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   DESTINATION: VERMONT

The British Invasion: A Great New England Getaway for
British Motorcar and Culture Lovers

Dashboard MGB

By James H. Hyde
Editor

Each September, Stowe, Vermont, one of the great New England getaway destinations, becomes a town under siege, but of the friendly kind. Itís then that fanciers of British motorcars descend on the town, and whether youíre of British extraction or not, thereís a real treat awaiting you if you attend this event.

The concept of this wonderful gathering was given life eighteen years ago over a pint of ale in Mr. Pickwick's Restaurant, which is tucked into Ye Olde England Inne, one of the more popular inns in Stowe.

Between frothy sips, friends Chris Francis, the inne's owner, and Michael F. Gaetano, a motorcar enthusiast of the obsessive type, discussed their enthusiasm for British cars; a fading legacy filled with all manner of great vehicles. For both men, a dream emerged from where great ideas are born, and the British Invasion was the result.

When celebrities come to Stowe, they often stay at Ye Olde England Inne, among them members of the British Royal Family, who might have been in attendance when we went to the four-day event, although not noticeably.

During the festivities that span four days, everyone is on equal footing. Distinctive blood lines and heraldic distinctions are checked at the gate. Those who come are a patchwork of the devout who share an ingrained passion that rubs incessantly for moments like this.

Classic CarWe found, much to our delight, that the British Invasion is far more than a walk through a field of shiny cars. Itís a culture-fest during which motorcar evangelists stroll from sparkling vehicle to spakling vehicle, to buy memorabilia in the tents or revel in ribald legends for an eager crowd.

The latter tales, enchantingly embellished, are also spiked with a tongue-in-cheek irreverence.

Many of these, anecdotal rehashes, are of police stopping some of those present on British roadways. They've been caught clipping along in their Spitfires or Jaguars, fully convinced that speed limits are meant for others.

One, a Londoner, told the story of being stopped in the English countryside, an area not wildly fond of Londoners. Leaving his wallet at home and unable to prove his identity, he consented to having the police call his wife. The policeman left and then returned minutes later, a smirk creasing his face.

"I've spoken to your wife, sir," the cop reported. "What did she say?" "She asked what you've done this time." The crowd, an easily amused throng, roared.

They are not unlike the British Parliament; boisterous and gung ho, but without contention here. As in years past, the faithful, who have a true wink-and-nod understanding of all that is British, are in complete agreement: There's fun to be had, obsession in which to be engaged, and a fellowship, however temporary, that will be treasured for life.

The story continued with the officer. "She confirmed that you are who you say you are, and asked if you were in trouble. I said we'd caught you speeding, and she said, 'Lock him up.'" Cat calls, laughs and applause erupt. The bloke hands back the microphone and shuffles away grinning.

Inevitably, the question arises: Who owns the best car? Itís purely subjective. People here have trouble deciphering what is their favorite class of cars, much less the best one. The motorcars entered for judging are all magnificent examples of a uniquely British art form. While one may well be better than another, it's all a matter of personal preference. The judging will sort that all out.

Those who had cars entered share a devotion that far outpaces hobby, passes way over the border of obsession, and finally settles near what satisfies the itch for perfection.

As we wandered around, the car's owners spoke animatedly about their pastime and, like carnies, snared any passerby in an effort to share their passion. Others found and bought rare parts from each other, traded items of interest and swapped interesting stories about their dalliances with their cars.

Far More than Just a Hobby

Those who had cars entered share a devotion that far outpaces hobby, passes way over the border of obsession, and finally settles near what satisfies the itch for perfection. These come as close to perfection as any machine can. Theyíre immaculate, impossibly well-maintained examples of an ardent lust for British brands.

Bentleys, Aston Martins, Jaguars, Spitfires, MGs, Land Rovers and the proudest of the proud, the stately Rolls Royce, persistently coaxed Invaders to "have a look under the bonnet."

Chris Francis, Master of Ceremonies

Given his bearing at the epicenter of this spectacle, it's clear that Chris Francis is something of a celebrity in his own right. His is a name that's common to the industry in which his success has been meteoric, and he's obviously a titan in the genre in which he immersed himself on that day--on both sides of the pond.

His essence is powerful, driven and focused on whatever happens to command his attention at the moment, but he's completely unassuming, very approachable and charming, with a quick and impish wit.

And his influence is undeniably considerable, especially with this multitude. Every year in mid- to late-September, Francis enthusiastically invites one and all to the Invasion. It's a conclave at which all types of British-made motorcars and motorcycles sit proudly spit-shined in the shadows of mountains yielding their green to fall colors.

Thousands of Invaders arrive in staggered fashion, some on time, others late, but they all come for one thing: four, intense days in which cars are heartthrobs, camaraderie is flush, and life is better than good.

Incredible Automobiles

The motorcars here are the products of a British tradition that dates back to 1922. The history of auto-making in Great Britain is a bird's nest of corporate intrigue and name changes. But from that apparent mayhem have emerged many classical cars that have given the world untold hours of pleasure.

MGBAs we meandered from car to car, admiring, and remembering, the buzz around us was unmistakably English, but the words were beyond our understanding. The Fiat Tipo 509A, William Walmsley, Airline Saloon and the SS-90, Bill Lyons, XJ-6, XJ-12 and XKE. Wait. There. Recognition.

XKE awakens a pleasant memory. I time traveled, if only in my mind, back to the late 1960's, when British cars were all the rage in the U.S. Owning a Triumph was a badge of honor.

The memory of a swift trip down Interstate 95 in Connecticut ran through my consciousness like a movie, dusty after having sat deeply embedded in my memory for decades.

A great friend was at the wheel of a maroon Jaguar XKE. The top was down and we were laughing and shouting over the wind swirling about us and "Jumpin' Jack Flash," which pulsed loudly from the radio.

It was her father's car, but he'd grudgingly given her permission to drive it every now and then--"not one mile an hour above the speed limit," he ordered, and "no damn way" at night.

The memory and moment are epiphanic. Suddenly, we got it. The British Invasion isn't one of the run-of-the-mill auto shows, nor is it really a competition or a car show, per se. It's about a confluence of the enlightened, tapping into a root that empowers our collective souls to admire the merger of mechanics and quality that is unique to Great Britain.

If you've been in one you know that many British cars don't roll, they sail, and that XKE felt very much like a sloop running before the wind, her mainsail full and nothing but blue sky ahead.

The memory and moment are epiphanic. Suddenly, we got it. The British Invasion isn't one of the run-of-the-mill auto shows, nor is it really a competition or a car show, per se. It's about a confluence of the enlightened, tapping into a root that empowers our collective souls to admire the merger of mechanics and quality that is unique to Great Britain.

It's about an ageless culture and a way of life. It was as if Merlin was there, waving his wand. We were enthralled by the awe, and for a while--a regrettably short while--those of us of British heritage felt as if we had returned to the "Old Country" to bathe in its essence. We were strangely "home."

If youíre a car enthusiast, this is a New England getaway well worth the trip because itís more importantly a slice of the British countryside that displaces the Green Mountains for four days of revelry and a sharing of culture that simply doesnít exist at other such shows. It will be held from September 18th to the 24th this year, and itís wise to make your reservations early.

You can read more about the event on NewEnglandTimes.Com and register at the British Invasion site. If you have a British motorcar, you must pre-register there.

Whether you have a British treasure to share with others or you just want to be part of an extraordinary event, this is one of the finest offered in New England each fall.

TAGS: British Invasion; British Motorcars; British cars; British Culture; Triumphs, XKE, MGB, Bentley, Rolls Royce; Chris Francis; Stowe, Vermont

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