By John Webber
September 29, 2003
That’s what the publicity said, and this was one United that more than lived up to its promise. Tiger Tom and Joanne Ehrhart – with the help of their capable team – pulled off an entertaining, activity-packed United, and they even managed to persuade the fickle Pennsylvania weather to cooperate. Other than a couple of sprinkles, sunny skies and mild temperatures prevailed throughout the four-day event.
About 180 Rootes-mobile lovers (some from as far as California) swarmed around the Harrisburg-Hershey Marriott September 25-28. They enjoyed meeting old and new friends, kicking tires on rare cars, buying and trading parts, and exploring Intercourse, the town, in the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside on a variety of tours and activities. While they weren’t doing those things, they enjoyed the spacious hospitality/parts room and nearby restaurants. Some curious hotel guests learned that revved-up Tigers sound quite loud in a parking garage, where Anthony DiBattista and his volunteers maintained tight security. Nobody messed with these cars.
Attendees, who started rolling in on Wednesday afternoon, chose from Gettysburg National Park and PA Capitol Building tours, along with a tour of the Harley-Davidson plant in York, along with several impromptu shopping and exploring tours. Those who didn’t get enough driving on the trip took their Beamers on a scenic rallye through the Blue Mountain Range of the Appalachians, which ended at the West Hanover Winery for a wine-tasting session.
On Saturday, about 70 cars showed their stuff at the All-Rootes Show and Concours, held at the Dauphin Highlands Golf Course, which overlooks the Susquehanna River and Three-Mile Island (Hmm, no wonder those show car took on a special glow). As later revealed at the awards banquet, the judging was tight, with top positions in some classes being decided by a single point. Along with the usual Alpines and Tigers, this concours featured a number of not-often-seen Rootes cars, including a Minx, Cricket, a several Talbot’s the “original” Alpines. While they explored the cars on display, attendees also enjoyed a catered lunch. Dave Reina proved you don’t have to restore cars to have fun, as he showed up with three very original cars (two Talbots and a Tiger), all driven from New York.
The Rootes Drive-In and Dinner proved to be an event highlight. For those of you who have enjoyed a BASH at Tom and Joanne’s place in the country, think BASH on steroids. Picture 40 or so Sunbeams parked on a hillside facing a 40-foot movie screen draped on a wall of Tom’s two-story shop, which doubles as a Rootes museum. Things to do included helicopter rides (Tom has extremely understanding neighbors), nostalgic movies with sound available on your car radio, tech sessions, a catered meal (including a keg of Yuengling beer from the oldest operating brewery in America, a local favorite), and much, much more. The movies included tributes to Doane Spencer and his Hollywood Sports Car, the last Spencer Tiger, Aunt Helen Swift, Team Tiger Racing (Tom Patton and Barry Schonberger), Alpine racing, Dave McDermott’s Targa Florio Tiger and Sunbeam Lotus Rally Championship driver Rick Kellett – who also attended the event. Rare car commercials from the ‘50s spiced up the footage.
Two of the movie’s featured cars showed up in person. Bill Miller brought his Doane Spencer Hollywood Sports Car Tiger – the most famous living Tiger race car. It was a rare appearance for this car – and a testimony to Tiger Tom’s power of persuasion – since this was the first time this car had been displayed since SUNI I in 1989. Also on display was Darryl and Joan Brunn’s Tiger – which they trailered from California – the last Tiger Doane Spencer built. Both owners were on hand to answer questions and explain their cars’ histories, and Darrell even put his one-of-a-kind Tiger up on a lift so folks could enjoy Spencer’s fine work.
Hands on tech sessions (coordinated by Carl Moon) included seat restoration by Joe Parlanti and Tiger/Alpine cooling by Chuck King and Tiger Tom. Larry Paulick pulled his trick Tiger on the lift and explained some of its many performance and safety modifications, including John Logan’s lower fulcrum pin fix. Other sessions featured torque wrench calibration by Dave Young, speedometer/tach calibration by Mel Sonnon, and Alpine radio and speaker housing by Ian Spencer and Scott Christie. And not to be outdone by all the mechanical things, the ladies enjoyed a high-tech knitting session. All enjoyed looking a Tiger Tom’s collection of rare Rootes literature and other collectibles.
On Sunday, twenty enthusiastic United-goers flung their cars around the autocross course (coordinated by Scott Woerth), which was held in the parking lot of the Penn National Race Track (that’s horse racing, folks) This competition was run with precision by the Susquehanna Region of the SCCA, and participants were able to zip through their runs with very little waiting. Family competition was tight, as Dan Fitzgerald was finally able to edge out wife Lori by only a fraction on his final run, and Doug Jennings Jr. nearly beat his old man (Doug Sr. It’s coming soon, Doug Sr.). After TE/AE competitors made their runs, the Jennings duo and John Logan Jr. hung around and treated the crowd to some fast Tiger runs. In fact, Doug Sr. turned in quicker times than the Corvettes, etc. and was bested only by a very modified Sports Racer, proving that in the right hands there’s still plenty of life left in those old pushrod V8s.
Throughout the weekend, Senior TAC inspector Tom Calvert and his team of inspectors authenticated Tigers, and by the end of the event had added 17 more to the growing Tiger Registry.
Nearly 200 people attended the banquet and awards evening, which was held at the brand-new Antique Auto Club of America (AACA) Museum in Hershey. Due once again to Tiger Tom’s power of persuasion, TE/AE was among the very first (if not the first) car club to hold a banquet here. Attendees enjoyed the opportunity to tour this spectacular facility, which features rare vehicles displayed in a variety of realistic period settings – a motorhead’s dream. The banquet was held in a huge lower hall, where vintage cars, trucks and buses provided the backdrop. Top award winners were able to actually drive their cars into the vast hall and accept their awards (I’m telling people my MK II has been displayed in the AACA Museum – albeit a very brief display). Many attendees won nifty door prizes provided by a variety of club supporters.
A surprise attendee at this United was Stuart Garrad, Ian and Laura’s son. As most of you know, Ian, who was Rootes’ West Coast Manager, is considered the father of the Tiger. Both he and Laura remained special friends to our club throughout their lives, and Stuart was raised among Sunbeams. At the banquet Tiger Tom presented Stuart with a coffee mug – autographed by Ian and Laura – that Laura had made and presented to Tiger Tom at the very first TE/AE United in 1977. Stuart, who was obviously moved by the presentation, said he very much enjoyed re-connecting with his parent’s Sunbeam family. In a nice turn of history, Stuart also helped Jim Morrison award the Lord Rootes Trophy (a ceramic Tiger’s head also made by Laura Garrad), to Jim Anderson for his meritorious service to the club and the marque. Stuart’s father had presented this very same award at our first United.
Other awards of note went to Dan and Lori Fitzgerald, who picked up the first place concours trophy in Stock Tiger, plus the long-distance award for their drive in a Sunbeam (Tiger) from Florida. Jim and Pat Morrison also doubled, winning the Premier Class with their black Tiger along with the Wally Swift Trophy for the concours and autocross combined.
The four days passed in a flash, and too soon attendees were packing up and heading home. For many of us, the club has long been an extended family, and these events provide the best way to “catch up” with family news. So each year at the United, we simply take up where we left off the year before. Here’s an example: Tom Stoyle sold his Tiger last year, but Tom and Jane still showed up at the United to be with their special Sunbeam friends. As he put it, “I sold the car; but I still belong to the club.”
Thanks to Tom and Joanne and their team for a great event. There is much to be said for Rootes and roots – cars and people – after all.