Navigating A Classic Ride

Navigating A Classic Ride

A white MGBGT sports car named "Brigitte" is Ruth Arnold's primary source of transportation. Built midway through 1974, the English-made car, which is named for French actress Brigitte Bardot, is technically a 1974.5 model.

"I've had it for 30 years," said Arnold. "They're quite rare."

Brigitte was one of a parking lot full of collectible cars at Burke Lake Park last Saturday, for the 42nd Annual Braille Rallye. The event pairs car owners from the Washington, D.C., Centre MG Car Club and members of the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind in a road rally.

The motorists and their visually impaired passengers from the Lighthouse navigate a 30-mile course around the Fairfax Station-Clifton area, following clues, checking in at road stops and enjoying the summer day.

Although MG owners made up the majority of drivers, members of a nearby Austin-Healy club were invited as well. The differences in vehicles spurred some discussions under the hood, and onlookers delved into their own bag of MG technical trivia that was derived over the years of caring for their cars.

The 1974.5 status that Arnold attaches to her car, for instance, means that car was built with a combination of 1974 parts and 1975 parts, she claimed. Arnold used to live in Fairfax Station but recently moved to Old Town Alexandria to cut down her commute to her job at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. Her car doesn't have the cup holders, built in trash cans and other luxuries that a modern car has, so Arnold makes exceptions. Sometimes it just stalls out on the road.

"There's somewhat of a challenge when things go wrong. She's 30 years old," Arnold said.

Joan Dallas drives a 1966 Morris, a British car from a company that merged with Austin-Healy to become BMC. Although the Morris is not an MG, Dallas holds the MG club chair position.

"Mine was made in Comley in Oxfordshire. That was where the main plant was," she said.

Dallas admitted the car, which resembles a "Woody" of 1950s California surfing fame, sits in the garage a lot.

"It's a fair-weather car," she said.

Fairfax resident Ron Gerhardt bought his 1957 MGA (A and B are different MG models) 45 years ago and drove it regularly for years before it found a home in his garage. It was resurrected after he retired but hasn't come back from the shop yet. "When kids were in college, it sat in the garage. Priorities," said Gerhardt, who was a race official for Saturday's event.

Gerhardt's MGA was supposed to be ready in the spring, but for one reason or another, it's still in the shop.

"They're doing a frame-up restoration. They go down to the frame," he said. "I can't wait. It was supposed to be done in April. I waited 10 years, I can wait longer."

THE LOCAL Austin-Healy club president Jack White was invited with fellow Austin club members Fred McConville and Dick Williams to the Rallye. Some Austin-Healys resemble MGs and are only distinguishable to outsiders by the nameplate on front.

"We hang out together all the time," White said of the clubs.

The cars are similar "except we're faster, more reliable and won't stall out in the rain," Williams said.

The cars left the lot, one by one, with recorded times. Those times were updated at each checkpoint. The visually impaired navigators ride in the passenger seat, which is on the right or left depending on the car, read the clues in Braille, and help navigate the driver. The winner was announced at the picnic following the rally. Melissa Thompson, spokesperson for Columbia, has been to the Rallye several times.

"Everyone always likes older cars, it's an experience to do something different," she said.