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Check out British classic cars from The Queen's English

Mon, 28 Apr 2014

Some years, they get real English weather at The Queen's English car show, a gathering of the Empire's best (and few still running) British cars. Even though it's held in Van Nuys, in sunny Southern California, it has been rained out three of the last six or so years, with only a handful of hearty Land Rovers showing up and peeping out of their SUVs beneath bumbershoots. But this year was all glorious sunshine, the likes of which might never have been seen back in Jolly Old.

“It's beautiful, that's the best thing,” said organizer Tina Van Curen. “That's the best thing–we don't have British weather!”

Van Curen and husband Chuck Forward, owners of Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, Calif., put on the show with a dedicated team of volunteers every year, rain or shine.

“This is a labor of love,” said Forward, wearing a pith helmet while directing British car traffic like a proper bobby. And the car owners sure love their cars.

Winston Dabbs has owned his pristine 1955 Jaguar XK140 for decades.

“I put this together 20 or 30 years ago,” he said. “I've been up about 90 mph in it, then it gets a little squirrelly.”

Dabbs started building Austin Healey Bugeye Sprites and other British sports cars until it became a business.

“It was just a hobby that turned into a business,” he said.

Now it has blossomed into a passion.

Jim Law has always had an interest in British sports cars.

“I don't know what was wrong with me,” said Law, polishing the Lola T70 MkIII B of his friend Jim Coombs.

From 1964 to 1966, Law ran Carroll Shelby's engine shop. “It was an interesting time,” he said. “We had no budget limit. We had a lot of fun.”

What's it like to drive the Lola?

“It's fun, real noisy. Kind of rough.”

Dave Wolin brought a 1948 Anglia fire truck, a miniature contraption meant for patrolling inside big warehouses.

“I needed a British car to go to British car events,” said Wolin, who even has a British wife. He loves The Queen's English.

“This is the best turnout of British cars in the country, maybe the world.”

A good guess as to the number of cars on hand this year was maybe 250-300, so Wolin might be a little optimistic, but it's still a great turnout.

Lewis Hamm, just a few syllables short of being an F1 champion, is a machinist at SpaceX. Before that, he worked at Cosworth in Torrance, Calif. He brought his Haynes Roadster. It's a kit car that he built himself over the course of four years. Is it fun to drive?


We like men of few words.

Hema Ratnayake has a collection of about 150 cars – “Jags, Healeys, MGs” - but chose a 1970 Land Rover Series III Dormobile camper converted by Martin Walter.

“I love different, unusual features,” he said, pointing out the Dormobile's stove, sink, cabinets and sleeping room for four.

He has driven the Dormobile over the Mojave Road, a famous stretch of desert that once connected lonely outposts between the Colorado River and Barstow, Calif., in the Mojave Desert.

“Everything else is so common, even to me,” he said. “This one, everybody wants to know, 'What is it? Where did you get it?”

Tina Byrd drove into the show in a tiny little Austin 7 Chummy.

“They call it the chummy because that's what you are with whoever is in it with you.”

It looked like the featured marque in a children's book that would be called, “The Brave Little Auto.” Her outfit an the two lawn chairs next to the car matched the Chummy's colors perfectly, which would never prepare you for the other car she brought with her to the show: a tank.

“My son George had always wanted a tank,” she said, gesturing toward the shocking yellow Daimler Ferret parked next to the Chummy. So she got him this. Why couldn't we have been born into this family?

“Though it's not really a tank,” she said. “It has rubber tires instead of treads, so you can drive it on the road.”

A machine gun pokes out of the Ferret's swivel turret, but it can no longer shoot bullets. We suggested a larger bore to shoot bangers and mash. The idea might have gotten some traction. Maybe we'll see at next year's show.

Until then, cheerio old chap. We'll see you at Autobooks-Aerobooks.

By Mark Vaughn