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Go Out and Play: Museum-Eligible Vintage Cars That Race Cross-Country Instead

Car and Driver Logo By Rusty Blackwell and Kevin A. Wilson of Car and Driver | Slide 1 of 29: If you graduated from high school in 1972, you probably haven’t retired yet, but you can maybe see it from here. And you probably remember the 1965 Blake Edwards comedy called The Great Race that starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood.Cars built in 1972, though, were the youngest eligible to compete in this year’s Great Race, an annual event “inspired by” the film. Sponsored by Hemmings Motor News and billed as a controlled-speed rally for vintage cars at least 45 years old, The Great Race brought many classic cars out of their retirement in museums to come play on this year’s 2351-mile event. The race started in Jacksonville, Florida, and ended in Traverse City, Michigan, the latter town home to presenting sponsor Hagerty Insurance.That’s nine long summer days of driving, mostly on back roads in cars built before anyone had learned the words “automatic climate control.” Many of The Great Race machines are roofless, and only the newest enjoy such niceties as power steering or brakes. Competing in these relics over what amounts to an extended time-speed-distance (TSD) rally takes a certain level of, well, let’s call it commitment.That’s much as it has been since 1983 when Texans Tom McRae and Norm Miller started the event as a rally from Los Angeles to Indianapolis over a two-week timespan, commencing the first of three eras in The Great Race’s own history. Those early rallies—exclusively for pre–World War II–era vehicles—had a strong Christian Evangelical fervor, with each day’s travel ending in what amounted to a rolling tent-revival meeting. That element was toned down some in the 1990s, when what was then called the Great American Race was regularly featured on ESPN. McRae and Miller sold the rights in 2002 to enthusiastic owners with huge ambitions. They aimed to re-create the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race for its centennial in 2008. The real race had put the words “Thomas Flyer” into the lexicon of anyone with an interest in automotive history and had also, if only in a rough sense, provided the back story for that 1965 comedy. But China withdrew permission for the event to pass through the country, and The Great Race went belly up after its 2007 iteration.Too many Great Race people had had too much fun by then, though, so it didn’t stay dead for long. Corky Coker, owner of Coker Tires, took over in 2011 and revived it with a race from his company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, headquarters to Bennington, Vermont, home of title sponsor Hemmings. This year’s route included an overnight stay in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which put the fleet of more than 100 cars a short drive away from Car and Driver HQ. So we hopped over to hear the racers’ stories over a craft beer or three, and we picked these favorite cars from among the competitors. —Kevin A. Wilson

If you graduated from high school in 1972, you probably haven’t retired yet, but you can maybe see it from here. And you probably remember the 1965 Blake Edwards comedy called The Great Race that starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood.

Cars built in 1972, though, were the youngest eligible to compete in this year’s Great Race, an annual event “inspired by” the film. Sponsored by Hemmings Motor News and billed as a controlled-speed rally for vintage cars at least 45 years old, The Great Race brought many classic cars out of their retirement in museums to come play on this year’s 2351-mile event. The race started in Jacksonville, Florida, and ended in Traverse City, Michigan, the latter town home to presenting sponsor Hagerty Insurance

.That’s nine long summer days of driving, mostly on back roads in cars built before anyone had learned the words “automatic climate control.” Many of The Great Race machines are roofless, and only the newest enjoy niceties such as power steering or brakes. Competing in these relics over what amounts to an extended time-speed-distance (TSD) rally takes a certain level of, well, let’s call it commitment.

That’s much as it has been since 1983, when Texans Tom McRae and Norm Miller started the event as a rally from Los Angeles to Indianapolis over a two-week time span, commencing the first of three eras in The Great Race’s own history. Those early rallies—exclusively for pre–World War II–era vehicles—had a strong Christian Evangelical fervor, with each day’s travel ending in what amounted to a rolling tent-revival meeting. That element was toned down some in the 1990s, when what was then called the Great American Race was regularly featured on ESPN. McRae and Miller sold the rights in 2002 to enthusiastic owners with huge ambitions. They aimed to re-create the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race for its centennial in 2008. The real race had put the words “Thomas Flyer” into the lexicon of anyone with an interest in automotive history and had also, if only in a rough sense, provided the backstory for that 1965 comedy. But China withdrew permission for the event to pass through the country, and The Great Race went belly up after its 2007 iteration.

Too many Great Race people had had too much fun by then, though, so it didn’t stay dead for long. Corky Coker, owner of Coker Tires, took over in 2011 and revived it with a race from his company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, headquarters to Bennington, Vermont, home of title sponsor Hemmings. This year’s route included an overnight stay in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which put the fleet of more than 100 cars a short drive away from Car and Driver HQ. So we hopped over to hear the racers’ stories over a craft beer or three, and we picked these favorite cars from among the competitors. —Kevin A. Wilson

© Rusty Blackwell and Kevin A. Wilson

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