Art & Design Automotive Design

Interview with a Car Collector and Former Racecar Driver

Buckle up for this Interview with a Car Collector! Today I’m here with Marc Evans. He is the owner of New England Classic Cars in Stratford, CT. Check out this post for a tour of his shop. Keep reading below as I pick his brain.

The Royale Super Vee………gosh what a fast car, in its day was considered a spot for future Indy 500 drives to get acquainted in driving a really fast open wheel Formula car.  Drove it in races at Summit Point and Lime Rock, had fun, never hit anything, and remember the awesome power behind my seat.   Not much to add other than I sold it to a Canadian and never saw it again.   Bought the book on Royale’s history but, alas, never read it.

Q: Why did you start your automobile dealer business?

Was the Winter of 1973-1974…..the first Middle East oil embargo was a sudden shock.  Impossible to get gas on weekends, long lines Friday and Monday.  What to do?

At the time, I was working for my father’s textile manufacturing company, living in Pa, and driving a new BMW.   Fun car but, not so much fun when filling it with gas was getting more and more difficult.  So I figured, ‘maybe buy a little sports car, some old MG or whatever, drive it to work each day and save my filled BMW for weekend fun.  Sort of ‘expanding my horizons.’
Well, one day, after calling some friends to ‘keep their eyes open,’ a college friend in Ct called and said (and I will never forget these words) ‘you just bought a 1961 Porsche for $900 and you have to come up here this weekend to get it.’

And my Lotus 18………as the story goes, Chapman’s first two Formula cars the Fm II Lotus 12 and the Fm I Lotus 16, great cars and so stable in a straight line, they were a bit reluctant to go around corners!  So, Chapman started with a clean slate, put the engine behind the driver, a simple but elegant chassis and suspension, and provided Sir Stirling Moss a car to beat the more powerful Ferrari team at Monaco and, as in my car, a Formula Junior that dominated the class.   The easiest and best driving car I have ever owned, and one that won the demanding Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix through the city streets…eight years in a row.

So, I got a local friend to join me, drove up, looked at the Porsche, bought it, and a few days later, we drove the two cars back to Pa.  It was a lot of fun, a decent little 356B Coupe with sunroof, zipped around, got involved in a fun rally sponsored by the local Porsche dealer, it did as expected.  ‘Expanded my horizons’ and got me into my first ‘old’ sports car.

After having some floor work done and a quicky paint job, I found a little back alley sports car shop to service my modest collection.  BMW (now out of warranty) and the Porsche.  And at a little shop, met a local fella, law student in Philly a few days a week, engaged in a Summer job at the little shop.

And we became friends.  Not long after, sold the Porsche, and through my new friend, Don, bought a friend of his’ Alfa Spyder.   Lovely car but, in all truth, felt it was a bit dull and uninspired (what did I know about cars?) so after three weeks, sold it to the girlfriend of my original Porsche-finding friend in Ct.

Lotus S3 Coupe…had been a racer, much improved with a Spyder tubular space frame chassis and upper/lower rear A arm suspension.  We detuned the race engine engine, installed a stock dash and gauges, even a stereo, and made a rip roaring road car….that would still accelerate from 0 to 140 mph in a steady progression of light weight and lots of power.   A fun road car, very loud, and exciting.

And while all of this was happening, and while cruising around on a lovely Summer day with Don and the Alfa, I said ‘gee, Don, why don’t I sell my pricey BMW, we can open up our own little shop, you can work a few days a week, we can hire Tommy from the sports car shop, get a dealer’s license and insurance….and with proceeds from the BMW sale, buy and sell some classic cars.

So now, had a bit of money……and with Don’s guidance, bought my first Morgan (a 1959 four seater) AND an early Mini Cooper 997.  Sort of splitting my investment.  And in the first week of November, 1974, opened up our little dealershop in a run down former gas station, sold the BMW, on opening day sold the Mini Cooper AND the Morgan….and a week later, using only half the funds from the BMW, purchased a gorgeous Aston Martin DB5 and a ‘hot’ BMW 2002 with a highly modified engine.

And from there…………..have now been in business for 45+ years.
The Aston, purchased for $5,000, was sold a few years later for $13,000.  And now, worth on the far side of a cool Million.  I have owned a large number of Morgans and have two show winning examples in my barn.  Now I drive a newer BMW built Mini Cooper S, and yes, also have an Alfa (I decided I was now dull and uninspired….and love my Alfa).   So, over a half century the wheel of classic cars goes ’round and round’.

And the ol’ Jag I used to drive, the XK-120M.   Whether cruising on a highway or thundering down the main straight at Lime Rock, the Jag was an incredible car.  The car that put Jaguar on the map, in its day, the world’s fastest production car (after a 132 mph timed run in Belgium).  And beautiful lines.  What can one add to a car undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cars ever built?

Q: If you could drive one car for the rest of your life what would it be? Why?

Okay….one car?   Dunno.  Sort of like ‘what is your favorite movie’ when the real answer is ‘how about my hundred favorites?’  But IF it was gonna be one car, hmmmmm, would like a car that will be reliable, fun to drive, comfortable, capable of long trips yet amusing around town and on the proverbial winding New England roads.  And I would prefer a stick shift.  Which leaves me with some Japanese or German Coupe.   Nissan?   BMW?  Mercedes?   Dunno.

Q: What country produces the best sports cars? What makes them different?

As for what country builds the best sports cars…..this question needs a bit of explanation.   A Porsche, Ferrari, Lambo, whatever are NOT sports car.  More ‘Grand touring’ cars.  Heavy, comfortable, very fast.  But NOT sports cars.

Best defined by the iconic English sports car.  In the 1940s a proper MGTC, in the 1950s represented by a Triumph TR3 or MGA, by the 60s, MGB, Lotus Elan, Austin Healey……..    And my fave as the best all around true sports car is…..a Japanese Mazda Miata. 

A car friend was President of Lotus USA in the early 1980s.   And one day he received a call from the Mazda design studios, located (wisely) in California. They were looking for help to purchase 20 Lotus Elans. Now, they had been of date for some time (last Elan built in 1974) and he recommended the contact a famous Elan engine builder in California.  With the result that a bunch was purchased, dissected and examined, and by 1989, the Miata was introduced following the basic design and engineering direction of the Elan.

Lotus Elan S2….the iconic small, fast, nimble sports car built at a time that Lotus was THE car to beat in Grand Prix racing.   My Elan is the ‘best of the best,’ super light at around 1,400 pounds, super quick with a BRM (ex Grand Prix entrant) modified Lotus twin cam, as one English writer once wrote, ‘the ultimate in squirtability, the ability to squirt through traffic.’   And it did and does.
Smooth, refined, with excellent ride characteristics, the Elan……..more or less used as the basis by Mazda for their 30+ years of Miata building, the best selling sports car of all time.

And recently I sold my gorgeous 1966 Lotus Elan S2 s/e BRM and love my first year 1989 Miata.   A/c, powerful heat, a top that goes up and down instantly, great handling and braking, precise steering……AND IT NEVER BREAKS!

(but provide a warm seasonal day, and you would find me out in one of my 1953 Morgans, my Bug Eye Sprite, Lotus 7, MGB or others.  Best sports car? Rule Britannia!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Q: What’s the most unique car you have ever driven/sold?

Oooooooooo, the most unique car I have ever driven?  I have owned some truly rare cars……Moorland cars built exactly two cars in late 1959, at one point, I owned both of them. One a sports/racer and the other, historically significant winning the first ever Formula Junior race ever held in England and setting the first Fm Junior lap record at Brands Hatch in England.
Ah, and there was the Dellow…..owned two.   Dellow?  Well, a long story, best summarized as the most successful English ‘Trials’ race car of the late forties and early fifties.  Built, during a time in England when metals and other car basics were rationed, out of WWII scrap.   A chassis built from UP3 coastal defence rockets, a body frame using gas lines from bombed out buildings, and an alloy body sources from fighter and bomber alloy panels.  Neat car. 

I think my 2006 Lotus Elise is a pretty rare, unusual car.  Looks like a ‘GT’ car and certainly is blindingly fast BUT weighing a mere 1970 pounds (before the driver eats lunch), it evokes the ‘feel’ and use of a 1960s lightweight sports car.

Lotus Elise….nothing like it in modern times….weighs a mere 1970 pounds (dripping wet), its tiny unsupercharged 189 hp engine provides incredible acceleration through its 6 speed transaxle, with handling that is similar to the best (Lotus, of course) race cars I have ever driven.  Truly a road going race car with a/c and power windows!   And all of that and 33 mpg going at a good clip.   A modern car but with the memories of Colin Chapman’s adage ‘add lightness.’

And then there is my own 1959 Lotus Super 7 Series 1 fitted with an ex Cooper Fm II Coventry Climax FWB race engine derived from a 1950s emergency fire pump engine.   850 pounds, all aluminum, Lotus 7s were first popularized in the English TV show ‘The Prisoner’ in the mid 1960s.

My Lotus Super 7 Series 1, ah, a car I have owned for 43 years….and raced for at least 35 or so of those.  Very rare, one of 242 built and one of only 20 built with the exotic Coventry Climax FW engine.  And in my car’s case, the most exotic, an ex Cooper Fm II FWB race engine.   Super powerful, super reliable and the one time I drove it at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand prix, it was placed in the fastest class and was beaten by only one Formula Junior and one sports/racer…and set a new lap record for the course.   ALSO, as a road car, with the top and side curtains (now) in my basement and the heater, once drove it in a light snow.   Add to it having been raced in the Bahamas where we was oh, so fortunate to be paddocked next to Sir Stirling Moss and his wife, Suzy, we had a wonderful race, was in 3rd place behind Sir Stirling, he broke, putting us in 2nd place……..and he even autographed his book to me mentioning I beat him!   Imagine that thrill!!!!!!!!!!!!   Wait ’till my grandchildren see that.

I know you enjoyed this Interview with car collector and former racecar driver Marc Evans. For fast cars, and more exciting tales of fast cars, checkout New England Cars in Stratford, CT.

[All images provided by Marc Evans of New England Classic Cars.]

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