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John Twistís Summer MG Party in Grand Rapids, Michigan is legendary. Adding to the legend for the last six years is the MG Grand Lake Tour that has been run as the kickoff to the whole weekend. Perhaps Tour is a rather subtle term for it. Itsí alternate handle of University Motors Ltd. Endurance Trial is perhaps more accurate. Mike McCloskey wrote an excellent summation of last yearís event. Iíll attempt to do this yearís justice.
The Lake Michigan Endurance Rally was the inspiration of Phil and Dallas Smith of Ohio. In 1993, they convinced John Twist that this would be a worthy activity to add to the already loaded Summer Party agenda. Phil and Dal are MG enthusiasts without equal. They came up with this little challenge as a way to demonstrate that MGs were meant to be and indeed can be driven. And driven hard. Itís a twenty-four hour straight challenge. It can involve flogging the car at highway speeds for long distances. It can involve pushing the car through roads in name only to shave that last tenth of a mile off.
Last yearís winners were the father and son team of Don and Scott Anderson of Woodridge, Illinois. Their win condemned them to being the perpetrators of this yearís rally.
Our arrival in Grand Rapids was early as the rally starts at noon on Thursday. We arrived in a caravan of six MGs from Chicago. Dinner was a festive affair at one of the new microbreweries further down 28th Street, the Big Buck Brewery. The Buck Naked Light was appealing. We started seeing familiar faces show up at the bar.
Noon on Thursday. The challengers converge on the lobby of the Hilton. Eighteen cars! A new record for the event. Three times the six cars that ran the first time five years ago. Don and Scott administer the formalities. Waivers to sign. Drivers licenses to seal in envelopes. Insurance forms to check. We drift out to the car park full of MGs ready to go. There are, of course, numerous MGBs. Midgets. MGCs. A TD. An MGA. There are official car numbers, on a sticker shaped like the Lake to be added to the windscreen. drivers are applying coats of Rain-X to windshields. Deer whistles (be careful not to mount Ďem backwardsóyouíll attract them!) The Andersons set up a long conga line to go for a cruise down nearby I-96 to get a correction factor for everyoneís odometer. Itís a determining factor since the lowest mileage determines the winner.
Back at the hotel, itís the big moment. They hand out the rally instructions and checkpoint list. Itís a long list. There are fourteen possible checkpoints. We are instructed that we only have to visit ten. Uh-oh. Strategy time. Itís not just find the shortest route as in previous years. Itís also which ones to visit and which ones to drop. Thereís a street address and town listed for each stop. Thereís also a picture of Scott at each checkpoint that shows us what to look for. We are to photograph our car and a team member in front of the pictured location. One of the checkpoints is just down 28th Street. The microbrewery where we dined last night. We determine we want to immediately head north so that one will be last as we come back into town. We plot a rough route and determine where we are heading and get into the Midget for the long ride. As we pull up to the parking lot exit, Don is sitting on a chair and instructs us to stop. He sets a match to the fuse of a bottle rocket and launches it to see us off.
We head across I 96 for the routes that will take us north to the first stop we have set our sights on in Gaylord. Thatís curious. The layout of the checkpoints directs us away from the National Forests with their seasonal roads and sand that got us in so much trouble last year. Hmmmmm?
We stop in Cadillac at a Wendyís for a sandwich break. As we sit at a table littered with sandwich wrappers and road maps, Bill suddenly starts re-examining the maps. A revelation! In every other running of this rally, there were checkpoints placed so that there was no way to take the ferry across Lake Michigan and still get all the checkpoints without putting on excessive miles. But this time itís different. There are only four checkpoints north of the ferry terminals in Ludington, MI and Manitowoc, WI. Still leaves the ten we need. And cuts off 400 miles of driving. How could we have missed this before! Those devious rallymasters. Taking our conditioned expectations and making a mockery of them. A call to the ferry terminal determines that we can get to the ferry well before itís next departure. We backtrack to the south again. As we leave Cadillac, we see one of the other Midgets heading northbound as we had been before. Itíll be a couple hour ride to Ludington.
We wind our way through Ludington to the lakefront and the ferry terminal. We pull up and findóno one. Well, either no one else had figured it out and we had it made by 400 miles. Or we had screwed up big time. We had read the official event rules prior to leaving. But we didnít have them with us. But neither of us could recall the ferry being declared out-of-bounds. We were committed one way or the other since there was now not enough time to backtrack again and the added miles would put us way out of the running anyway. Oh well, nothing to do but look forward to embarking on a four hour cruise.
We move our car into the line to wait for the arrival of the ferry. We have a couple hours to kill and end up talking sports cars and about what we are doing to some other folks waiting. Eventually the S.S. Badger comes steaming up. We are waiting in line to board the ship and watch our car waiting to be driven on. The ship unloads and we see several MGs with Minnesota plates drive off. Gotta be heading for Twistís.
Crossing Lake Michigan by ferry is a new experience. We watched the sunset from the bow of the ship and then settled onto chaise lounges and watched a million stars appear. Itís a totally strange experience to be this calm and relaxed in the middle of a rally.
Itís well after midnight when we dock in Manitowoc. The long line of passengers disembarking moves slowly to the exits. once on terra firma, we watch as car after car is driven off. MR BILL3 finally appears and is driven past us. We sprint on down and jump in. Itís finally GO time again. But man, itís weird to think that weíre 12 hours into this already and havenít been to a single checkpoint yet. Itís not a long haul to Chilton, WI and weíre soon there, locate our checkpoint and have our first photograph.
We head back towards the lake front again for our second stop farther south at Port Washington, WI. We get through the construction zones and find our goal but have a small problem. Bill opens the car door and our Polaroid camera that was resting against it, unbeknownst to him, tumbles to the ground. OOOOOPS! We shoot a couple shots that come up blank and quickly improvise Plan B which is to throw print film in a Leica and plan on hitting a 1-Hour photofinisher back in Grand Rapids. Oh well.
We quickly hit the road again and only get a mile or so when disaster number two hits. Bill notices the speedometer isnít reading. Thatís not so bad, but the real problem is that the odometer isnít moving either. We pull off on a little side street and assess the problem. Eventually we find that the cable has unraveled on the gearbox end and there is not much we can do at 3:30 a.m. with no spare cable on hand. Not being able to offer our mileage covered at the end means we are out of the running. Damn.
We are now in touring mode. We head south with just a nice ride ahead of us. In New Holstein, WI, we spot the Chicago Dogs team cars all at pumps in an all night gas station. We keep rolling. We drove through Elkhart Lake and took the Main Street through town to pay homage to the Indy Car Weekend going on. Not many of them in front of Siebkenís at 5 a.m. though.
Dawn steadily lightens as we steadily roll south. Since we now have no need to worry about visiting the checkpoints, itís too bad we canít head straight east across Lake Michigan and go directly to Grand Rapids. We make our way through Chicago easily as itís still very early in the morning and before the traffic jams. No short cutting to save miles, we just cruise along taking the Skyway around to I94 and duplicate the trip we took on Wednesday to get to Grand Rapids initially. Deja vu all over again.
The parking lot of the Hilton has filled up considerably since our departure. We pull back into a sea of MGs and MG enthusiasts. As we slowly make our way in, Don Anderson walks up and welcomes us back. We explain our non-finish due to the cable. But was the ferry option open as we thought? "Nope" said Don. In the official rules put out prior to the event it said that we had to circumnavigate Lake Michigan. So boating across circumvented the circumnavigation which left us with the negative circumstance that we would have lost even if our speedo cable had held out. Oh well.
That evening, we gathered again in the corner of the parking lot we had all started from the day before. As we had surmised from the two checkpoints we did get to, all the checkpoints were microbreweries with the exception of the location at 6490 East Fulton in Ada, Michigan, which is well known to many MGers as the location of John Twistís shop. The Andersons organized a dinner of barbecued beef and beer. Appropriately enough, catered by the Big Buck Brewery down the street.
Don got up and announced the winners to the large crowd of competitors. Dan Kirby of Virginia and Ed Fleming of Detroit repeated their 1995 win. Curt Bork of Illinois and Waylon Hunsucker of Indiana came in second. The Team prize was taken by Team FokoweeóRick Ingram of Illinois, Drew Hastings of Ontario, and Jai Deagan and Rick Verhey of Michigan. But if we could DNF twice and still have as great a time as we didóI just donít think this event has any losers.NAMGBR