“Vauxhalls were built for the wealthy to take them grouse-hunting in Scotland. So these dirt roads are what it was built for.” That was Peter Stevens’ first comment as four of piled into Miles Collier’s 1927 Vauxhall Type OE 30/98 Velox.
Peter knows a thing or two about cars; his portfolio as a designer includes being responsible for the interior and exterior of the McLaren F1. I was visiting Miles, a long-time collector and SCM contributor, in Montana. Two years ago, when I was last in Montana, he had offered me a ride in the Vauxhall, but it had lost oil pressure before I had my chance.
After a minor refurbishment of the engine at his facility in Naples, FL, the Vauxhall was ready – and so I was I.
This particular car has been a hot-rod since the 1940s, when Colonel George Felton drove it at Watkins Glen, coming in 4th overall.
We set off across the Montana countryside, with Miles behind the wheel, me beside him, and Peter Stevens and Porsche enthusiast Bud Risser in the back seat.
The 4.2-liter pushrod engine pulled smoothly and strongly. Miles noted that the most difficult part of driving the car was the 4-speed crashbox, which required a deft touch both up and down shifting.
“A quick double-tap on the clutch pedal really seems to help with the upshifts,” he said.
As we drove along, we talked about the art of mastering ancient machines. “The Vauxhall rewards you when you operate it properly, and lets you know instantly when you haven’t,” said Miles.
We were cruising between 30 and 40 mph when a pickup truck going the opposite direction passed us. I wondered what the cowboy-hat-wearing driver thought as he saw this 86-year-old, aluminum-clad bullet go by, with four guys in it, all chattering away and wearing smiles as big as the Montana sky.
The Vauxhall was ideally suited to the smooth dirt roads. Miles remarked that when this car was built, most of the roads were similar to these.
I noted that to experience our old cars fully, we need to seek out environments where they can be properly exercised. We have events like the California Mille and the Colorado Grand in the United States, and the Tour Auto and Modena Cento Ore in Europe.
I think the future of old cars is tied to finding the right roads to take them on — preferably with a few buddies along, so you are sharing the twisty two-lane roads with fellow enthusiasts.
Each time behind the wheel is taking a trip back in time, to when cars and roads were just different.
Too soon our time with the Vauxhall was over. We had spent 45 minutes driving through the wheat fields. While we were motoring along, we imagined ourselves as four well-to-do Englishmen, taking advantage of a sunny afternoon day to exercise a wonderful sports car on the roads it was built for.