The Hagerty Tour Amelia Island or Bust 2020

For the fourth year in a row, Hagerty has held a rally on the East Coast to arrive at the Amelia Island Concours, and this was my third year in attendance. Brad Phillips, who spearheaded the inaugural event assigned me the role of “Tour Ambassador,” and “Over Qualified Rally Mechanic,” but we all pitched in whenever the need arose!

Friday: The Hagerty crew and I arrived in Salisbury, MD the day before the event to prep Brad’s cars and load up the tour books, hats, stickers, and supplies.

Saturday: Although the tour books Dave Hord of Classic Car Adventures put together were ready to distribute, we still needed to consult with Google Maps to get to the start of the rally point!

The first was to see Frank and Loni Buck’s collection of Packards, Military Vehicles, and train collection in Gettysburg, PA. The neat thing about doing this tour with Hagerty is they insure a lot of collections, so they know where all the cars are hidden! Through the Hagerty database, owners willing to share their collections with us are found all along the route!

Sunday: The first meeting of the tour was in the lobby of a historic Gettysburg hotel in the center of town. Accommodations were included this year with the cost of the tour, and it made check in very easy.

As usual I didn’t bring a car to the rally because I was planning on riding along with anyone who would have me. There is always someone without a navigator, and I could always drive the support truck if we needed it, but the first day out I hitched a ride with Jim Menneto, Publisher of Hemmings Motor News in his Boxter. Needless to say, the conversation with the the head of such a iconic magazine was fascinating!

The Boxter was one of many Porsches on this rally from 356s to all sorts of 911s.

After lunch, we had our first break down. The Damlier SP250 had a wheel bearing fail, and Pete, one of the participants on the tour gave us a number to his friend Brett that lived just down the road just off the tour route! We limped over, and confirmed the bearing was no good. Google informed us that a Triumph TR-3 shared the front hub, but getting one on a Sunday was nearly impossible. If we found one on Monday, and installed it, the tour would be a few hundred miles down the road. We decided the best thing was to send the car home to the owner’s mechanic less than 100 miles away, and rent a car for the rest of the tour, but not before getting Brett to show us all neat cars he had hidden in his buildings!

With the Damiler heading home, our next challenge was to squeeze two more passengers and luggage into the Tiger and the loaded down Explorer. The Tiger took the luggage, and Explorer took the passengers. Problem solved.

I hitched back with Brad in the Tiger blasting down the interstate in fading light to catch up with the rest of the tour. Since Brad insisted on keeping the convertible top stowed for the Tiger, I bundled up and toughed it out! Over the din of the small block Ford engine running on the highway, Brad and I said this first break down was either going to get the first and final mechanical failure, or it was going to set the tone for the rest of the trip!

The rest of the cars were parked safely in the garage of our second night in Staunton VA. I was chilled to the bone and had to sit at the bar with a cup of tea to restore my core body temp!

The Tour arranged the dinners at most of the hotels we stayed, and the banquet style meals were all pretty good. After a day of hard driving, it was nice not to have to think about where to eat, and whether there would be room for our group.

The next morning we left the hotel early to see a special collection of cars.

Hidden in the back roads of VA was another secret collection that had the tour participants in awe!

My ride on day two was this ’66 Corvette owned by Drew Garban, a collector from PA. This C2 Corvette was built for drives like this, and had such a nice stance.

Drew was part of crew of newbies on this rally that included a ’69 Camaro, a ’77 Porsche Targa, and another Porsche 993 Targa. They heard about this rally through Brad, and managed to sign up these four cars before the space filled up. It didn’t take long for Drew and I to become fast friends talking about Vettes, Hotrods, and Ferraris!

Cameron and Kayla, Hagerty’s Media people, were always hard at work covering the event with photography or video, posting to the various social media platforms.

While Drew and I were riding in his Corvette, I got a text telling me to get out of whatever car I was in, wait by the side of the road, and wait to be picked up to go back and help out Aaron in his Ferrari 308. I could only imagine the confused rally participants when they saw Tom standing by himself on a lonely road without a ride. Several people slowed down to make sure Drew hadn’t kicked me out of his car over a disagreement!

When I arrived at the gas station, I found the 308 had a broken fan belt. This little plastic belt had melted itself on the alternator pulley and the guys had already had the car jacked up, removed the inner wheel covering, and ready for me to scrape the remnants of the belt. I realized my skills were needed not because I’ve changed a bunch of these belts, but because the coolant pipe was too hot for them to do the scraping!

As I scraped off all the melted plastic, and made sure none of the pulleys were seized, I was given a spare the belt Aaron had packed with his car. One look and I realized it was the wrong belt. Brad and I immediately got on the phone to find a solution. Miraculously, Tom P, from Autosport Designs was driving south to meet us and was passing by BWI in Maryland. We realized he was close to Radcliffe Motorcars in Reisterstown, so we called Richard Garre to see if he had the right spare, and he did! 45 minutes later, Tom P, picked up the belt and was heading our way.

Brad and I jumped back in the Tiger, the second night in a row, and sped down the interstate to catch up with the rest of the gang.

We had the car towed to Wytheville VA that evening to wait for Tom P’s arrival with a replacement belt. After dinner, it took me about 10 minutes to install the belt, tension it, start the car to check, and get out of the way before Brad started a live stream of the repair. We don’t really don’t want the interweb to know I work on 308s, now do we?

Tuesday, I jumped in a Porsche 968 that belonged to Rob Sas the Editor of the Porsche Club of America magazine Panorama. The conversation was lively spanning many topics and current events, and we played tag with Tom P in his orange Lotus Evora. Even in the rain, we kept a pretty healthy pace!

We arrived at the Michelin Proving Grounds in South Carolina under a special invitation for our tour. Normally, this facility is closed to the public because the testing is often done on preproduction cars and prototypes, but  we got a chance to see the grounds and even drive on the race track!

Here’s Brad doing a live stream for the public to watch us make it down the coast to Amelia Island.

After a nice dinner provided by Michelin, we blasted down the road to our hotel. We bought beers and snacks along the way and tailgated in the parking lot!

My next ride was in a Porsche 993 Targa, er, sorry, a 911 Targa for non Porsche people. Porschephiles refer to 911s with their factory internal numbers, so you have to know the lingo to describe the 50 year model span of the 911. Terms like long hood, short wheel base, G50, 993, 996, 991, X-51, and IMS bearing were all spoken freely at dinner when Porsches were discussed, but I was just at home discussing American cars when terms like Split Windows, six packs, fuelies,  9 inch rears, and Tremecs were mentioned!

A pair of guys definitely deserve a shout out, Joe and Andrew. These 20 somethings came last year in a WRX and had so much fun, Joe bought a ’85 6 Series BMW just for this rally! With a car built before they were born, there was definitely a sense of adventure, and when I heard there was a $50 dollar bet riding on if they made it to Amelia Island, the gauntlet had been thrown and I was determined to see them make it to Florida!

Don and I in the 993 came up on the BMW pulled over on the side of the road, doors wide open, and the young men clear of the car. When we pulled over to see what the problem was, they explained the driver’s side door started smoking and filled the interior of the car. Thinking the car was about to burst into flames, they pulled over and abandoned ship! I asked Don to leave me with Joe and Andrew to figure out the problem, and the rally members continued on. I couldn’t isolate the electrics in the door via the fuse panel, so the easiest solution was to unplug all the electrical devices inside the door and continue on. I suspected a door lock actuator was stuck and over heated. It was raining hard that day, and may have shorted something out, but whatever the case, we made it to the hotel smoke free!

We had a good laugh about how the boys had gotten so spooked when they saw smoke in their car. Several of us sat together at a round table for dinner and shared our personal car fire stories, and now Joe and Andrew have one of their own!

My final ride to Amelia Island was in the back of Jack Thomas’ Roadmaster Wagon. Jack and Art have been on the tour a bunch and the Buick is common sight with Hagerty. Without a car to get around in Jacksonville, I got Jack to drop me off at Savannah Airport to pick up a rental car so I could meet everyone at Amelia Island for the finish.

The end is always bittersweet. Many of us started six days prior and drove through some great back roads in Virginia and North Carolina. The accommodations and meals were all good, and I don’t think I heard any complaints. The circle of my Hagerty friends continues to grow and I can’t wait for next year!