This piece was first published in Classic Mercedes magazine’s Winter 2022/2023 issue, where my good friend and editor holds me to a strict timeline and set of minimum expectations – something I should really institute for myself here on TTS. Regardless, we do take the occasional opportunity to poach from ourselves, so here goes. This should really be entitled “How I Got Over My Introverted Fear, Judgment, and Loathing of Other Car People” – but this title was shorter.
If I’m honest, I generally prefer to enjoy my cars in a vacuum. What I mean by that is that as much as I love my cars, I’m not generally one to attend car events and hang out with random car people. Over the years I’ve found that car folks come in a few distinct groups: purists for whom every last detail must be as God and the factory intended; pedants who know everything there is to be known about every car (except when they don’t); brand loyalists who are so fanatical that the mere mention of another make results in apoplectic shock; and finally the kindred spirits. These are the folks like me who can be equally enthusiastic about a rusty Fiat 850 as a pristine Mercedes 540K. They’re also the most elusive.
So it should come as no surprise that when I received an invitation to the Turtle Rally, hosted by Philip Richter of the Turtle Garage and the Malcolm Pray Achievement Center, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic. Philip has been a friend ever since I wrote a piece on his immaculate, delivery mileage R129 SL600 and got to poke around his amazing collection of all sorts of youngtimer German cars (500E, M6, 560SEC, 928GTS, E30 M3, 190E 2.3-16, etc). It was obvious that as a fan of the cars, not just a particular brand or model, he was a kindred spirit. And although he has the ability to procure the best of the best, it doesn’t stop him from using them like cars. Although happy to see Philip, it was the other participants that I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with.
Still, I’d never done a rally before and this one would be small. The cost was quote reasonable (including food and two nights luxury lodging) and also included a contribution to the Pray Center – whose charitable mission is to inspire young people to set goals and pursue their dreams through timeless core principles of honesty, integrity and reputation with a backdrop of a remarkable collection of automobiles. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad..?
So I rang best buddy from (his) birth and blog/podcast partner Jonathan Bush, and put the idea in front of him. After all, I’d need a co-pilot. Since we often share a brain, his lukewarm response mirrored mine but we both decided to ponder it. Interestingly, and as if somehow miraculously coordinated (!), both of our wives were ready to push us out the door to do it. So we decided that worst case we’d get to bond through days in the car and nights in the bar, which is always a welcome opportunity given the roughly 1100 miles between our respective homes.
When the event finally arrived, Jonathan flew from his home in Minneapolis to mine just outside Washington, D.C., and the next morning we headed north in my 179,000 mile 1986 560SL to the rally start in the beautiful semi-rural suburbs just north of New York City. Being my first proper outing in the 560, I really wasn’t sure what to expect – but the 5.6 liter M117 V8 consumed the miles without drama. Heck, the weather was so good that we kept the top down the whole way (although we did cheat by using a wind screen behind the seats). It was sublime.
We were among the first to arrive, and the first car in sight was a cream-colored Ferrari 365GTS convertible. Then came a couple of Astons, three (!) Rolls Corniches, a few vintage Jags, a variety of vintage sports and touring cars, and even a seven-figure Cunningham C-3. It was only when a C140 S600 arrived that I got over feeling completely out of my element. That evening we met up with Philip and a couple of other attendees for Mexican, and found in them more kindred spirits – I mean, one with a collection of Bitters and the other with an Adenauer, a W100 600, and a Bentley Turbo R…? Yep – these were our people.
The next day took us north to Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. While I am not a big baseball fan, nor really any other sportsball, the town was charming and the hotel was of a different era, with tall ceilings, drinks on the veranda, and an attendant at every door. It didn’t suck. Nor did the bar, which we managed to drink out of all their Chivas Regal on the first night. Even so, by the end of the evening we’d met, toasted, and talked cars with most of the attendees.
The rally took us through some brilliant hills and valleys with fantastic panoramic vistas, riverside roads, and some of the best twists and turns I’ve ever driven. We traded off navigating and driving, and despite a twisted driver’s seat and periodic squalls, the 560SL served its purpose with aplomb and was never a source of shame or mockery. In fact, most everyone we talked to had or currently has an R107. They are apparently a staple for car collectors. In fact, that was probably the toughest question: “What else do you have in your collection?” To which I could only respond “half an MX5 and no space for anything else.” The rest of the folks seemed to have about 6 collector cars minimum – but it didn’t bother me because we had fun talking about all of those plus the ones we’d still like to have. I nearly made a deal on the one fellow’s Adenauer (and may still yet), but that’s an awfully big bite to chew.
Despite winning no prizes, we had zero regrets attending. Both Jonathan and I realized that we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to this sort of thing – because we tend to talk ourselves out of them before we give them a chance. The people were great, the cars were great, and my happy little 560SL with moonshot miles was the perfect instrument for us.
Until, that is, zero dark thirty on the last morning when it was time to head back to D.C. and came out to find a big spot where the radiator had marked its territory. Throwing caution to the wind we checked the level, bought an extra bottle of coolant, and pointed south. We made it, too without overheating and despite 30+ degrees ambient temperatures and a 1.5 hour standstill backup. Had to fire up the heater a couple of times when the needle crept a little too high for comfort, but that’s just part of the experience, right?
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I get the “cars in a vacuum” thing. My brother is that way. He has a 2017 NSX but does not go out of his way to interact with “car people.” Or at least, he didn’t, until I twisted his arm into registering for last year’s 100-car multi-day club event in October. And I think he had a good time.
Oh the coolant leak! Been there, done that. No road trip is complete without a little drama. Looked like a great adventure for all!
The thing is, once I get out there and start talking to like-minded car guys I always have a great time… It’s just getting myself out there that is the real challenge!
What I didn’t write about was the 2 hour backup on the way home in the middle of PA. And it was HOT. So a careful balance of running the car and AC, and then letting it rest so as not to encourage overheating…… Luckily it held. Very luckily.
Glad you both went, thanks for the cool report. And glad the blog is alive! But you omitted the most important part – they gave you rally #_808_!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jQ_bOP0HfY – you’re welcome :^)
Ha – YES!!
Had a great time. Well worth it and look forward to the next one. We were nin the C190 Edition1 GTs. We had 4 Mercedes s the first to start the rally. We were #800 first in line.
That was a fabulous car!! Also looking forward to the next!
I know you! 🙂 Great story! Love those old Mercedes.