25 April 2016

The Maple Mille Rally is about the roads, not the rules

We were about 25 miles into the Hagerty Maple Mille rally the first time we missed a turn. In the mirror of my 1971 Plymouth Scamp I saw a ’66 Mustang and a Volvo 1800E peel off the highway and into the Muskoka brush.

I asked my co-driver, “Was that Cooper Falls Road?”

“Uh-oh,” he said. I wasn’t too worried; at most, the misstep would add a few miles. There were still another 655 miles to go.

Should we turn around? Sure, Classic Car Adventures’ rallies are about putting pavement under old cars’ wheels, but why waste time on highways when so many curvy, picturesque back roads awaited us?

The three-day Maple Mille, which runs from Barrie, an hour north of Toronto, Ont., almost directly north to North Bay and back, was the first that the organizer, Dave Hord, plotted through the province. But Hord knows the back roads well from summers spent driving them as a teen in his family’s ’75 VW Beetle.

“For the Maple Mille, I had one particular road I wanted to do — the Bunny Trail,” said Hord, who runs Classic Car Adventures with his business partner, Warwick Patterson, out of Squamish, B.C. “That’s often how an event starts, with a road — and then I’ll spend weeks poring over maps, figuring how to make a three-day event work around it.”

The rally company is well-known on Canada’s West Coast for the affordable 65-car multiday events it has hosted for the past seven years. However, the 680-mile Mille (a bit more than 1000 kms, hence the name Mille) held last September, was its eastern Canadian debut. Drawing participants wasn’t easy.

“If you go from Vancouver to Kamloops for a car show, you’re talking a beautiful five-hour drive through the mountains,” Hord explained. “In Ontario you’ve got traffic and six-lane highways, so the tendency is not to drive your classic car as much.”

Still, Hord rounded up a dozen classic car owners for the Mille. “In the pool of classic car owners, I am looking for a small majority who are actually willing to drive their cars,” he said. “The person who buys a ’70 ’Cuda as an investment and doesn’t take it outside if the wind is blowing, he’s not my market. The person who remembers driving his ’Cuda to high school and wants to relive that driving experience – that’s my market.”

My Plymouth Scamp and two Mustangs represented the American iron in the Maple Mille; the rest of the fleet was European sports cars, including two Volvos, two Triumphs, two Porsches and an MGA. But Hord has seen all sorts of cars register for its events, from a 1961 Aston Martin DB4 to a clapped-out 1979 Ford to a one-of-two 1957 Alfa Romeo SS prototype.

CCA events are open to cars built in 1979 or earlier – and, under its “DeLorean rule,” some interesting, rarer cars of more recent vintage are also welcomed, provided the owner will let Hord or Patterson drive it. Naturally, the vehicles’ ages makes breakdowns during the three-day drive more likely. Hord works with event sponsors to secure a support vehicle and roadside assistance for his events, but admits he sees a silver lining in the dark clouds of misadventure.

“When your car breaks down, it’s a disappointment to the guest, but the honest truth is, it’s the breakdowns that make the stories,” Hord says. “Years from now, people won’t remember the Maple Mille for the road choice or the cool car mix. They’ll remember when eight cars pulled over to fix the exhaust on a Volvo.”

It’s that sense of adventure that Hord and Patterson build into CCA events that keeps people coming back and, on the West Coast, has turned its rallies into an essential part of the classic car calendar.

“Shops schedule their restorations over winter around their clients getting their cars ready for our Spring Thaw,” Hord says, briefly surrendering his humility. “People check with me in September for the dates so they can take them off in April.”

Hord has committed to hosting the Maple Mille in Ontario for at least the next five years, and is looking at expanding into the northeastern U.S. in early 2017.

“My goal is to create something that you love so much that you schedule around it,” Hord said of his ambitions for the East Coast. In Ontario, after just one year, it seems he’s already done so.

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