Whether you refer to them using the quaint British term ‘motor cars’ or the more technical-sounding ‘automobiles’, they serve multiple needs in the daily lives of those of us who own them. The most obvious is in transporting us from point A to point B, be it a short trip to the grocery store or an epic journey from Lands’ End to John O’Groats.
A more subtle purpose, exploited relentlessly by manufacturers, is to express something about ourselves: do we spend our hard-earned cash on a reliable metallic-grey Honda or on a bright-red MINI Cooper with ‘go-faster’ stripes?
For a niche group of owners, yet another purpose is to connect themselves to an earlier era of motoring, through the possession and maintenance of a vintage vehicle. Happily, those of us who eschew the cost and commitment of such onerous responsibilities can nevertheless admire the work invested in collecting and maintaining them through visits to vintage car rallies.
Deep in the pandemic
In 2021 many such rallies were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The annual vintage car rally in Coronado, California instead adopted an alternative format for its annual Motor Cars on Main Street event.
Rather than blocking off a wide road near the beach and displaying cars in a central location, the organisers encouraged owners to park them on the street in front of their homes. With the aid of a map, those of us hoping to admire this impressive collection of locally owned vehicles could walk or cycle around the tree-lined city streets in search of our favourite models — a perfect opportunity for exercise and enlightenment.
I chose to cycle, accompanied by camera and lenses in my trusty Billingham bag, following what promised to be the most efficient route. I spent a delightful few hours checking off entries on my list of must-see models, doing my best to record them in the photographs below, which were taken using a Lumix S5 equipped with the 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.
Pandemic to endemic
In 2022, the rally resumed its established format: a packed crowd of admirers roaming through a much larger collection of vehicles, old and very old, arrayed along a network of roads closed to through traffic.
The event attracted visitors from well beyond the local community and included a much larger collection of road-worthy vehicles which had successfully made their way to the rally location. The 2022 spectacle was undoubtedly grander in scale, featuring a wide diversity of vehicles from throughout the last century. There was even a Rockabilly band, serenading the crowd with 1950s classics.
In my opinion, however, it lacked the intimacy of the 2021 event, which afforded more opportunities to become acquainted with each proud owner and to hear the story of their vehicle. Both were extremely enjoyable, and a treat for anyone who enjoys photographing cars. The photographs of the 2022 event were taken using a Leica Q2.
The British are coming…
As an expat Briton, I was especially pleased to encounter several models from the land of my birth featured in the 2021 event, harkening back to the glory days when British sports cars were admired and highly sought after across the globe.
One dedicated fan owned two classic models. The first was a late 1950s Jaguar XK150 Drophead in burgundy, sporting a gleaming six-cylinder in-line engine with dual overhead camshafts. As seems to be the custom, the car was displayed with a raised bonnet so that we could enjoy the view of the engine compartment. I had always considered the E-type the quintessential Jaguar sports car model, but this XK was a real beauty and for me is now the pinnacle of Jaguar design.
Insert: KJ Motors 07 – 10 Jaguar E-type Gallery
Speaking of E-types, here is a spectacular red model, complete with wire wheels, dating from 1966. Its 4.2-litre in-line six is complemented by triple SU carburettors in gleaming chrome. The owner had clearly expended considerable elbow grease polishing the bodywork and chrome bumpers to a glistening shine.
It was a real thrill to encounter this green, canvas-top 1952 Morris Minor here in Sunny California. My father owned two Morris 1000 models consecutively back in the 1960s; I still remember the licence plate numbers. In turquoise and grey, they ferried the family on trips down to the Gower Peninsula outside Swansea and occasionally picked up my brother and me from school on the rare occasion that it was raining.
The model before me was older, sporting a split windscreen (windshield in US parlance) and quaint ‘pop-out’ indicator arms. The owner kindly closed the bonnet for me, so that I could capture the full sweep of its curves as well as a close up of its Morris badge. Of all the cars I saw at the 2021 and 2022 events, this one took the honours.
This next car is American with a British connection — it was designed in Kenosha, Washington, but assembled at the Austin Longbridge factory in Birmingham. The Nash Metropolitan was an attempt to introduce a smaller car into the American market — typically serving as a second vehicle for the family.
The Metropolitan was marketed between 1953 and 1961; the model shown is a series IV, introduced in 1959, as indicated by its rear external deck lid. There is something very endearing about this quirky little car, with its partially enclosed wheel arches and rear-mounted spare wheel. This two-tone convertible model looks terrific in the bright California sunshine.
Born in the 50s
Of all the decades encompassing the era of rampant US car culture, I would argue that the 1950s represents a high point in style, sophistication and iconic design. The significance of this decade was reflected in the choice of musical accompaniment for this splendid event — a Rockabilly band comprising Gretsch-wielding singer-guitarist, upright bassist and standing (female) drummer. Lonnie Donegan eat your heart out.
Invidious as it would be to ascribe to a single car the accolade of ‘superlative example of 1950s American automobile elan’, two models in the show plausibly laid claim to that trophy…
The first contender for 1950s supreme style icon is the Chevrolet Corvette. The first generation models were introduced in 1953 and remained in production until 1961. This outstanding example in red and white livery is a 1960 model. It is a real looker, and that red dashboard is quite something. It gets my vote!
Its competitor is the Ford Thunderbird. The T-bird was also introduced in 1953 – in direct response to the appearance of the Corvette – first-generation vehicles remaining in production until 1957, the year this model was built. It is a two-seater with a detachable glass-fibre hardtop. A white T-bird just like this, albeit from 1956, featured in the movie American Graffiti — driven by a mysterious blonde who captivates the character played by a young Richard Dreyfus.
When people think of Southern California they think of surfing, and back in the 40s and 50s it seems when people thought of surfing they thought of a wooden-framed station wagon referred to affectionately as a Woodie. Both 2021 and 2022 Motor Cars on Main Street events featured numerous examples of Woodies, some adorned with surf boards and some without. There was even an oxymoronically named ‘Tin Woodie’, in a spectacular bronze finish. Ford, Mercury and Chevrolet all produced Woodies throughout this period, inspiring in due course the humble British manifestation — the Morris Minor Countryman.
Pick up line
No display of vintage US automobiles would be complete without a few examples of the vehicle which assumed the place of the horse in modern US culture, as the country became less agrarian and more motorised: the ubiquitous pickup truck.
Here are two pristine, tomato-red Ford pickups from 1932 and 1956 — note the increase in scale over the intervening quarter-century. These vehicles illustrate the deep roots of the Ford Motor Company in producing pickups. Even today, its commitment to building these vehicles continues; the Ford F-150 outsells every other pickup truck in America, and the soon-to-be-introduced F-150 Lightning electric version is critical to Ford’s future business prospects.
Any colour, so long as it’s black
Henry Ford would either have been appalled or amazed at the rainbow of car colours on display at the rally. These are just a few of the dazzling paint jobs featured, giving you a flavour of the delicious spectrum.
A last word from the Brits
Just as the 2021 event was graced with a few superlative examples of British sports car prowess, the 2022 event also featured a classic from a slightly earlier era. This bright red 1947 MG looked as if it had been transported from a different world: from across the Atlantic in fact. It stood out from its crowd of American neighbours, not like a sore thumb but more like a sweet treat. It seems that before the era of gull-wing doors there were gull-wing bonnet lids, two of which are on full display here. Mind your head!
Back to the future
Just like the July 4th Parade, Spring Flower Show, Mother’s Day Historic Homes Tour, and Summer Concerts in the Park Series, the Motor Cars on Main Street vintage car rally is a highly anticipated feature in the cycle of public events held annually in this small Californian city.
Having made it through the pandemic challenge by cleverly adapting its format, it is now well and truly back in business. I look forward enthusiastically to the 2023 spectacle, where I am sure I will encounter yet more gems from America’s automotive past.