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Westward Ho (Via British Auto Club)

Westward Ho (Via British Auto Club)

Joanne Levan leans against her MG at a Las Vegas car show. (Photo courtesy of the writer)

In late August 2010 my task in support of the Department of Energy ended and I returned to my home in Bernville, Pa. Coincidentally my 84th birthday was Aug. 20, and that meant it was time to retire, relax and travel. 

This was more like it. I entered my '91 Jaguar XJS in two shows, attended several auto auctions and culminated two years of travel with a visit to my beloved BAC — the British Auto Club of Las Vegas. 

My wife, Joanne, and I had joined the club two decades before and were active members for the five years we lived in Las Vegas. So, I welcomed the invitation to the club's monthly meeting, where I talked to several members who had been on the momentous trip to Moss Motors in 1997, led by the BAC's founder, Ibsen Dow. From the additional bits of information I gathered from these conversations, I considered myself well enough prepared to write this article about it. 

Now, there was no way I could completely replicate the trip Joanne and I most enjoyed while we were members of the BAC because both Joanne and Ibsen are with us but in spirit. Yet I felt certain that as I began the process of transferring my thoughts to print, my mind’s eye would have me reliving every step of the way as if it had happened but a day or two ago.

When we moved to Las Vegas in 1991, our MGB roadster and MGBGT coupe were shipped to our new address. Just after we settled in, we began to search for a British car club. 

I had entered three of my MGBs in shows in Maryland and Delaware that were sponsored by MG or British car clubs, but there were no shows sponsored by British car clubs in Pennsylvania. When I purchased parts for my MGs, Moss Motors was my first choice. Shipments from Moss included a newsletter with a section that was devoted to everything Moss had to offer plus listings of foreign car club events and meets for the entire country. Yes, Vegas had a club and it didn't take long to find one that sounded like what we had in mind. 

Ibsen and his wife, Julie, cofounder of BAC, had placed an ad in the Las Vegas Sun inviting anyone interested in British autos to join them at Sunset Park the following Saturday afternoon for a “Lunch with the Bunch” picnic. When we arrived at the park, Ibsen gave us a warm welcome and introduced us to all the members and newbies. We enjoyed the picnic, were impressed by the camaraderie of the group, and signed on the dotted line that day.  

Early in the morning of July 16, 1996, 23 brave souls circled the wagons at the Silverton Casino to begin our nearly daylong trek to California. Our goal was crystal clear: We were to arrive in one piece at the Moss Motors British Car Festival, at the Flag Is Up Farms in Solvang, Calif., near Buellton in Santa Barbara County, about 400 miles from Las Vegas. As in years past, the participants would capture a wagonload of trophies and awards. 

Before we were totally organized, however, a mounted (Schwinn bike) security agent ordered us to vacate the premises post haste if we were not guests at the casino or suffer the consequences. So, wagon master Dick Schneider called out, "Westward Ho, Lymie Leakers!" in his best Ward Bond voice. Off we went, a caravan of driven, towed and trailed British beauties — the cars not the ladies — toward our distant goal. (OK, the ladies were also pretty, but not all were British.)

A last-minute substitution was made in the Dow transportation team. Julie had agreed to tow their project Triumph with their air-conditioned "like a rock" pickup with Joanne riding shotgun, and Ibsen was to pilot their TR3. The final shuffle had Julie relieved of her apprehension associated with a maiden towing experience and freed her to accompany hubby. Joanne and I teamed up in the “rock” and piloted the truck and trailer safely to and from the meet. Dick Schneider drove his "quality is job one" truck towing the red MGB. 

Dick, Joanne and the MG.

I would be hard pressed to provide precise details about the journey because Joanne and I drove through the area frequently to visit various points of interest. Logic would suggest that our caravan mingled with the normal flow of traffic to take a brief stop at Riverside, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, and quickly resumed our journey so we could reach our destination in time to enjoy the fleeting daylight hours and start celebrating. The Smithsons met us at the Windmill, having driven from Oregon in their Jag. The Las Vegas-based vehicles were all driven except for Ibsen’s project Triumph and Schneider’s MGB.

After a short poolside gathering to celebrate our journey free of incidents and oil leaks, we traveled to the Attitude Adjustment party. In past years we convened in the Windmill banquet room to sip wine and pig out on cheese and crackers. This year Moss chose to host the AA party at The Flag Is Up Farms, so the flies would not have as far to travel. 

We all met at the BYOB tent on the grounds and sampled a variety of unidentified Tijuana taste treats. Later, Joanne and I took a short drive to the beach to take a dip in the Pacific, thereby satisfying my penchant for having her enjoy another first. Then I realized we had visited Hawaii four times and spent hours in the ocean.

Approximately 600 cars and drivers converged at the festival, including the swarm of Miatas that buzzed around like Africanized honeybees. Fortunately, we blew away the competition. The awards gave our club bragging rights at rallies where other clubs looked down at us. But truth be known, our winners seemed a bit eager to take pleasure in the practice of rubbing salt in the wounds of the unfortunate among us who won zip.

So the awards are worth recounting:

Wine country rally: Despite having presumably sampled wine at each of the six stops, Dick Schneider and Julie Dow and John and Charla Samolovitch placed 2nd and 3rd respectively. 

Speed, time and distance rally: Ibsen Dow and Roger Himka were not thrilled with their 38th place finish, but they did cross the line ahead of 115 lesser entrants. 

Auto Cross: Schneider, the sole entry from Las Vegas, roared into 4th place out of 32 in his class. 

Fun fact: Starting with a paper bag over his head (an idea John Samolovitch got from Las Vegas drivers while with the Las Vegas Metro Police), Schneider along with his astute navigator, Himka, managed to motor into 2nd place in a field of 51.

The car show: Of our six entries, we scored four prizes, including a second for our fearless leader Dow’s TR3. 

As if all this would not have been enough to overjoy the Las Vegas contingent — and tick off the California groupies — there was one thing more. The piece de resistance was the drawing for a trip to England. The speakers boomed to the quiet audience: "And the winners are Ibsen and Julie Dow." 

You could have heard a Miata sneak off the field.

Dick Levan

Dick has written short stories for a newspaper and for a car club magazine. He still enjoys creative writing.

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