When AONE ran its first tour through the Berkshires, on the first weekend of November 2003, we called the event the "Last-Minute Indian Summer Sortie." "Last Minute" was because we had decided at the last minute to run an extemporaneous tour after seeing a very positive weather forecast for the upcoming weekend. "Indian Summer" was because a temperature of 70 degrees on November 1 is the very definition of Indian Summer. That first tour included nine cars, and we enjoyed a spirited drive over the kinds of traffic-free country roads for which an Alfa is the ideal form of locomotion.
In the many years since the inaugural tour, the name of the Sortie has dropped the "Last-Minute"; popular demand obliged us to pick a date six months prior (in truth one member would book his room in a local bed and breakfast for the weekend of the Sortie the preceding February in order to be sure he could reserve his preferred room!). "Indian Summer" got dropped, too, when the Sortie took place on some years in mid-September.
Unfortunately, the perfect weather of the inaugural tour has not always shown up, making another reason why "Indian Summer" would not be appropriate. After sixteen years of Sorties, perfect weather each time would be expecting too much.
The 2019 running of the Sortie fell early: on Saturday, September 14. For several days, the weather forecast leading up to that Saturday looked less than optimal but not catastrophic, with up to a 40% chance of showers predicted for at least part of the day. The decision was made, nevertheless, to run, the thinking being that a 40% chance of showers should mean a 60% chance of no showers, which seemed decent odds.
So club members met under a gray sky at the usual place, the Fillin' Station in South Deerfield, Mass., just off I-91. Some members arrived early enough to enjoy breakfast at the Fillin's Station's diner. Others arrived in time to fill their cars' gas tanks and to spend a few minutes admiring each others' vehicles and engaging in chitchat.
This year, all of the cars were Alfas, ranging in age from Mike Hollinger's 1967 GT Sprint, Tom Freiberger's 1971 Montreal, Fred Frey's and Beverley Fisher's 1972 Giulia Super (with its canine co-pilot), Giorgio Kradjian's 1974 GTV (with a very game co-pilot, Giorgio's daughter Talia), tour organizers Peter Walker's and Meg Anderson's 1977 Spider, a trio of mid-1980s Spiders (Paul Ripley's, the Donovans', and the Rowntrees'), and Rob Rizzo's 1986 GTV6, to a significant handful of 21st-century Alfas: the 2017 and 2018 Giulias of Dave and Vi Pratt, Greg and Andrea Stidsen, and Chris Lareau, and the 2018 Stelvio of Derek Whitaker. Joining the group only for the first half hour was Ken Shapiro in his 1973 Spider. Ken was not an AROC member in 2003, and he famously happened upon the inaugural Sortie, when the group had stopped for a photo op a few miles from his house. His surprise, seeing seven Alfas, a Fiat, and a Ferrari parked by the road so close to his own home can be imagined. Of course he dropped everything, raced home to get his own Alfa, and joined the rest of that tour — and several more since!
After breakfasting and filling up, at 11 AM, we all hopped in to our vehicles and headed out on the road. While the sky remained overcast, there was no precipitation and the roads were dry. However, only one Spider opted for toplessness. Not for long, though!
The tour started on route 116, the legendary sports car road from South Deerfield to South Ashfield, New England's answer to the deep south's Tail of the Dragon. Veterans of the Sortie (or habitual readers with good memories of the Sortie write-ups) will remember that in 2016, on exactly the same road, while leaving the town of Conway (mid-way on route 116 to South Ashfield), as we came around a 90-degree bend in the road, the heavens suddenly opened up in a fashion worthy of Noah and his ark. That time all the Spiders were topless, and the drivers of 105/115 Spiders demonstrated how rapidly the brilliantly-designed top mechanism on these cars works, while three other drivers struggled with tops worthy of designs once associated with British Leyland.
This year, only the lead car of Peter and Meg was running top down, and wouldn't you know it, as our group of cars rounded exactly the same corner, a heavy downpour started, as if on schedule. But since the forecast was for "showers," and since there is a theory (verified during a downpour on the Mass. Turnpike after a vintage racing day at Thompson) that if a convertible keeps moving above 40 mph, the rain flies over and around the cockpit, Peter and Meg elected to press on regardless. While it was quite possible to maintain speeds above 40 mph, the theory does not take into account separate mini-showers from overhanging, leafy branches that apparently are exempt from the aerodynamics (or is that fluid dynamics?) of the 40-mph open-car theory. Peter and Meg arrived at the South Ashfield end of route 116, screeched to a stop, and erected their top as quickly as they could. While waiting for the remainder of the group to catch up, they toweled off themselves and their car's interior and put the windshield defroster on the highest setting to clear the mist that had, in the process, accumulated inside the windows. The rain and the drizzle continued the rest of the day, and all tops remained erected.
After this mishap, the tour continued on to some back roads that eventually led to Berkshire East (the small ski resort on the Deerfield River opposite the town of Charlemont; we have often used its large parking lot for a photo op and its indoor facilities for a different kind of opportunity). After this, the group drove across the river and went north up another series of country back roads through the towns of Rowe and Heath, eventually joining route 8A, which leads into Vermont and joins route 112 just north of the state line.
We did not stay long in Vermont, as we headed south on 112, back to the Massachusetts town of Colrain in search of more traffic-free country back roads. On the south side of Colrain, the road winds up hill for about a mile. In the middle of a curve half-way up that hill, an earlier vehicle passing by had dropped onto the road a piece of firewood about the size of a full-size paper shopping bag (several drivers confused it for a shopping bag). The log was positioned just so that there was not enough room to pass it to the right. There was enough room to pass it on the left, but not without swerving partly into the oncoming lane. Given how little traffic there was, swerving into the left lane was not a problem for all but one of our group. Unfortunately, though, Rob Rizzo came upon the log at exactly the same moment as an oncoming vehicle. Rob therefore had no choice but to drive over the log. But the log was too large for the clearance of his GTV6; the log wedged itself under the exhaust, causing a loud exhaust leak and the loosening of a wire to a sensor in the fuel injection system, which disabled the car. Fortunately, Rob and others were able to carry out a roadside fix, and Rob was able to drive on to the lunch venue (and afterwards drive home to Long Island, NY).
The rest of the group turned off the road out of Colrain onto another series of country back roads. The tour route was supposed to follow River Road for several miles, but the challenge was that at several intersections River Road did not continue straight but turned or forked. And the tour organizer had a "senior moment" at one of those intersections and missed one of the turns to stay on River Road. This became clear when the Walker and Anderson Spider reached a force field of dirt roads that were obviously not meant to be part of the tour route. Peter and Meg and the cars immediately behind had to backtrack, doing so until they met the middle group of cars about to take the correct turn at the missed intersection. This group was led by Fred Frey and Beverley Fisher in their Giulia Super. Fred had received the tour route in advance and entered it into his GPS, which enabled him to follow the tour without missing a turn.
These two groups, reunited, continued on, following more country back roads to the outskirts of Guilford, Vermont. At this point, it was clear that the tour was taking too long and that there was a real danger of reaching the lunch venue after the kitchen's 2:30 closing. The two reunited groups stopped and conferred; this was when most of us (thanks to a cell phone voicemail message) first gained an inkling of Rob's misadventure with the errant mid-curve log. A decision emerged from the conference to cut the tour short and to take the quickest route to our reserved lunch tables at the Ashfield Lake House (where previous Sorties have concluded). A quick cell phone call was placed to the Lake House to apprise them of the situation and of our estimated time of arrival. The restaurant assured us that we would still be served lunch; we headed for the closest entrance ramp to I-91, which took us to Route 2, and then to Shelburne Falls, Buckland, and Ashfield (rather than continuing on the country back roads that had been planned for the concluding section of the tour).
While we headed west on Route 2, we noticed more classic Corvairs (as if there is any other kind of Corvair, now, than a classic one) driving in the opposite direction than most people have seen on the same road in a long time (the Beatles were probably still together, maybe even still touring, the last time). On Route 2, between Greenfield and Shelburne Falls, is the Corvair equivalent of Alifisti's Centerline: Clark's Corvair Parts, which was hosting a Corvair gathering the same day as our tour (it turns out that the Bay State Corvairs club was holding its 2019 biennial fall classic. We were reassured by the knowledge that AONE was not the only car club holding an outdoor event on what was turning out to be a 100% rainy day (not a 40% chance of showers, 60% chance of no showers kind of day). A few of our hardy group found themselves reliving some of their earliest automotive memories as the stream of Corvairs passed us in the opposite direction. (Hopefully all of those Corvair owners were equally excited to see our Alfas heading by them!)
Finally, we did reach the Lake House, where we were pleased to find that the participants we had lost, namely the Rowntrees and Rob, had already arrived. What with the planned defections (Ken Shapiro, who had peeled off much earlier to go to work; the Donovans, who left us after the errant log in order to return home for a late-afternoon event; and Tom Freiberger, who outside Guilford was but a stone's throw from his own house), all hands were now accounted for. We therefore happily entered the restaurant and enjoyed our well-earned late lunch.
One of the ironies of the 2019 Sortie was that, while the weather was far from ideal, the turnout of 14 cars was among the highest ever. The previous year, however, only five cars were able to make the Sortie, but the weather that year was perfect. To add insult to injury, the area experienced perfect weather on both the Friday before and the Sunday after the Saturday of the 2019 Sortie. Sortie organizer Peter Walker's missing a turn in his own tour route, only realizing his mistake when the pavement turned to dirt, was a reminder that in 2018 the tour group also found itself on a road whose pavement suddenly turned to dirt, and there, too, Peter thought he had made a wrong turn. But that time, there was no missed turn; the dirt was the result of the pavement having been torn up since Peter had reconnoitered a few weeks prior in order to prepare for a complete repaving.
Each year, the Sortie is an adventure. We always alternate old and new roads, so that every year the route is different. Some years the stars align: the weather is sunny, the roads are dry, rolling chicanes stay in their parking spaces, and we romp around on perfect sports car roads and conclude with lunch overlooking a lake and/or Berkshire hills. Other years there are mishaps, such as unexpected bad weather, a wrong turn taken by part of the group, or a mechanical mishap (the worst in past years being the failure of a fuel pump fitting on John DeWaele's Spider and the seizure of the just-rebuilt motor in Rich Rumelt's Spider). But the opportunity to drive Alfas on scenic, traffic-free sports-car roads is worth the risk of such mishaps. Our Alfas were designed and built to be driven on these kinds of roads. It is opportunities like the Sortie that make us keep our love affairs with our Alfas and that hopefully will keep AONE members returning for the next running of the Sortie.
Participating Cars (all Alfas) and their occupants, in order of the cars' ages:
Mike Hollinger, 1967 Sprint GT
(Click on the thumbnails below for a larger view, and then