Vintage rallies provide a venue
for exercising classic cars
By Larry Edsall
Martin Gruss and Rich Mahrle own red Italian roadsters. Each drove his car on the 2009 Copperstate 1000 vintage car rally, where it mattered little that Mahrle's car was a relatively modest 1969 Alfa Romeo 1750 Spider while Gruss' was the rare and historic 1959 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder that finished fifth in the heralded 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1959.
Along with 60 or so other classic car owners, Gruss and Mahrle got to exercise their cars over the course of the 19th annual vintage rally staged by the Men's Arts Council as a fund-raiser for the Phoenix Art Museum.
Events such as the Copperstate 1000 – some half-day tours, some much longer events – provide a way for people with classic cars to enjoy their vehicles and to raise money for charitable causes.
The Men's Arts Council, or MAC as it more commonly is known, was organized in 1968 not to provide a landscape-sized canvas for rolling sculpture but with the simply mission of providing volunteer night guards for the young museum and its growing collection of art. But in more than four decades since, the MAC has grown to become the largest annual financial contributor to the museum, and its biggest event is the annual vintage auto rally that attracts car owners from across the country, and occasionally from across the ocean.
This year's participants included a 1959 Aston Martin DB3S sports racer and its owners all the way from Nottinghamshire, England, and a couple of racer/car collectors from Farnam, England, who didn't bring one of their own cars but borrowed one from car collector friends in Phoenix.
As has been in the case in recent years, the 19th Copperstate 1000 began with the annual Field of Dreams car show at Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team. For the Field of Dreams, the Copperstate cars are arrayed around the outer edge of the baseball outfield, with local car clubs showing their cars in the stadium parking lots. This year, a special collection of classic Rolls-Royces and Bentleys were parked along the mezzanine level of the stadium.
From the stadium, the cars followed a route that took them east from Phoenix, past the Superstition Mountains and up through Devil's Canyon before turning northwest to lunch on the shores of Roosevelt Lake. (Yes, there are lakes, created by hydroelectric dams, in the desert.)
After lunch, the drive resumed, up through Payson and on along the shores of Mormon and the Lake Marys to Flagstaff for the first overnight.
The Copperstate contingent faced its longest driving day the next morning, a 300-mile route that took them east and north from Flagstaff across the Painted Desert to Old Oraibi on Third Mesa, believed to be the oldest continuously occupied settlement in North America. The route then turned south to Winslow, made a turn past the Standing on the Corner statue and led them to lunch La Posada Hotel, a landmark that, like a classic car, has been restored to its original condition.
Arizona 87 then led the cars across the desert and into the Blue Ridge forest before a descent into the Verde Valley, with a twist through Page Springs on the way to Sedona.
Early on Day Three, the cars left Sedona for a sensational and sinuous drive up and over Mingus Mountain behind the old mining community-turned-artist colony of Jerome. The cars then zipped across several high-desert valleys before a short sprint on Interstate 40 and an almost too-brief drive on a section of old historic Route 66.
The route turned north at Williams toward the Grand Canyon, though it stopped miles short of the big hole. At the Valle crossroads the Copperstate contingent stopped at a remarkable venue, the Planes of Fame Air Museum, which, it turned out, not only offered a collection of vintage aircraft but also a dozen or more classic cars. Among the museum's flying fleet is a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor that took Copperstate participants aloft for a stunning view of the Grand Canyon.
After lunch and flights, the cars returned to the road, heading toward snow-capped Humphreys Peak and Flagstaff, then dropping down into Oak Creek Canyon and back to Sedona for another night.
The rally's final day took the participants past the red rock formations around Sedona, then briefly down Interstate 17 before turning back across Prescott, Skull, Kirkland and Peeples valleys to lunch at Hidden Springs Ranch. A plunge down the Yarnell Grade and a drive through Wickenburg led the cars back to Phoenix.
"I wouldn't want a car unless I could drive it," Martin Gruss responded when asked about risking such an historic – and expensive – vehicle in the traffic of the open road.
In fact, he said, he rarely gets to drive this Ferrari "as much as it deserves to be driven."
Besides, Gruss smiled, the car is almost ready for "a paint job," and he plans to follow up his tour of Arizona by running the car around the Road America racetrack in Wisconsin during a national Ferrari owners gathering this summer.
Gruss' attitude, that cars were meant to be driven, is shared by other automotive enthusiasts and collectors who annual bring their cherished chariots to events such as the Copperstate 1000.
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