19 September 2012

Field of (Pipe and Bad) Dreams

‘What I don’t understand is how they got them all running at the same time’

 

 

The 36th Annual All British Field Meet filled Portland International Raceways’ Broadacre pasture over the Labor Day weekend with about 5,000 enthusiasts, an 800-car Saturday concours d’Elegance and a Sunday swap meet. Meanwhile, the race track hosted Historic Races and fiercely contested club slaloms, and the track allowed Land Rover owners to bounce spectators who had paid $2 over the motocross course.

As the 50th anniversary of the MGB, some 85 examples were on display, dating from pull-handle, baby blue ’62-’63 models with “pinch-a-matic” tops, to asthmatic, rubber-bumper cars of the late 1970s, metaphorically shuffling along with their oxygen tanks, puffing on cigarettes.

About 35 MGB GTs were out in force, from a $900 rat (with dealer-installed air conditioning) to a super-shiny Primrose Yellow model, for which $8,995 was optimistically sought. As my colleague Rob Sass observed, we’re entering The Final Days if people are actually painting Jaguars and MGs primrose yellow. That’s always the color that appears when the BRG is chipped.

However there were some remarkable MGs on the swap meet field Sunday. Best bet was probably Pierre Gerard’s early ’68 B roadster with a new engine with Weber carbs the size of differentials and an aluminum cross-flow cylinder head. Add wire wheels, stainless exhaust, and overdrive and you have a tasty package for $7,500. At the extreme end of the spectrum was an essentially brand-new 1969 MGB for which $15,500 was ambitiously asked – a good example of how you CAN go overboard if nobody tells you to stop. Next to it was a shockingly narrow, genuine 1930s supercharged MG K3 Magnette racer. It looked like a Rembrandt hanging on a chain-link fence with Day-Glo velvet conquistadors.

Most puzzling were two red MGB GTs, which HAD to be connected. One was advertising just its engine for $3,500 (though you had to read the ad carefully) while the other had a scary modern twin-cam crammed into it, but the owner just wanted to sell “all or part” of the body. Go figure.

In the antique MG category, a very tidy black 1935 PA boasted a supercharger, which looked like a big snake swallowing its tiny engine, while next to it, a rare 1939 TB was one of only 379 made before Hitler turned out the lights for six years. The adjacent MG TD seemed like a decent buy for $15,995, though you won’t make any money on it for ages. Speaking of not making money, next to the TD was an MG YT four-seat convertible, the model that was cut down into the TD at the factory in 1950 after dismal sales of only 877 units worldwide in three years.

The only XJ6 Series 1 I saw on the whole field was slumped on a trailer (“all or parts”), though there were two Series 2 coupes – a black and white V12 for a heart-stopping $18,500, and an incorrectly all-white XJ6 with a full-length Webasto roof for a reasonable $5,995, if you could shield your eyes from the rust bubbles.

Pete and Karen Woodall of Ridgefield brought a set of 1953 Sunbeam-Talbots and reminded me why this show is such fun. A one-time apprentice for Rootes Group in the UK, Pete was showing a Series 1 Alpine, a 90 sedan and a drophead coupe.  He joked about judging the Sunbeam class at a concours and facing irate owners whose jewelry had been upstaged by an original sedan. “We told ’em: No, mate, this is how we built ’em. Doors are half an inch longer on the right side.”

Eight Sunbeam Tigers overshadowed a few Alpines, a reminder of the latter’s fragile motor. Speaking of fragility, all four Triumph Stags on show were automatics, combining a notoriously temperamental neutral isolator switch with the inability to bump start them. Thirty TR6’s showed off almost all the handsome colors, and served to remind one that beauty can be skin deep. Most fun among the four GT6’s, eight Spitfires, 15 TR3s, eight TR4s and six TR8s, was Bruce Bonnell’s ’66 Spitfire, decorated with Roundels, stub exhausts, machine guns in front and a gunsight on the hood. It almost upstaged Randy Bauder’s Playboy Pink Spitfire, which called for Pepto-bismol.

Healeys gathered en masse, with 40 six-cylinder 100/6 and 3000 examples, but only four of the early 100s, which was a pity. In most species, the youngest are the most attractive; age just brings increased weight and bulges. An amazing six Jensen-Healeys were in line with hoods up, as if the owners were trying to get one started. One owner was overheard boasting that his car had been stored for 20 years, without explaining what broke.

The oddball row was rewarding. A 1952 Austin A40 Sports vividly illustrated how shrinking a Jensen Interceptor produces a fairground bumper car. The Arnolt Bristol beside it looked to be on tiptoes, as a young Scaglietti crammed a ‘50s Bertone body on a tall ‘30s Bristol chassis. A genuine 1947 Australian Ford Prefect Ute looked ready to take your favorite sheep to the drive-in, and a ghastly green-and-yellow 1952 Austin A40 Somerset should be given to the Oregon Ducks mascot. More accurate was a 17,000-mile 1950 Austin Devon, rescued from the wilds of Fort Saskatchewan, where it was probably mistaken for a real car.

A rare trio of 1980s UK losers were on display. The triple threat included a 1989 Sterling 827Sli, a 1986 Rover 3500 SD1, and a 1988 Merkur (aka UK Ford Granada). The only consolation is that the ownership experience would likely be short-lived. 

Among the Jaguars were a pretty Mark IV drop head coupe, a surprising 21 XJS’s, 30 XJ6s and 12s, 40 E-types, nine Mark 2 sedans (including one criminal transplant with a GM V-6 and automatic transmission). The sole XJ220 on display just confirmed that Jaguar has completely lost its way. The XJ220 (for top speed) looks better and better and prompted Matthew McConaghy’s line from “Dazed and Confused,” as he surveyed the latest high school seniors: “That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”

Older XK’s were outnumbered by 12 Morris Minors, including two convertibles, two travelers and a pickup. Forty original Minis included a very nice gray Riley Elf, with an unforgiveable ostrich skin interior, but old Minis outnumbered neo-Minis two-to-one, which suggests a balance may have been struck at last. It’s like trying to keep kids out of the pool at a house party.

Prize for the silliest car on the field went to the 1949 Triumph 2000 roadster – yours for $24,000. The front and rear appeared to come from different pens. It had a dickey (or rumble seat) in 1946. The front part of the trunk opened up into a windshield, but the rumble seat was merely two tiny stools instead of a decent bench. The spare was squeezed behind the passengers, instead of being under the floor, on the back, or in the trunk. Completing the package was a four-speed column shift – on the outside of the wheel, and a top speed about 75 mph, at which point the car hunts back and forth like a bird dog and the brakes can’t hear when you call.

The biggest collection of the weekend went to the Land Rover group with about 120 vehicles, including an extremely rare forward-control 1976 101/FC GS truck that was bought in Hong Kong sight unseen by Paul Van Orden of Portland after a 10-year hunt. The Land/Range Rovers took up four rows in the field and their battered scruffiness recalled a refugee camp, with makeshift tents, children’s bicycles, empty boxes and the promise of a cooking fire.

Overall, it was the biggest ABFM I can recall and the best summary came from my old colleague Jerry Boone who wondered out loud: “What I don’t understand is how they got them all running at the same time.”

“Well, we don’t know they all got here do we?” I said. We looked around. To the west was a line of tall trees. “There’s another field behind that,” I said. “You don’t suppose it’s full of trailers do you?” he asked.

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