British sports car owners converge in Camden

Posted June 07, 2009, at 9:39 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — Sunday was a perfect day for sports cars.

As a brilliant sun reflected off the gleaming paint of more than 60 sports cars on display along a closed Chestnut Street opposite the Village Green, kids and adults marveled at the shapes and images reflected in the cars’ curving hoods, fenders, windscreens and bonnets.

The annual car show is put on by members of the Mid Maine Sports Car Club, founded seven years ago by Rockport resident Jim Lea. The club is open to owners or fanciers of British and European sports cars, although most of the cars lining the street Sunday came from the Sceptred Isle. For every Porsche on display there were dozens of Austin-Healeys, Morgans, MGs, Triumphs and Jaguars.

Lea said he founded the club on a whim in 2002 when he put an ad in the paper inviting owners of British cars to drive to the Rockport waterfront on a Sunday in July and was astounded when 36 showed up.

“Those cars came down right out of the blue. That was Sunday, July 28, and that was the day I founded the club,” Lea recalled. “It’s open to British and European cars built before 1984. We have 89 members and have had as many as 104. We have cars from all over New England here today.”

Sunday’s show was part of a weekend gathering that was a year and a half in the planning. Members began arriving at Point Lookout Resort in Northport on Friday night and 36 took part in Saturday morning’s hill climb.

Not a race, the hill climb tests a driver’s ability to handle a road course. Each driver does an initial timed run and is allowed two more runs to attempt to come as close as he can to his original time. It’s measured, precision driving and many drivers come within a hundredth of a second of their benchmark time. A barbecue was held Saturday night.

Sunday morning featured a demonstration by John Twist of the famed University Motors of Grand Rapids, Mich. Using a 1952 MG TD, Twist gave a two-hour lecture on how to tune and repair the classic British motor.

“There were 30 guys standing around him sucking it all in,” Lea said. “You just don’t get that kind of experience. He’s the engine guru of MG and all the other British cars. That’s why people like these cars. They’re simple to work on and fun to drive.”

Lea said that although old sports cars are not hard to find, they have become a lot more expensive. He said when an Austin-Healey 3000 sold at auction for $143,100 a year ago, every other Healey immediately went up $10,000 in value. Lea owns a 1962 Austin-Healey 3000 BT 7.

Lea said British cars are very popular with Americans because many of them, both men and women, owned English sports cars when they were younger or in college.

“A lot of owners have had their families and their lives and have now got to the point when they can have one of those cars again,” Lea said. “There’s a real pride of ownership, a real love for these cars.”

wgriffin@bangordailynews.net

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