Blue-blooded Lime Rock Park racetrack is the annual venue for the "Rolex Vintage Festival Presented by BMW," Sept. 2 to 6. It's a mouthful of marketing name for a superb vintage-car event celebrating the history of BMW, Rolex and every automotive marque, capped off with racing personalities, vintage racing, a motorcycle museum and a concours d'elegance.
In the day of voice-activated cars, on-board GPS navigation and electronic steering and brakes, it is good to visit with cars from the era when tires were skinny and drivers were fat. And, if you had an aftermarket electronic ignition, well, that was the part that would probably break. It's one thing to drive a contemporary 400-bhp car fast on the highway or the track with an automatic transmission and all the electronic nannies looking out for your safety. It's quite another to drive a 1950s British sports car at 100 mph around Lime Rock with a non-synchronized manual gearbox, an ancient harness and an ancient rollcage as your only on-board safety features. Not to mention tires so skinny your average self-respecting Cub Cadet riding lawn mower would scoff in their general direction.
Peter Egan of Road & Track once wrote of the distinction between velocity and speed. I see the former as being the domain of contemporary speed appliance cars; the latter as the more visceral product of drifting, trail braking, matched-speed shifting and the finely tuned ballet of neutral handling. Watching a vintage race will promote a new appreciation of driving talent, even though the velocities are lower. These drivers are not scared, and we'd do well to learn their skills.
BMW of North America hosted several events, including an exhibit from Peter Nettesheim's private vintage BMW motorcycle museum. BMW also brought a collection of vintage BMW coupes, starting with the replica 1937 328 Touring Coupe, aka the 328 Mille Miglia Coupe-brilliantly re-created by BMW Mobile Tradition-and ranging through the legendary 3.0 CSLs that dominated early 1970s racing, to the modern 6 Series, just recently introduced.
On-track demonstrations were held, including the McLaren F1-much to the chagrin of the local anti-everything Hysterical Society, which has imposed stringent regulations on poor Lime Rock Park, a humble racetrack in the midst of not-so-humble indigenous aristocrats. It never ceases to amaze how people in America can move near a racetrack and then successfully complain about the noise. How anyone can be smart enough to perform brain surgery or create a billion-dollar business empire and yet be stupid enough to not know race cars are loud? I guess they just know money always prevails. One wonders whether historic Lime Rock Park is on that sad list of racetracks that will soon become faceless developments full of McMansions, with no sidewalks, everything congruently trimmed just so.
About 300 cars and motorcycles took center stage, including Rolls-Royce, which celebrated its centennial. The BMW Vintage Marathon-a 2,000-mile East Coast rally including over 50 vintage Bimmers, many who traveled from Europe-made a one-day stop at Lime Rock for the event. Displays and vendor booths dotted the upper field portion of Lime Rock Park in this third decade of Rolex Vintage Festivals. Keep tabs on www.bmwusa.com for information on the 2005 event-it's a great way to spend the Labor Day weekend!