Fun in the Foliage – British Invasion XVI [Courtesy Rovers North News, November, 2006]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
For the past 16 years, British car enthusiasts and enterprising innkeepers have conspired to entice over 500 sporting machines to travel to Stowe, Vermont in mid-September. That’s just after the summer tourists have packed their bags and before the leaf peeper migration begins later that month.
The end result is a riot of colors – Old English white, British racing green, Royal Navy blue, British Leyland “England Swings” mod tones – that competes effectively with the nascent foliage changes Mother Nature mixes together every fall. The event also celebrates the fascinating, enchanting vehicles created and constructed by the British auto industry. Happily, that still includes Land Rover. Lastly, the weekend also immerses you in the qualities of people who identify themselves as British car enthusiasts.
Along with nearly 50 Land Rovers, Defenders, Range Rovers and Discoverys, Rovers North staff came out in droves to meet, greet and service customers, new and old. Mark and Andrea Letorney toured the Rover lineup and worked at the tent. Arthur Patsouris brought his son and daughter to help out; Les Parker brought his family and his Land Rover. Rob Smith, Mike Koch, Arthur Patsauris, Erik Brennen ,Greg Jutrasand Steve Haskell also assisted Land Rover owners and shared their stories of Land Rover adventures. Like many enthusiasts, I took advantage of show specials and took home a kinetic rope, a couple of Land Rover posters, points, condensers, caps and rotors, and a license plate lamp assembly.
This year’s event celebrated the Triumph automobile. I must admit that for a few weeks I considered driving my TR-7 Spider to the event, but the opportunity to let the Series II-A stretch its legs proved too inviting. Land Rover used to advertise that their vehicles would become “smooth cruisers on the motorways” and “a sporty convertible when the sun’s shining.” So I rolled up the side and rear flap on the II-A’s soft top and began the 7 ½ hour drive [including a ferry ride] from the coast of Maine to the Green Mountains.
On Friday morning, I boarded the ferry, hopped into a rear jump seat, and enjoyed the view across PenobscotBay. Reaching the mainland, it was “Go west old man!” The east – west drive across northern New England remains one of the most appealing routes left in the nation. It’s two lane roads the entire distance. At times, that means you sit behind semis hauling logs to paper mills or Winnebegos hauling human cargo to electrified campgrounds, but overall, it’s a treat. You pass through an endless stream of village main streets and then the roads open up to 50-60 mph highways. Most run parallel to major rivers, and not surprisingly, railroad tracks.
In the river valleys, you watch farmers at work. Along the hills, you see evidence of logging or in Vermont, hillside pastures. Once I reached the higher elevations of New Hampshire’s White MountainValley, or eastern Vermont’s hills on U.S. Route 2, I saw the changing colors of maples, oaks, birches against the multiple greens of spruce and pine trees. The II-A ran smoothly and steadily, moving into the “truck lanes” on the highest inclines, but never causing any concerns. As the old advertisements claimed, I sat in “soft cushioned seats” upright, just like your teacher told you to do in elementary school. I arrived in Stowe a bit shaken, not stirred from the vibration and noise.
Throughout the 7 ½ hour trip, I saw no other Land Rover. When I entered Stowe village, BMC and BL sports cars and saloons lined the streets. Finally, as I turned onto the Mountain Road, Land Rovers appeared in opposite lanes and in parking lots of motels, inns and resorts.
Marque chauvinism is alive and well at Stowe. The absence of my TR-7 Spider was duly noted; as I drove by TR-8 [Rover 3.5 liter engine] guru Woody Cooper, he leaned out of his car and said “Don’t talk to me!” His daughter Jenna was equally frosty. I headed to the Rovers North tent for solace and support. I registered right before sunset, and enjoyed a quick catch-up conversation with Dan Foley, a Series I and Morgan enthusiast, and Kevin Murphy, a Series III and Triumph Stag enthusiast.
Eric Yohe, an off road instructor with the Land Rover Experience, also operates the Mountain Road Resort in Stowe. He had posted an invitation on the Rovers North BBS for all Land Rovers to meet at his hotel. Entering his driveway I spotted a topless Series II-A, a Range Rover Classic sporting a fine covering of mud, and a mid-80’s Land Rover 110. I knew I was in the right place. Sure enough, he had put Old Speckled Hen on tap for the weekend. Returning to my inn, I knew this was going to be a great weekend.
Sure enough, the next morning, I scarfed down a poached egg and kippers breakfast and headed off to the event field. Yes, this is one of those days when you just sit, stand, talk and quaff beverages. The early morning fog burned off and the day turned quite sunny. The field was surrounded by a bowl of colorful hills and the temperature warmed quickly and comfortably. Over 500 cars had pre-registered and most had shown up; the Land Rover contingent was barely 40, but to my eyes, they were the most glamorous. The range of vehicles really struck you: Series I soft tops, a military Lightweight, military 109’s in camouflage and with new paint jobs, Series II-A’s and Series III’s, 2-door Range Rovers and Range Rover Classics, a G4 Discovery II, and Paul Memont’s fearsome Series hybrid featured in our last issue. The chance to meet up again with long-lost Land Rover friends reared itself up when Peter Cleveland, Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, stopped by to reminisce about our “adoption” of a well-used Land Rover in downeast Maine nearly a decade ago.
The British Invasion features a concours competition with stunning vehicles competing for authenticity awards. For vehicles that are actually driven, the organizers invite all participants to vote for their “People’s Choice” award for each class of vehicles. Land Rover classes separated the Series I-III, Defender, and Range Rovers/Discoverys into three classes. Among the winners, Ian Johnson took home the Range Rover honors with his stunning 1988 Range Rover Classic; Colby Morris, whose Series II-A 109” was featured in our last issue, took home Series honors. That night, dinner and conversation beckoned and I joined a large group of enthusiasts in discourse about life and Land Rovers. Our general consensus was that you couldn’t really have a good life one without at least one Land Rover.
Sunday’s event dawned cloudy but the sun poked through in plenty of time for the morning’s entertainment. Among the featured activities was a tailgate competition. Ian and Tom Johnson entered their Series I and decorated it up as if it sat at a British bivouac. Rovers North’s Les Parker entertained the crowd by taking his Lightweight on an unusual picnic. From a 1954 Bentley to a bug-eye Sprite, contestants had something unique to offer from the tailgate or trunk of their British cars. As the day warmed further and the event drew to a close, I took the top off my Rover and headed east for the long drive home. With the top off, a Land Rover became the “sporty convertible” promised in those old Land Rover ads.
Three hours later, in Bethel, Maine, I stopped at a rest area along the AndroscogginRiver to put the top back up on the Rover. A man in a Land Rover cap walked up towards me and we introduced each other. Fate had led me to John Gerding of Forover Forever, a Vermont company that produces stainless steel radiator panels for Series II-A’s [sadly, NLA from Land Rover for many years]. John had fabricated one for the QE I and I had never been able to thank him and congratulate him for his considerable skill. Even more eerie, he had attended college with a sculptress now living on the same Maine island as me – could I possibly pass along his best wishes? Too weird! It made the final three hours, even with the top up, a pleasurable drive.
With stunning vehicles, great driving and new/old friendships, the British Invasion Weekend had finally come full circle.
Copyright, 2006, Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."