The British are Coming! Print E-mail

Vero Beach Magazine

January 2018

When it came to super-cool cars in motion pictures, nobody did it better.CarShow 1

The fictional British spy James Bond was first introduced to his silver Aston Martin DB5 in the 1964 blockbuster Goldfinger. With Sean Connery behind the wheel the DB5 caused quite a stir, not only because of its timeless beauty but also all its lethal gadgets. Dubbed the most famous car in the world, the DB5 was almost as big a star as Connery. It has appeared in a half-dozen 007 movies.

For this year's Motor Car Exhibition at McKee Botanical Gardens, Aston Martins will be well represented along with Jaguars, MGs, Austin-Healys, Triumphs, Rolls Royces, Bentleys and a host of other intriguing British cars on Saturday, February 10.

The weather is typically gorgeous, the cars stunning. Elaborately dressed entrants picnic alongside their vintage cars with blankets and wicker baskets. The car aficionados come together to show off their prized treasures-- perhaps a family heirloom or just a reminder of high school glory days when cars were made of steel, leather and wood. There's nothing quite like the joy of owning these delightful driving machines.

Now in its ninth year, the McKee Motor Car Exhibition remains an invitation-only event, acquiring a reputation for bringing in some of the most rare and exotic cars in the Southeast. Each year the show's car theme changes. Recent ones included “Rods and Customs,” "American Muscle Cars" and "Extinct Motorcars." More than 3,000 visitors are expected to turn up from the Treasure Coast and across the state to enjoy an afternoon in a casual garden setting.

CarShow 3The idea for the annual car show evolved from a casual conversation by avid car collector and the exhibition chairman, John Schumann.

"I was riding through the parking lot with an official from the garden one day and I mentioned it would be a great spot for a car show," recalls Schumann, former owner of the Press Journal newspaper who worked there for 40 years. "Next thing I knew I was on the committee and then chairman for the past eight years.

"It's been a wonderful introduction for so many people to enjoy the cars at the gardens in such a unique setting. We're pleased the show has grown in popularity each year as people understand the quality of cars that make appearances. This year we'll feature unique British cars that most people have never seen before, like a Bentley 8-litre from the 1920s and a pair of rare Jaguars from the 1950s. We limit it to select cars because of the garden's space restrictions. This year there will be 40 cars and some unique motorcycles as well. "

Who doesn’t love British sports cars? These open-top, stylish speed demons are what most of us think of when we envision a sports car. During World War II, countless American GIs stationed throughout Europe were wowed by them. There was something special about the combination of low-slung, open two-seater bodywork with a simple interior, a slick sporting gear change and its throaty rumble.

The McKee event draws enthusiasts like Dave Polny, the collection manager of the Wilson Collection of 105 British and Euro classic vehicles housed in a pair of industrial warehouses in Jupiter. The collection belongs to classic car enthusiast and racer Larry Wilson, a venture capitalist in his business life.

“I think British sports cars reflect the temperament of that country," observes Polny, a member of special forces units for 20 years. "In England there are all of these small roads so the British sports cars were created with compact footprints. These cars needed to be nimble and agile enough to thread through the narrowest of gaps and corner the country lanes and miss the odd pheasant that dashed out in front of you. They were road raced right out of the show room, with just a roll bar added. Power was secondary. It was all about the driving experience rather than brute force."

Fondly recalling the wind-in-the-hair experience, American soldiers brought the British automobiles home after the war. Technically less complex and more affordable than European sports cars, the Brits produced the fastest road-going cars of their time which would go on to take the world by storm.

Signs at the McKee show will help identify the groupings of vehicles by make and model, but there will be one that's quite rare. Vero Beach resident Wayne Sandlin's'1964 Elva Courier, translates from French to English, "she goes." There were less than 300 built in England in 1964, with only about 150 being imported to the U. S. Most were raced very successfully, in particular by Mark Donahue, one of America's greatest racecar drivers. Sandlin has owned three.CarShow 2

"These cars tend to be on the lighter side, that's the name of the game," says Sandlin who owned one of Florida's most prominent advertising/marketing agencies based in Coral Gables.

"The light weight makes the cars handle better, accelerate faster and stop faster. It was critical to the car's racing success, but adds to the cost."

Sandlin's red Sunbeam Tiger is a Ford V8 powered sports car, build in England, from 1965-'67 could also appear at the McKee show.

With the exception of the very first Corvettes, the U.S. never really built any neat little roadsters. But Britain sure did. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, the names of MG and Triumph stood out from the rest, but many other UK motor companies also thrived. The British car industry's run of success was strengthened by the introduction of lower priced sports car models like the Sprite, Spitfire and Midget.

British luxury cars have set the gold standard for automotive excellence. With their long history of hand craftsmanship, the likes of which is readily apparent in the models from Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Austin-Healey and Jaguar. Luxury British classic cars are particularly famed around the world for increasing in value.

The Jaguar E-type was first unveiled at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show, where Enzo Ferrari called it the most beautiful car ever made. It combined Malcolm Sayers’ cool aerodynamic design with Sir William Lyon’s intuitive styling. The Jaguar XKE's sexy good looks were backed up by performance hitting a top speed of 150 mph at a time when most cars struggled to reach 60 mph. Today, it remains a blue-chip classic.

MGs are always well represented at British car shows. Norm Ridgley bought his first one, a 1952 MG TD from his roommate at the University of Miami.

"I used to race the MG GT on weekends when I was in college in the '50s," Ridgley recalls. "That first summer I drove it out west, putting 10,000 miles on it. I've always had a love for old British cars, MGs in particular. I like the way they handle. With these older cars you don't have to be tech savvy which is a good thing for me."

A native of Miami, Ridgley was a special asset executive in the banking industry. His entry at McKee is his 1967 MGB GT which he bought in 2003 after it was completely restored by a friend in North Carolina.

"It's a daily driving car and I get loads of comments," Ridgley says with a laugh. "People say their dad or a relative owned a MG and it made quite an impression on them. So, it's definitely a nostalgia thing. I've put in air conditioning, overdrive and cruise control. I've racked up 75,000 miles since I've owned it."

CarShow 4The motorcar exhibition has quickly become one of Vero Beach's most fascinating events.

"Owning a classic car is a fun hobby, really an avocation for me," says Sandlin. "It can be a terrific investment if the right ones are chosen. But it's also a tangible investment where you can derive pleasure. Take your wife out for a weekend drive. You can't do that with stocks and real estate. There's an indefinable fun factor."

The car exhibition coincides with McKee's "It's a Jungle Out There!" exhibition that features 24 animal sculptures made out of recycled metal from artists in Kenya. Over the years the car show has attracted 20,000 visitors and raised more than $100,000.

"The cars initially brings people out and many like what they see at our gardens," says Christine Hobart, McKee's Executive Director. "We're now averaging more than 100 new members per show."

The Wilson Collection's Polny looks forward to it each year. He is bringing a pair of head turners, a rare 1953 Jaguar C-Type and a 1954 Jaguar D-type. Both won the legendary Lemans race.

"The show speaks for itself in acquiring the best and most unique cars as well as taking care of the folks that own the cars," Polny observes. "We go to a couple dozen car shows throughout the year and McKee is one of the best capturing the target car owner audience for each year's theme.

"With Florida being such a multi-national culture of people, there is a huge influx of Brits and Euros who remember these vintage cars from their youth where they saw them on the road as well as in road races. I find most of the spectators really relate to them and the owners take the time to tell engaging stories about their prized cars. There is also a great camaraderie among owners and managers of these cars. We're all equally crazy for being interested in them."


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