Feeling Rather British and Bondish Behind the Wheel

“Bond. James Bond.”

If you’re a guy, admit it, you’ve said that in those moments of feeling rakish and British and so damn cool.

And trust me, there’s no moment more appropriate or cooler than saying it while sitting behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. Which I didn’t have– but a gorgeous little silver 1974 MG GT worked just fine when I uttered 007’s most famous line.

I was lucky enough to be in the Hidden Highway Hundred, a classic car rally that was part of the British Motor Car Festival. The festival ran three days, June 9-11 in Bristol, and the rally was held the day before it began, featuring 100 miles of cruising through Newport and South County on a self-guided tour. There were about 35 cars in this year’s group; I didn’t see any Aston Martins but there were MGs galore, as well as a gorgeous Lotus, a few incredible Jaguars and makes I’ve never heard of, such as Daimler & Lanchester.

Every car had a “navigator,” and that was me, paired with Dirk Smith, a writer from New Hampshire with his silver MG. It looked tiny from the outside but was surprisingly roomy once inside; I’m six-feet tall, Smith a couple inches taller, and we had leg and head room to spare.

We were handed “turn by turn” directions to guide us, but there weren’t always helpful; Rhode Island roads often don’t come with signs, but as a native, I didn’t get us terribly lost. And in this part of the state, that’s pretty hard to do; you either run into the ocean or Connecticut, turn around and try again.

The best part was just driving the state’s beautiful winding roads in a car made for it. Smith said smaller vehicles like this are perfect for hugging tight turns and corners, and he easily guided us around many. The best part, for me anyway, was finding parts of a state I thought I knew so well that I’d never seen. That includes the beautiful St. Columba’s Chapel in Middletown, with its first cornerstone laid in 1884, and adjacent cemetery, the entire woodsy area looking very much like the English countryside.

Another find: Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown, a stunningly beautiful site with some of the best ocean views I’d never seen before, and marvelous wide-open hiking trails.

Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge

We eventually made our way several meandering hours later to Fort Adams in Newport, for a boxed lunch on the lawn of the Eisenhower house, where all the car enthusiasts gathered to talk about their hobby. Smith was very articulate about his, saying many people buy cars and fix them up just enough to run, but not him. He admits he’s the obsessive sort by pointing out a tiny rattle in his car that was driving him nuts that I could barely hear.

“I like to keep fixing things until there’s nothing left to fix,” he said, “and having a dependable, fun toy.”

He also loves the camaraderie of the group and how they get their classic vehicles out into the world rather than store them to admire, saying “We figure it’s better to enjoy our cars than just worship them.”

He let me enjoy his by allowing me to drive us from Newport back to our starting point in Bristol. I hadn’t driven a standard in ages, but it came back to me easily.

The author, feeling like James Bond

Which, of course, forced me to say “Bond. James Bond,” because I was feeling British and rakish and so damn cool.

 

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