Three years before I became a father, I was just a son on Father’s Day. But an annual tradition bound me to my father and my daughter to me. It’s called British Car Field Day and, as it has been for 41 years, takes place on Sundays in Sussex.
But my history with this event goes back much further than my very first visit in 2005. It even goes back before I was even born in 1974.
A not-so-brief backstory: Back in the early ’70s, my then—and usually now—very cool dad Larry had a fondness for British sports cars. As a reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel, he bought one and rode it year-round—including Milwaukee’s harsh winters. He went on unlikely ski trips in a ’72 Triumph TR-6 or a ’69 Austin-Healey Sprite. He’d drive it to and from interviews with colorful Milwaukee personalities, and then, like all British cars of the era, it would rust and fall apart – that is, if Lucas’ (the Prince of Darkness!) finicky electrical system didn’t shit first. Then he would buy another one. Between those cars and his bikes, that was my dad in a nutshell, until my sister’s and I’s upbringing put an end to his love affair with two-seater convertibles from across the pond.
In fact, the only British sports car it reminded me of was a mustard-yellow 1973 Jensen Healey. When our family of four squeezed in, my little sister and I folded into the space where the top would go, and there wasn’t one in the back Seat belts, let alone seats. Ah, the 70’s.
When my father scrapped it in 1983, it was so rusted that you could see the road through the holes in the floorboards. From the age of 9 I was already annoyed that he didn’t keep it for me to drive one day. Unfortunately, that argument went nowhere.
Well, in 2000 my parents lived in Baltimore, and 26-year-old Andy had just bought a Honda CRV for some reason I’ll never understand. I had immediate regrets, but in the spring I drove it up to the East Coast to visit, all the while cursing myself for owning a soccer mom car that belonged to a poor single entrepreneur who was just starting OnMilwaukee. was not befitting.
One night over dinner I asked my father what kind of car he drove when he was my age. He couldn’t remember if it was the Triumph or the Sprite or the Healey or the Saab Sonnet (not British but cool nonetheless). On that long drive home I knew I wasn’t living my best life. I was CRV deep in my quarter life crisis.
Long story short, I spent the next few weeks surfing the Porto internet researching classic British sports cars and learning that they were actually very, very cheap. On July 25, 2000, I bought a 1975 burgundy MGB convertible from a nice couple in Tosa for $3,200. Even then, childless and renting a cheap East Side apartment with no garage to park a car out of the rain, I could swing this delightful antique for cash. I haven’t regretted it once.
Cars are just cars. They are just things. But my MG is the best I’ve ever bought and I drive it as often as I can in the summer. It’s a little rusty and dented, but it brings me joy every time I drive down Lake Drive. It brings me less joy on the freeway dwarfed by semi-trucks cruising around my tiny 95-hp four-speed roadster.
Flash forward to 2005 when my parents moved back to Wisconsin after almost 20 years on the east coast. I found out about British Car Field Day, a Father’s Day event that has been held every year since the early 80’s (except when it was canceled in 2020 because of the apocalypse).
So we went. You’d be surprised how many of these cars are still on the road in Wisconsin. Hundreds show up, rain or shine.
It’s a wonderful family friendly car show at Sussex Village Park, W244N6125 Weaver Dr. Tickets for people bringing their classic – or new – British car or motorcycle are around US$15 on the day of the show. If you’re just there to see the sights, it’s a few bucks. They have so many raffle prizes you’re almost guaranteed to win something cool, and the Boy Scouts grill brats and burgers for lunch. I don’t see myself as a car guy. I changed the oil on the MG once and found that things like adjusting twin carburettors and replacing fuel pumps are better left to the professionals.
I’m leaving for other reasons.
In 2005 I was one of the youngest participants. Most people with old British cars are old. You’ll see brands you might not even know existed like TVR and Sunbeam, as well as the rarest Lotuss and Rolls-Royce and Jaguars. And you will see a lot of MGs of all models, stock and heavily modified.
The people are exceedingly friendly and willing to share their stories and offer tips on how to make the most of these classic cars. Some are inevitably purchasable, often for a song. Inspired by our father-son bonding moments, my father rekindled his love for vintage British cars and eventually bought a 1951 MG-TD which he displayed at the show with a for sale sign a few years later.
As for the old folks, well, I’m starting to mingle with that crowd. Like the boomers who walk around and tell stories, so do I now, always taking a few laps with my dad in the big park… and now with my daughter too.
In fact, we took my daughter to her first Father’s Day at British Car Field Day in 2009, and except for one or two that we couldn’t swing, we’ve been to everyone since. We’ll be there this Sunday on a picnic blanket and camp chairs behind my MGB (which understandably never wins a prize). come and say hello
In other words, it’s not really about the cars. It’s about a generational connection, manifested in a range of brands both pristine and rusty, impractical, usually defunct, and being able to mess around with your dad and/or kids.
If there’s a better way to celebrate Father’s Day in my family, I haven’t seen it.
British Car Field Day in Sussex is this Sunday from 9am to 3pm. Online sales are closed, but you can buy them at the park entrance. Proceeds benefit Children’s Hospital and Boy Scoot Troop 95.
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