Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Favorite Things: Watkins Glen Festival 2009

You hear about Monterey, you hear about Goodwood. You never really hear about Watkins Glen, and that's just fine. This ain't about megabucks jetsetters and multinational corporate sponsorships. It is instead an annual pilgrimage to the ancestral home of sports car racing in the United States, and something sacred would be lost if it were opened up to nonbelievers.

Every September, on the Friday before the vintage races at the track proper, the tiny lakeside hamlet of Watkins Glen is overrun by an unparalleled gathering of automotive awesomeness, the city streets and country lanes that made up the original 6.6-mile road course awakened and put to their most noble purpose. Consequently, it's as easy for a spectator to wander around downtown, taking in your requisite perfect examples of perfect cars, spectacularly original, magnificently unrestored examples of same, and the odd heretically modded, avert-your-children's-eyes terrormobile, as it is to hike back to the remotest (and completely unpopulated) parts of the course and live out one's Jesse Alexander fantasies as those same cars hurtle past at arm's length. Does it get any better than this? Maybe, but not in my experience.

This year's honored marque was Morgan. If you've bothered to read this far you're probably familiar with Morgans, but just in case, I'll try to explain. It's one of the unwritten laws of the universe that at any gathering of vintage cars, or sports cars, or vintage sports cars, or just car enthusiasts generally, there will invariably be one guy, and almost never more than one guy, with a Morgan—just as at any college dormitory there must be one guy with a unicycle. (They're the same guy.) Morgan is a quintessentially British maker of sports cars. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that during Morgan's hundred-year history it has built exactly two models. The radical advance that distinguished the second model from the first was the addition, in 1936, of a fourth wheel. Did I mention that they're made out of wood? They are.

So yeah: amusing, then, in a single day, to double (and possibly triple) the total number of Morgans I've seen in my entire life. The big revelation, though, was how ridiculously awesome the old three-wheelers (which continued in production through the early fifties) look at speed, a missile-like fuselage trailing the front axle like a windsock in a hurricane, the hidden rear wheel creating the unshakeable impression that the body is just floating, landspeeder-like. Unbelievably cool.

I'll take a light rain over the usual late-summer heat, too. Slideshow follows: