[Editor’s note: This story comes to us from Dr. Gregory Davis, a dentist and 1948 Hudson Commodore owner from Maineville, Ohio. The 2018 Great American Mountain Rally Revival was the first time-speed-distance rally entered by Greg and his wife (and navigator) Lynn.]
Just a short year ago, I had never heard of the Great American Mountain Rally (GAMR). But then I stumbled onto an article detailing a proposed 2018 “revival” running of the GAMR. Automotive rally teams from around the world were invited to gather in North Salem, New York, for the October 12-14, 2018, Great American Mountain Rally Revival (GAMRR). The European-style endurance run would challenge drivers and navigators across three days and 700 miles of New England’s mountain roads.
The flag dropped on the very first GAMR on Thanksgiving Day of 1953 and the rally continued every November through 1957. Described in the April 1956 issue of Auto Age as “America’s longest, toughest, and coldest rallye,” the races attracted driving teams from across America, Europe and Scandinavia. Conducted the weekend of American Thanksgiving, the rally typically featured challenging snowy weather through New York’s Adirondack, New Hampshire’s White, and Vermont’s Green Mountains. Tire chains were an absolute must!
My heart was captured from that first reading about the GAMRR! The revival organizers invited cars from three classes. “Original” cars were models from 1957 or earlier. These would be cars that actually would have existed during the years the original GAMR was run. “Classic” cars would be cars ranging from 1958-1980. Post-1980 “Modern” cars were also encouraged to enter. The only navigation equipment allowed would be things that had been invented and available prior to 1957.
Early in the summer of 2018 I connected with my Studebaker-crazed friend Danny Taylor at a birthday party in Indianapolis. Danny told me about his brother-in-law Jeff Givens, out of Leavenworth, Kansas, who planned to enter his 1959 Triumph TR-3 in a New England road rally. Danny was going to serve as his navigator. “The GAMRR?” I asked. “Yes!” he replied incredulously.
That’s all it took. My decision was cemented! Neither Lynn nor I had done anything like this before but as soon as registration was open we signed up our trusty 1948 Hudson Commodore for inclusion in the rally! It was official! We were going to be novice GAMRR participants!
The weekend prior to our scheduled departure we took the Hudson our for a shake-down trial run. Less than an hour out from home a problem surfaced with the car’s electrical system. The “AMP” warning light jumped to life on the car’s dashboard telling me that the car’s battery was not being properly fed. Assuming the problem was the car’s generator, I pulled out my spare and swapped them out. Problem solved. The light went out!
And so it was that early on the morning of Wednesday, October 10, we set out on our adventure! Our target that day was Norwich, New York. We got to Cleveland without incident, but when we got off the interstate for lunch our hearts dropped as the bright red “AMP” light came back to life.
After lunch I pulled out my spare voltage regulator and once again made a parts swap. Problem solved! The light was out again and off we went. Just west of Erie, Pennsylvania, that dreaded light came to life again. It was demoralizing. Our rally dreams were seemingly going up in 70-year old car smoke. We decided to spend the night in Erie, hoping that in a city that size we just might find a shop that specialized in automotive electronics. Over dinner we looked online and there they were, Erie Batteries, Alternators & Starters, LLC.
The next morning we were in their parking lot at 7:15 a.m. They were already open. Without hesitation Charley invited me to pull the nose of the Hudson inside for inspection.
Three hours later Charley, Troy, and their team had taken our plans off of life support and put us back on the road, headed east for the Friday launch of the rally.
The Hudson behaved beautifully across the rainy 450 miles between Erie and Danbury, Connecticut. We settled into the Danbury Crowne Plaza eagerly awaiting the next morning’s start of the GAMRR.
The rain clouds cleared with the passage of night, and we awoke on Friday, October 12, to somewhat overcast, but dry skies.
By 7:45 a.m. we has made the short jaunt west, across the state line from Connecticut into New York, where we found the Salem Golf Club. It was here the GAMRR participants had been instructed to meet.
We went inside to warm up and meet the rally participants. It was here where we learned for the first time that there were 13 vehicles entered in the rally.
Our Hudson was one of just two entries from the pre-1958 “Original” class. In that sense, (SPOILER ALERT) the mystery of exactly where we would finish within this rally of highly diverse vehicles quickly came to a close. The other “Original” car, a 1937 Cadillac, was owned and driven by Jim Gately. Jim, we learned, is not only a nice guy, but also a highly accomplished rally driver. Indeed Jim and his Cadillac were fresh off a late summer first place finish in the Alpine Trial, a rally conducted in the French Alps. Furthermore, Jim’s navigator was to be Fred Gallagher, a former world rally co-champion. In short, Lynn and I didn’t stand a chance against these guys. Before we ever left the Salem Golf Club parking lot we knew we were going to finish second in the “Original” class!
The next three hours flew by. Pick up materials, apply rally decals to car doors, apply rally plates to front and back of car, attend rally school, look ahead through the Day 1 route instructions, etc. But by 10:45 folks were headed to their cars to get lined up for the start of the 2018 Great American Mountain Rally Revival.
Cars were scheduled to go off at 11:00 a.m. plus their car number in minutes. As car #3 the Hudson was scheduled to depart at 11:03 a.m.! As we sat in line watching the final minutes elapse, I found myself wondering if our Hudson was the first to ever compete in the GAMR. Were there others that had run in the original 1953-’57 rallies? Either way, I felt proud that Lynn and I had embraced that opportunity to put Hudson in the 2018 lineup.
Some of you will know these things but others of you will be rally rookies as Lynn and I had been. The first thing out of the chute on a rally is to conduct an odometer check. The Route Instructions give you a specific starting point and end point over which to track your odometer reading. You divide your odometer reading by the odometer reading of the vehicle used to set out the route to create a correction factor that must be used for all odometer readings throughout the remainder of the day’s instructions. In our case, the Hudson odometer read a couple of tenths of a mile higher than the rally odometer.
It is my understanding that not all rallies are conducted in the same fashion. In the case of the GAMRR, there were considerable portions of the route instructions for which our primary goal was to not get lost. There were other times however, what were called “Regularity” sections during which participants were led to green “Start Regularity Section” signs.
Our instructions were to stop at the green sign and wait until our “time of day” clock hit “double zeros.” For example, if you pulled up to the green sign and your clock read “11:34.18,” you would remain at the green start sign until your clock got to “11:35.00.” At that point the navigator starts a stop watch while the driver sets out following the prescribed course at a prescribed average speed. Within some of the regularity sections the average speed remained unchanged throughout the section. Within other regularity sections the route instructions would tell us to change the average speed after “x” number of minutes and seconds had elapsed.
We never knew where the end of each regularity section would arrive. We simply had to watch the side of the road for a red “End Regularity Section” sign as well as a rally official with his stop watch. The rally official would record your arrival time and let you know what the perfect time would have been for the Regularity Section you had just completed if you had conducted the instructions in an ideal fashion. The number of minutes and seconds you were either over or under ideal were counted as a penalty against you. The lower your second count, the better!
The Day 1 route took us quickly back across the New York border into Connecticut. We snaked up the western border of Connecticut, ultimately crossing into Massachusetts just north of Mount Pisgah. We followed Route 8 north toward Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and then cut off to the northeast on Route 8A toward and across the Vermont border.
In all we had four Regularity Sections within our Day 1 travels. Lynn and I amassed a total of 2:09 penalty. We were firmly within the top third of performers! Not bad for a couple of rookies! But just for a reality check, our friends Jim Gately and Fred Gallagher in the Cadillac had a Day 1 penalty total of just 23 seconds!
The Day 1 journey entailed approximately 236 miles and wrapped up at the Grand Summit Hotel at Mount Snow, Vermont.
That evening at dinner, Steve McKelvie, the rally master told the story of a call he had received from a young man, Jeff Weeks. Jeff spoke of a visit to an antique shop and finding an old box of photo prints and film negatives. The images all seemed to feature old cars. The box was labeled “GAMR.”
Jeff purchased the box and took it home. With a Google search the rich history of the Great American Mountain Rally unfolded before his eyes. With a little research he was able to determine that the prints were all from action at the 1955 GAMR. He had printed copies from several of the negatives and mailed them to Steve to bring along for sharing at our event. Steve had them in binders at a table against the wall. After dinner I went up to take a peek.
You can only imagine how excited I was when I stumbled onto two pages within the album depicting a man struggling to get his 1954 Hudson Hornet up one of the snowy slopes. A tiny VW Beetle came up from behind and ultimately passed the big Hornet. Nonetheless, I then knew that Lynn and I were not the first. Hudson had been there at least once before us. We weren’t plowing new ground. We were carrying on a tradition!
The Driver’s meeting call was for 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 13. Our route instructions for Day 2 were distributed. Rally Master Steve McKelvie announced that Day 2 would feature seven timed Regularity Sections. At a tad over 300 miles it was to be the longest of the rally’s three days. Unlike Day 1, there would be a break in Lincoln, New Hampshire, around lunch time with a start time of 2:00 p.m. plus car number after lunch. The morning’s travel schedule should leave us with roughly an hour and a half in Lincoln for unstructured time outside the cars.
By Day 2 of the rally it became apparent that we had settled into somewhat of an alternating weather pattern. Our Wednesday trip from home in Maineville, Ohio, to Erie, Pennsylvania, occurred in dry, beautiful weather. Our Thursday trip from Erie to Danbury, Connecticut, was largely a dreary, drizzly, rainy day. Friday’s first day of the rally had been dry and largely beautiful. Saturday’s second day once again was chilly, drizzly and at times, flat out rainy. Nonetheless, we were sent out into the mountains of New England during the single most vividly beautiful time of year. Even on a rainy day the autumn colors simply commanded our eyes!
From our Mount Snow launch point we set out to the north along Route 100. On two occasions we missed turns and were momentarily lost from our route instruction sheet, but no big deal. We were not on timed Regularity Sections and we had buffer time scheduled into our Lincoln, New Hampshire, lunch break. Later VT Route 100A and US Route 4 took us directly east. Just before we crossed into New Hampshire our Route Instructions called for us to cross “Over Quechee Gorge.” Well, as soon as we entered the bridge that crosses the gorge we both realized we had stumbled onto something very special.
Yes, it was raining. Yes, we were in the middle of a road rally. But we had the buffer time built into the schedule in Lincoln. So I found a place to park the Hudson and walked back to get some pictures of “Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon.” the Quechee Gorge. Some 13,000 years ago, during the Ice Age, Quechee, like the majority of our continent, was covered by a glacier. As the glacier receded, the melting waters slowly and steadily cut away the bedrock ridge that has become Vermont’s most spectacular natural wonder. So there I stood with my umbrella in the rain, 168 feet above the Ottaquechee River taking in the glory of God’s creation with my Nikon. And yes, I was in the middle of a road rally. What do you expect? Do you expect common sense from a rookie? And look at that picture! Aren’t you glad I stopped?
Not long after we crossed into New Hampshire, we encountered our third timed Regularity Section of the day.
We got off to a fine start, but on the downhill, second-half of the section, we got stuck in behind a pickup truck that was crawling along at 20 MPH in the middle of my prescribed 30 MPH segment! Our time for the section was miserably slow! It was out of our control but quite frustrating.
Shortly after that experience, we got miserably lost. We simply could not find the called for turn off onto Route 49 east. We drove back and forth multiple times. We talked to a random lady at a gas station. We consulted our trusty 1955 Mobil Gas map we had been given on Day 1. Finally, after nearly an hour’s lapse, we had found a round-about path of our own onto Route 49 and back onto our route instruction sheet. By now however, our errors, combined with our leisurely pace on the non-timed sections of the day’s drive, were catching up with us. There was a good chance we would not even get to Lincoln by 2:00 p.m., let alone have time for a nice lunch break.
We entered the fourth timed Regularity Section along an uphill, pothole-filled forestry path called “Tripoli Road.” We may as well have been with the U.S. Marines on the bomb-pocked “shores of Tripoli.” It was a burden to safely come anywhere close to the prescribed 20 MPH on the Tripoli Road ascent. The rally official at the end of the session seemed to have given up hope that we would ever show up. He reminded us in no uncertain terms, that we were late and needed to make up time.
It was 2:05 p.m. as we rolled into the Lincoln city limits. In spite of our tardy arrival we simply had to make a bathroom and gasoline stop. We didn’t have time for lunch but the Hudson was hungry for fuel. As we made a bee-line toward the closest fuel station we passed Car 8, Christopher and Hans in their 1973 Mercedes Benz 450SLC. It was the first of our rally brethren that we had seen in hours. Clearly, they too were running late.
Full of fuel we jumped immediately back onto the route instruction sheet. We knew we were behind. We started and completed the fifth timed Regularity Section without incident.
We turned right off of Route 302 west onto Boltonville Road and found the green sign for the launch of the day’s sixth Regularity Section. Rolling along at the prescribed average speed of 45 MPH, I followed a 90 degree curve in Boltonville Rd. and hustled on. Lynn, my navigator realized immediately that I had screwed up. At the 90 degree curve I was to have continued on straight, onto the gravel covered North Bayley-Hazen Road. I hit the brakes but there was absolutely nowhere in sight for me to make a turn around. I decided immediately to attempt to turn around within the parameters of the roadway, jockeying back-and-forth in small steps until we were headed back in the proper direction. About halfway into my efforts, while attempting to shift from reverse to first gear, I didn’t get the clutch out fast enough and the Hudson’s rear wheels slowly slumped off the roadway and into the soft soil of the adjacent ditch. We were STUCK!
We debated what to do. I called Gary Hamilton, one of the rally-masters but got his voice-message. I left an impassioned plea for assistance. Within five minutes we heard the roar of an engine coming toward us from further up Boltonville Road. Around the corner, off in the distance came Christopher and Hans in Car 8. They too had missed the gravel North Bayley-Hazen Road and were thundering back in an effort to salvage a reasonable score on their Regularity Section timing. Since the Hudson had their path partially blocked they stopped to check in with us. They offered to help push us out but I assured them that it would take more than we could muster to get the hind-end of the Commodore back on pavement. We encouraged them to get back on their way. They told us they would let the rally official know of our plight, and off they roared in the Mercedes.
It was while I was talking to Gary Hamilton’s voice message a second time when a young man in a big Ram pickup pulled up alongside the disabled Hudson. “Anything I can do to help?” he asked. “I’m afraid not, unless you have a rope,” I replied. “Nope, I don’t have a rope (dramatic pause) but I do have a chain!” he responded. Five short minutes later the Hudson was back on terra firma! I was embarrassed that my wallet was deplete of cash. I badly wanted to reward this young Vermonter for his heroism. We both thanked him with the utmost of sincerity. He drove off with one simple instruction. “Pay it forward.” Earlier in the day, during the third Regularity Section, we had been delayed by the pickup truck from hell. But that score was more than made even by our rescue by the pickup truck from heaven!
Even though our “stuck in the ditch” detour had stolen perhaps a grand total of just 20 minutes of our day’s time, we soon discovered that the rally official for that sixth Regularity Section had given up on us and moved on. We later completed the seventh and final Regularity Section only to find that once again our tardiness had sent the official packing. We were destined for maximum penalties for sections six and seven of Day 2’s challenge.
Even in the midst of a rather rough day, there were occasional sites that simply demanded a brief road-side camera break.
As we drove along late that day, Lynn and I reflected on our frustrations. We had been careless with our time. We got lost on multiple occasions. We were delayed by a pokey pickup. I put the car in the ditch, for crying out loud. And yet, for me, in hindsight, I had an absolute blast! We had lived a true rally kind of day, fraught with turmoil and mishaps. I found myself thinking of the 1955 GAMR pictures I had seen the night before of the big Hudson Hornet stuck on the snowy slope. Like Lynn and me, he too had experienced a “no good, very bad day.”
It was nearly dusk as we turned south on VT Route 108 south, through the famous and picturesque Smuggler’s Notch and into the Stowe, Vermont, city limits.
It seemed particularly appropriate that we were destined to stay the night with our Hudson Commodore at Stowe’s Commodore’s Inn.
Nearly everyone had heard of our exploits by the time we arrived at the inn. The story of the Hudson in the ditch was told over and over again to people who wanted it straight from the 3 Car driver’s mouth. We learned from Christopher and Hans that they had come back looking for us, in an effort to assist us during our time of need.
In short, It was a day Lynn and I will never forget. What a gift! What will Day 3 hold in store for us and the rest of the rally teams?
Day 3- It’s a Wrap!
Day 3 of the GAMRR broke with a continuation of our “every other day” weather pattern. Following the rain, drizzle, and clouds of Day 2, we were greeted with dry skies and snappy, crisp temperatures in the mid-30s.
At the Day 3 driver’s meeting the previous day’s results were posted. After our day of mishaps and confusion we ended up with a Day 2 total of 7:07 in penalty time. Our total penalty after two days was 9:16. No, we weren’t the worst, but we were firmly entrenched within the rally’s bottom third. Lynn and I were crying the blues when Lisa Colom, driver of the #2 car 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, spoke up and said, “Ya, but you guys are driving the coolest car here!” She talked about how our Hudson was the first car that caught her eye as she and her husband pulled into the Salem Golf Club on Day 1 of the rally. She said she instantly fell in love with the Hudson. Her warmth and sincere affinity for our car touched my heart. We had helped create a new Hud-nut!
The Hudson rolled out of the Commodore’s Inn parking lot at precisely 8:03 a.m. heading south on VT Route 100. Roughly 25 miles into the journey we turned off to the east on Moretown Mountain Road and quickly passed through a trio of covered bridges near Moretown, Vermont.
Our first timed Regularity Section for Day 3 was our most precise of the entire rally. We were off perfect time by a scant 5 seconds. The second timed Regularity Section brought us a 24 second penalty. Day 3 was off to a pretty good start for a couple of rookies.
We soon turned back toward the west on Lincoln Gap Road where the third Regularity Section commenced. It was here in the fabled Lincoln Gap where some of the most hair-raising tales were generated from the original 1953-1957 rallies. Weather during the 1953 inaugural run of the GAMR was rather mild for late November. It was only here in the Lincoln Gap where drivers encountered snow and had to strap on the tire chains. We found the road was very narrow with an abrupt ascent. Using my lower gears I felt I was able to keep the Commodore rolling along at our prescribed average speeds of either 20 or 25 MPH. It was when we came to the other side of the slope, and an equally aggressive descent, that I got worried. Gravity plays nasty tricks on an object as massive as a 1948 Hudson. Keeping the car restricted to that 25 MPH without overheating those 70 year old drum brakes was a challenge. By the time we met Steve McKelvie, the assigned rally official at the bottom of the mountain, we were smelling hot brake pads and I was standing on the pedal with all of my strength. Even at that we coasted past Steve’s station by about 40 feet. Steve declared that he was “so relieved” to see us. He had been a skeptic that the mighty Hudson would be up to the Lincoln Gap challenges. But we made it! Our penalty was 47 seconds over a rather long run. We felt pretty good about that.
At Ripton we found the famed Ripton General Store (see lead photo) and turned west on VT Route 125. Heading south on VT Route 100 and US Route 4 we came within a couple of miles of crossing our Day 2 route. It was here that we turned off on a narrow, unlabeled, gravel State Forest Service road. The #6 car, a 1968 Porsche 912, turned in right behind us. Our mountain ascent went smoothly once again and the Hudson pulled the slope without any issues. During our descent however, it became clear that Peter and Carl, the Helmetag brothers behind us, were gaining on us. As a rookie, it made me doubt my pace and I picked up the speed a bit to maintain a uniform distance between us and the Porsche. In the end, I should have trusted my own instincts. This was one of the few times that we were too fast on a Regularity Section. We received 1:57 in penalty time.
Soon after that final Regularity Section we turned south on US Route 7, heading south toward the rally’s terminal destination, Bennington, Vermont. It was a relaxing romp of 30 or so miles on level smooth roads. It provided time for participants to reflect on the rally experience. I talked with Lynn about the Hudson’s primary rally limitations. A good rally car needs an odometer that is both precise and “zeroable.” A good rally car would have a speedometer with a steady and accurate needle, or digital readout. The Hudson has neither.
And yes, the Hudson’s old drum brakes and three-speed manual transmission are not ideally suited for such events. But such are the challenges and pleasures of showing up for the event with one of just two old “original” cars. If we rally again with a vintage car we will need to determine how we respond to those challenges.
Rolling into Bennington, Vermont, our target was the headquarters and Sunoco gas station for Hemmings Motor News.
As a service to his car buddies, Ernest Hemmings began putting together a small list of old cars and car parts available for sale back from his Quincy, Illinois, home back in 1954. That initial effort grew into what became a monthly publication that today is the bible for serious automotive hobbyist around the globe. They have been headquartered in Bennington, Vermont, since the late 1960s. Hemmings has been a great supporter of all things automotive across the years and they welcomed our rally team in at the close of Day 3 for our final rally wrap-up ceremony.
Ed Owen, driver of the 10 car 1986 Mercedes Benz 190E talked to me about how impressed he was that the Hudson rolled right along with the 70 MPH traffic along US Route 7. Conversation turned to the Hudson engine, a 308 out of a ’51 Hudson Hornet, and I raised the hood.
Immediately Ed noticed that I had fuel dripping from the fitting between the carburetor and the glass fuel filter bowl. It was dripping down onto the exhaust manifold. Not a good situation and a genuine fire hazard.
Matthew Koops, driver of the #7 car 1974 Dodge Monaco police cruiser, came to my rescue. Matthew makes a living restoring automobiles and came equipped with a more exhaustive tool kit than I had. He had a roll of Teflon tape that I was able to use on the threaded fitting into the side of the carburetor to eliminate the fuel leak.
After lunch the rallymasters shared the final rally results and handed out the event trophies. There were to be first, second, and third place trophies for both the driver and navigator within each of the Original, Classic and Modern categories.
Third place in the “Modern” category went to Sebastian and Harold von Langsdorff and their Mercedes Benz GLA. There was some speculation that 16-year-old Sebastian just could be the youngest driver to win an award in an SCCA-sanctioned Road Rally event.
Because there were only two cars in the “Original” category there was no third place finisher. As I reported on Day 1 of the rally, Lynn and I were destined to finish second in the “Original’ category with our Hudson, and we did!
Not only did Jim Gately and navigator Fred Gallagher win the “Original” class, they had the lowest and winning score for the entire rally with Jim’s 1937 Cadillac. They each received individual cups and Jim also received the Champion’s cup which was adorned with the names of the teams who won each of the original 1953-1957 GAMR events. Their penalty total for the entire three-day event was a scant 38 seconds! Simply stunning!
In just three days this group of 26 strangers had become good friends. Hands were shaken, backs were slapped, photographs were taken, and congratulations were exchanged. Everyone was thrilled with their overall experience and the extremely varied roads selected by the rallymasters. There was discussion concerning whether there would be a 2019 running of the GAMRR.
Lynn and I pulled the Hudson around front to the Hemmings Sunoco station and fueled up in advance of our departure. At the close of our ceremony we got back on the road, pointing the nose of the Hudson toward Ohio. By sunset on Sunday we were rolling into Rochester, New York, where we spent the night. The following morning, the rain clouds returned, keeping our weather pattern alive. But we set out for home and rolled into Maineville at about 4:45 p.m. on Monday. Following the electrical repairs in Erie and my quick taping of the carburetor fitting at Bennington, the Hudson behaved like a champ all the way home. In total we had put exactly 2,300 miles on the car’s odometer. It really had been an adventure.
The trophy-winning Commodore resting in the garage at home following our noble effort. Adventures are fun, but there’s no place like home!
Since arriving home we’ve been informed that there is a plan for a 2019 running of the GAMRR. I’m hoping that maybe I’ve lit a rally fire within some of you! If you’re interested, set aside October 25-27, 2019, on your calendar. GAMRR 2019! Be there or be square!