Vintage British car show draws thousands to Lenox

Saturday June 16, 2012

LENOX -- "The British are coming, the British are coming!" called out Paul Revere, better known as Lenox Selectman and veteran equestrian David Roche, mounted atop his American quarter horse, Shadow.

Wearing a Revere-like costume borrowed from the Shakespeare & Company costume shop, Roche led a stately procession of nearly 350 vintage cars from the theater troupe's Kemble Street campus -- site of the second annual Berkshire British Motorcar Festival -- into the heart of downtown on Friday evening.

The streets were festooned with miniature Union Jacks as a large crowd of local residents and out-of-towners gathered to gawk at the wide variety of expensive, antique classics that crowded into diagonal parking spots on Main and Housatonic streets. A portion of Main Street was closed to traffic for four hours.

Apart from a brief tangle of traffic worthy of a mid-summer weekend, the evening-long downtown street festival was a much more organized, coordinated event than last year's inaugural show, marred by a late-afternoon downpour.

Spirits were high and smiles were wide as strollers admired the antiques, whose owners were exchanging shop talk about their prized possessions.

"Mother Nature cooperated beautifully," said Ralph Petillo, executive director of the town's Chamber of Commerce. "It's a party, more crowds, more cars, more vendors -- it's something where Lenox residents and visitors can just come and relax, and enjoy the beautiful cars. It's a great event."

"We would like it to become a tradition because it fits the history of Lenox," he said. "Now that the British came, we're keeping their cars," he joked.

As many as 4,500 people were on hand during the evening, according to Petillo's estimate. Crowds grew as dusk fell and the Berkshire tribute band Who Are You took the stage at the Roche Reading Park adjoining the town library to perform authentic-sounding covers of the famed British band's greatest hits. Youngsters frolicked in the park and older residents sat on benches, soaking up the colorful scene.

Pittsfield resident Rich Wagner, proud owner of a 1963 MG, pointed out his personalized antique plate with the simple legend, MG. "They'll have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands, there's only one," he said.

"I hope it works, I hope it continues," he said of the show. "The streets would be pretty much empty without this." He also had high praise for the show's venue, Shakespeare & Company, where the general public can view the cars and witness competitive judging events starting at 9 today and Sunday for a $15 two-day pass -- no charge for children under 12.

Well-known British car collector Jim Taylor, 67, of Gloversville, N.Y., brought 10 of his classics from his collection of about 100, but when asked to name his personal favorite, he demurred: "My favorite is the next one. Cars are like kids, you love them all for a different reason."

A founder of the Saratoga (N.Y.) Automobile Museum, he still has the 1929 Model T Ford he drove in high school. Taylor began collecting gradually 30 years ago, inheriting his father's pre-World War II vehicles. A 1911 Ford Model T Speedster, still running, is his oldest collectible. His sentimental favorite is a 1931 Cadillac V-12 Phaeton restored by his father in 1953.

Dean of local restaurant owners Jim Lucie, marking his 30th season at Cafe Lucia, said his business had nearly doubled from a normal mid-June Friday evening. "I'm gung-ho, absolutely, tally-ho," he said, calling the festival "tremendous, it brought a lot of people into town." Citing early May's Berkshire Cycling Classic, he said "we're moving in the right direction, these are the kind of events we want to see."

At Shots Cafe, co-owner Matt Tucker, busy preparing light fare for an onslaught of customers, called the event "good for business and something that can grow stronger each year."

"We're off to a really strong start for the weekend," said Kimberly Flynn, chairwoman of the town's Marketing and Events Committee, whose mission is to create shoulder-season events to pump tourism into the community.

Kenneth Fowler, Select Board Chairman and car-show enthusiast, proclaimed the street festival a success. Promoter Michael Gaetano, busy registering late arrivals at Shakespeare & Company, has predicted that last year's patron count of just over 1,000 at Tanglewood could triple or quadruple this weekend.


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