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Classics tour Ohio countryside prior to Glenmoor Gathering

Concours d'elegance events offer enthusiasts an opportunity to celebrate classic automotive design and culture, but they are often missing one crucial element: motion. The rolling sculptures on display never seem to do much rolling during a concours, save for a quick trip across the judging stand if the owner is lucky enough to win an award.

Fortunately, some collectors understand that the grassy lawn of a country club is not a car's natural habitat. These men and women live by the run what you brung spirit familiar to the local quarter-mile strip, only they bring Duesenbergs instead of dragsters. Tours, cruises and rallies are rewarding experiences for those brave enough to expose their prized autos to the ravages of the open road—and they reveal an unpretentious side of collecting that isn't always visible on the concours field.

The countryside tour that takes place the day before the annual Glenmoor Gathering of Significant Automobiles is one of these events. This year, roughly 90 participants piled into 32 cars for the 90-mile voyage through the rolling hills surrounding Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 15. Vehicles included a 1928 Cunningham V-5 phaeton, seven sporty Allards, a 1932 Stutz Bearcat, a 1951 Nash Healey and a 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III saloon.

My ride for the tour was a black 1938 Packard Darrin convertible owned by collector David Johnson. Johnson owns a total of eight cars, all of them convertibles, and he chose the Darrin for the event because it was the subject of a recent restoration. The man who carried out that restoration, Gene Tareshawty, was also in attendance. He drove his own silver 1940 Packard Darrin.

Following an early 8 a.m. meeting at the Glenmoor Country Club, we set off into the picture-perfect late summer morning with relatively little fanfare. The road quickly carried us out of the suburbs and into Amish country, where horse-drawn buggies were a frequent sight.

A brief coffee stop, and then a break for lunch, provided a chance to mingle and share stories—and if you ask a car owner about his or her car, you're sure to get an earful. Take the tale Charles Letts Jr. told about his 1929 Duesenberg J phaeton.

Captivated by a picture he saw of a Duesenberg engine in the early 1950s, Letts scoured classified ads for an example to call his own. Eventually, he located one on the East Coast. He purchased it for something less than the owner's $4,500 asking price, and then drove it all the way back to Detroit—stopping every 60 miles to power up the battery, which a faulty generator would not recharge.

After lunch, we took the top down on the Darrin to enjoy a bit of open-air touring. Johnson took quite a risk for the last leg of the journey: He offered to let me drive. I couldn't say no, and as I climbed into the driver's seat, any nervousness I harbored evaporated. There's something about an ocean liner-sized steering wheel that inspires confidence.

I'm not a stranger to old cars, but the Darrin was hands-down the most elegant classic I've driven. The biggest challenge was learning to let the vehicle drive itself. The Darrin almost had a mind of its own. It didn't move down the road in the near-autonomous way that some modern cars do, of course. Rather, it seemed to work with the driver, anticipating input in a way that is hard to describe.

Ease off the clutch, for example, and the car almost seemed to grab the next gear; at speed, overdrive kicked in with a Swiss watch-like “click.” Stunning as it is in static display, the well-engineered Darrin—and the cars that joined it on the tour—was in its element on the road.

And that's the trouble with tours. The touring experience is perhaps the best way to build and maintain enthusiasm for classic cars; one can't help but be captivated by the sight of dozens of stunning vehicles traveling down the road at speed.

Yet logistics dictate that tours remain relatively private events accessible only to car owners, their guests and journalists who manage to weasel their way into someone's passenger seat. Encouraging the public to follow along could turn a leisurely drive through the country into a grindingly slow parade.

Still, there's a chance that the tour left a lasting impression on those who happened to see it passing by. I remember, in particular, a group of young boys beaming and waving excitedly at the line of classics driving through their town.

If one of those boys decides to buy a classic down the road, I'm sure he'll cite his fleeting glimpse of the Packards, Cadillacs and Lincolns that passed by his house one late summer morning as a moment that sparked a lifelong passion.

This article was originally published on AutoWeek.com. Click here for the original article.

Click here for the AutoWeek.com article on the Glenmoor Gathering.

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