacle . . . .

1 comment:

Eric said...

If it wasn't for British cars, the hobby would be a very sad place. I'm making plans to travel up there next year; we have a great club and annual meet here in Pensacola, but Stowe is something special. If you're in the Pensacola neighborhood in April, stop in at the Brits on the Bay show sponsored by the Panhandle British Car Association. Great photos John, you really need to do a book of your car pics.

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