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Motor Cars on Main Street: How the Coronado vintage car rally adapted to the pandemic

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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.

Surf’s up

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.

Read more from the author here

14 COMMENTS

  1. That 39 Ford Coupe is some car! Great article Keith. I think the Jag E Type is my favourite. Wish you’d been able to get a shot with the bonnet down. Gosh now that you mention “pop-out indicator arms”, I do remember them but I can’t remember on which car model – maybe the Ambassador?

    • Morris Minor. They were called trafficators at the time and flashing indicators came in during the 1950s mostly fitted originally as an accessory. There was opposition to flashing indicators at the time, as there is with most things. High-level brake lights in the 70s were another bone of contention. Now every car as them by law.

    • Thanks Farhiz! These were two extremely enjoyable events. It was fascinating to discover that there were beautiful cars hidden away in garages that I might walk or cycle by regularly. I am sure the local owners really enjoyed having their vehicles on display and receiving lots of compliments from passersby. All the best, Keith

  2. Lovely article! Being a car nut this is my kind of thing. My wife swears she could leave me in a parking lot at the airport with a couple of sandwiches and some tea and I would be happy for hours. But the difference is, you have the LIGHT. That special thing that makes California such a car haven.

    BTW. One error to correct: the Metropolitan was made in Kenosha Wisconsin, not Washington.

    • Thanks Le Chef. I tried to be selective in what I photographed, and even then, I had many more photos than I could reasonably fit into an article. I am now on the lookout for other local rallies during the summer months. Thanks for pointing out the error in the location of Kenosha. I did at one point know it was in Wisconsin, but in my haste to finish the article another state beginning with ‘W’ came to mind. All the best! Keith

  3. Thank you for this article, when I was just approaching my teens a man and his wife moved into my neighborhood from England. He was doing hush hush work at local Air Force Lab. Besides a fantastic looking wife he brought with him one of the Jags 120 that was back up car for Lemans 1952!! I thought I died and went to heaven when he started that car up to go to work! Because of him I had at different times BUG EYE Sprite, regular Sprite and Austin Healy 3000! My wife went nuts when she found out I was paying more for garage rent than Apartment rent, so lost the cars got a house mortgage and happy wife happy life!

    • As a friend of mine said not long ago when they moved out of a city condo into a suburban house with a garden. “Jane wanted a house with a garden, and I love Jane.” End of discussion!

    • Thanks John! Isn’t it interesting how these formative events shape one’s outlook and even the course of one’s life. Sorry to hear that you had to part with your babies, but I am sure the sacrifice was worth it to achieve marital bliss! All the best, Keith

  4. Sometime in the eighties, I had a 1957 Metropolitan convertible. It was a rescue with seized engine and brakes. After many hours of work, it won worst in show at the club rally, a bottle of champagne! First prize was a cut glass fruit bowl, so who was the real winner!
    I always remember the Practical Classics review that said “it handles like a wardrobe on a skateboard and the gear change is a stick of celery stirring a bowl of soup!”
    Oh the good old days!

    • Hi Roderick, when I first saw this model I was sure I had seen one like it before, in the UK, but wondered if it was my imagination. Thanks for confirming that there were some roaming the streets once. I am hoping to get to know someone locally who would give me a ride, so I can enjoy that superb handling and breathtaking acceleration! 🙂 Cheers, Keith

  5. The presence of the Morris Minor, the MG, the Jaguars and the Austin Metropolitan has sadly reminded me that our local (national really) Terenure Car Show, which has featured a few times on these pages, will not reappear again until July 2023. The last show was in 2019. Our show is held on what would normally be a school sports field. I note that in the US these car shows on the street are quite common. I believe that I have seen photos of a similar event in Carmel, California. In my country, rural car shows are held in fields and, in some cases, there are more tractors than cars on display. Vintage tractor collecting and restoration are very big over here, as there are plenty of old tractors to be found in sheds at the back of farms.

    William

    • Car shows and Saturday morning cars and coffee and donuts is a pretty common thing from coast to coast. You can get single make events, vintage events or simply monster car shows with everything from a Ferrari La Ferrari to a Goggomobil.

      Americans love their cars.

  6. A fascinating article and great images. I love the classic and vintage cars. They are like comparing fine writing instruments to pens (modern cars).

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