Holiday Motor Excursion rides againTue, 01 Jan 2013 00:00:00 -0800
“We can get there faster on the 210,” we told our piloto, Harry Hernandez, in whose 1924 Model T we were driving.
“The freeway? What are you, nuts?” he asked. “Not in this thing.”
“This thing” was Hernandez's just-purchased, fully enclosed, warm and luxurious Model T ForDor and he had a good point. We were making maybe 25 mph if we leaned forward. Those radar speed limit signs in school zones that tell you your speed? We never lit them up. Cars on surface streets were wheeling past us. Kids on bikes were passing us. Bugs on the sidewalk were… The freeway would, indeed, have been suicide. We stayed on Live Oak Avenue all the way to Irwindale Speedway, stopping only three or four times to figure out what might have been causing the car to chug to a stop. That was where I realized that the gas tank was directly under my seat. The solder seals on the gas tank may or may not have oozed loose in the 88 years since the T rolled off the assembly line in Dearborn. (Later, almost to Irwindale, I would gallantly exit the car to warn oncoming vehicles around us, not wanting to receive their impact while sitting on top of 10 gallons of freshly purchased Mobil.)
Eventually we made it, but Irwindale was just the starting point of our journey. The journey, as is always the case, was the whole point.
How do you know Christmas has passed but it's not the new year yet? If you live in Southern California and you like old cars -- really, really old cars -- you know because you went on the Horseless Carriage Club of Southern California's Holiday Motor Excursion, which started this year at Irwindale Speedway.
The excursion has been held the first Sunday after Christmas every year for 57 years in and around Pasadena. The mid-winter run celebrates cars of the Brass Era. To officially have a car in the Horseless Carriage Club of Southern California it has to be no newer than 1916. Once a year, for the Holiday Motor Excursion, the club allows “new” cars, which in this case means 1932 and older. For the most part that means Model Ts, and there were lots of those present. But there are many other marques represented among the maybe 150 cars lined up in the east lot of the Irwindale Event Center. Each with a story.
We found a 1913 Metz Model 22, a tribute to former bicycle racer C.H. Metz of Waltham, Mass.
“You could buy this for 12 payments of $25 each,” said owner Paul Greenstein.
We had seen Greenstein and co-driver Dydia DeLysen at other car shows, where they brought their Tatras. Greenstein even sported a Tatra sweatshirt, which was pretty impressive.
Racer and realtor Michael Sharp drove his 1922 Model T Ford that sported an Ames body. It was in immaculate shape. Ames was a carriage builder in the 1890s and 1900s, Sharp said. He's had the car 20 years.
Collector/racer Ron Lee had a “1932” Benjamin, a sports car built in Argentina. We put quotes around the “1932” because you had to have a car '32 or older to get in, so for the purposes of this event it was a '32. This one may or may not have officially been built in 1947. It was powered by a 1494-cc four-cylinder from a Sunbeam Alpine that made between 48 and 52 hp.
Jay Leno brought the same outrageous 1917 Fiat Botafogo Special that he showed at the Greystone Concours. The six-cylinder airplane engine is 21.7 liters big.
“That's a Chevy small block in each cylinder,” Leno enthused.
The car was built for a guy in Argentina who loved the engine so much he had a car constructed around it. Top speed is 146 mph, or roughly six times faster than our Model T.
At around 10 a.m. there was a drivers' meeting, lead by organizer Kenny King who, with long hair and a long beard, looked a little like Father Time ushering out 2012 and welcoming in 2013.
“You guys all got maps, right?” King asked.
“No!” everyone said.
Leno, sensing a pause in the flow of things, yelled out, “We don't need no sheriff, I say we string him up ourselves!”
It made no sense but was still hilarious and added to the fun.
Then all the cars filed out of the parking lot and headed along the drive route through the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and toward Pasadena. First stop was Recreation Park in Monrovia, where everybody had donuts. It wouldn't be a car event if there weren't donuts. Then everybody headed to Tired Iron Works, a former Packard dealership-turned car restoration shop. It was packed with grand old Buicks, Fords, Bentleys and a Lamborghini 350 GT and more. Thanks to owner Chris Kidd for letting all 200 or 300 of us inside.
On the way to lunch at the traditional stop of Clearman's Galley, a restaurant shaped like a boat, or a log cabin, the Model T started to overheat. Hernandez stopped and fixed it several times until it finally blew the cap off and he decided to call it a day. So we never made it to the finishing stop at Lucas Burch's house to see all the grand old cars he is working on and to see whether he has gotten that neat old steam train running again.
But we'll be back next year. You can be there, too, as the start is open to all. See hcca.org for a complete list of activities by this fun club dedicated to really, really old cars.
By Mark Vaughn