Only mad dogs and Englishmen drive open top cars in the extremely chilly B.C. high country at this time of year.
But taking part in the three-day Hagerty Spring Thaw rally, staged by Classic Car Adventures, certainly turned on this Limey to the idea of a B.C. summer ‘staycation’ on roads that show natural beauty at its awe inspiring best.
Since my old U.K. friend, George Holt, moved to Gabriola Island a few years ago, he’s pestered me to join him on a rally. Wild tales of his racing exploits persuaded me that my participation might make it the last wish on my bucket list. Literally.
When Hagerty Insurance invited me to take part in the non-competitive rally for pre-1979 touring and sports cars, covering almost 1,100 kilometres, I figured this was the time to invite George.
“I’m up for, Sid, and I have the perfect car,” George responded. You get used to him calling every male, Sid, and female, Doris.
He worked day and night to ready his 1954 XK 120 Jaguar roadster – it rolled off the production line in the same year I did. It cranks out 200 horses from an inline straight-six cylinder 3.4-litre engine housed under that long hood.
The gleaming blue roadster with a large number 54 emblazoned on each side, drew much attention at the rally start point in Squamish. The warming sun showed off the almost 80 other classics to their best too. There were Alfa Romeos, many Minis circa mid-1960s, Porsches, Jags, MGs, Aston Martins – including a stunning 1934 Mk II owned by a gentleman from the same neck of the woods as George and me – plus a rare Noble M400.
We donned many layers of clothing, including leather aviator jackets and fetching, matching yellow helmets, then strapped in. George at the wheel, me by his side as his ‘nagivator’. We pulled out on the Sea to Sky highway and that journey to Whistler brought tears to my eyes, as did the rushing wind. The twisty Duffey Lake Road beyond Pemberton was no challenge for the mighty Jag. It stuck like glue to the hairiest hairpins down to Seton Lake. A rest stop at that watery stretch of tranquility brought the sounds of silence to our ears.
George broke the silence: “It goes like stink, Sid.” I completed his sentence. “And stops eventually.” Recalling a recent bit of hard braking that had me worried for a while.
It was then on Cache Creek and desert country before climbing to the snow line towards Logan Lake where my face froze. The shower at the Kamloops hotel brought back some colour to my cheeks.
The second day would take us by Monte Lake and Falkland and on to Vernon – in the pouring, icy rain. The rains stopped as we stopped to look at a ‘car graveyard’ where rusty examples of steel steeds past caught George’s eye. “Look, Sid, my first car – a Ford Prefect.”
I then misdirected us to a second graveyard near Armstrong, populated by Sunbeams, Hillman and even old Zodiacs. He took careful note of the location so that he might return for his next restoration project.
The sun peeped out as we were welcomed by the rugged northern end of the Okanagan valley. We buzzed along the Lake Country lanes that run alongside Okanagan Lake, between the vineyards.
Then we bypassed Kelowna and headed for Beaverdell, admiring the evidence of the now defunct historic Kettle Valley railway. Then the chilling hail hit but a single glass of beer at Rock Creek restored us. We weaved our way north along the valley, through wine country, to Penticton.
“Piece of cake,” said George the next day as he looked at the route to Hope. The winding back road trail to Princeton was a joy but the last stretch home was not.
First, we hit by snow, then hail that numbed our faces as we descended from Manning Park. I thought I had made a significant anatomical discovery when it appeared that the icy wind blasting up my right nostril seemed to exit through my left ear. Of course, it could have been the hole in the left side of my helmet.
There was one other little challenge. The panel failed so I had to peer at my handheld GPS to figure out what speed we were doing then shout at the top of my voice when George exceeded the posted limit.
We made it safe and sound.
“Next year, Sid?”
“I’ll get back to you, George.”