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Terrific Trip to Traverse Tales Told

by Larry Palguta

The Michiana Brits British Car Club is synonymous with four day Fall Tour drives. For this year, the 17th consecutive year, the Brits headed up to the far northern part of Michigan's lower peninsula to visit Traverse City. September 12th - 15th turned out to be three beautiful days and one overcast misty day for our drive home.

After temperatures of 96 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday September 10th and 11th that broke records set 116 years ago, the Brits met just west of Niles, MI at JD's Truck Stop for a good filling breakfast. Randy and Bev Glanders (Spitfire), Keith Wishmeier (Spitfire), Bob and Mary Petersen (MGB), Larry and Deb Palguta (MGB), Mike and Carol Montgomery (Jaguar), Roger and Ruth Deacon (MGB/GT) discussed the route with Fall Tour leaders Tom and Debbie Shumaker (TR7). The group of seven cars headed up Red Bud Trail (yes, right past the nation's largest and most famous Moto-Cross annual event), through Buchanan, past St. Joseph, through Coloma and Covert and past Holland and Grand Rapids to the small town of Grant, MI. Bob Petersen's trip experience began with jumping out of his MGB twice in Buchanan to push spark plug wires back into place – one of the wires on the distributor had wiggled loose. Later, Randy had to backtrack a bit to retrieve a wayward hub cap.

Although we drove the back roads by preference, we made good time and hit only a few detours due to road work. Also the aftermath of a deer-van collision that left the van being lifted for tow and the deer headless. Typical of the fast-changing weather experienced east of Lake Michigan, the high was in the mid-70's with low humidity and sunny skies – fantastic top down driving all the way to Traverse City.

Located on Route 37 in Grant is the Old Iron Bar and Grill. Decked out with banners claiming “Bikers Welcome!”, the old wooden building might have seemed imposing to some travelers, but not to the Brits. Inside is a large room with tables, booths, and a long bar with hundreds of beer bottle caps encapsulated in the bar top. Two huge I-beams support a wooden ceiling – a feat of incredible over-engineering according to our fellow traveler and structural engineer Keith Wishmeier.

After rearranging tables and chairs for our party of 13, the host, a rather large guy with a sense of humor and a culinary spirit, welcomed everyone and recited the selections on and off the menu. Everything is fresh and made to order on site – no frozen ingredients, etc. The pickles are grown 1 mile away and the potatoes 2 miles away. I ordered a special of the day – and apple jack hamburger and fries, both which were great. Drinks served in canning jars with ice. Mike Montgomery ordered the 1/2 Pound Homemade Hamburger and it actually looked like one of those super-succulentburgers in a TV advertisement – except it was real and huge. No typical bar food in this establishment, and a lot of customers who probably have never been near a bike. This is
a MUST-STOP eatery for travelers headed up Route 37.

Old Iron Bar & Grill, Grant, MI

We headed on up Route 31 to a bio & gas stop on the south side of Baldwin. When we were ready to leave, the Petersen's discovered a flat front tire. While Bob quickly changed the tire and the guys supervised, and the ladies kept their distance, everyone took this as one of those minor inconveniences of a long trip. Unfortunately for the Petersens, we were dead wrong.

A well-supervised tire change

We arrived in Traverse City by dinner time and most of the group checked in at the AmericInn, one car at the Quality Inn just down the street, and the Montgomerys stayed directly across the street in a condo with friends. The first evening's dinner was just about 75 yards down the street toward the Quality Inn. The Red Mesa restaurant specializes in South American quisine of a wide variety. They have an entire area secured and housing a huge selection of Tequila. After a few marqueritas and beers, everyone was in fine spirits and enjoying very good meals.

Friday morning most of the party ate at the hotel and then left about 9:30 AM for the Hagerty Garage. This turned out to be a fabulous tour of an incredible collection of cars, with an employee Randy explaining the purpose of the garage. Hagerty Insurance insures many types of classic cars. If the staff is to handle potential customers and understand the coverages needed for the various types of vehicles – they need to be knowledgeable about classic vehicles. Where does one get that kind of knowledge these days? Actually, very few places. So Hagerty rotates their employees – from receptionists to phone personnel to claims people - through their garage where they are taught some of the basics of an engine, and then participate in the rebuild/restoration of a vehicle. It can be a vehicle from the early 1900's to more recent classic cars- we saw a 1956 Corvette just restored from the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, and their orange show Camaro rebuilt after a front end collision.

1956 Corvette restored from Hurricane Sandy damage

Also on display were vehicles ranging from a model of the first car built in the late 1800's by Mercedes to several classics waiting to be restored from Hurricane Sandy. (Hurricane Sandy soaked in salt water three airfields of cars!). Thus, Hagerty has people who can speak some level of “gear head” when people call about insurance – and it has helped their business significantly.

Randy describes the Mercedes replica at the Hagerty Garage

Hagerty Vehicles on Display

The group decided to head up Mission Peninsula to see the Mission Point Light House and the Old Mission. Bob Petersen continued to have flat tire problems with his wire wheels, so he and Mary had a mid-afternoon appointment at Discount Tire to fix the problem, and headed out for that task. The rest of the gang headed up the peninsula. Being post-Labor Day, the drive along the waters edge, past beautiful homes and scenery, was easy and relaxing in light traffic. The Mission Point Light House is located on the 45th Parallel (1⁄2 way between the equator and the north pole) and is a pleasant spot to visit after a short drive. Heading back down the east side of the peninsula, we tried to find the Old Mission which is not easy because when you are just a 1⁄4 mile away there are no signs. But we did see it, and unfortunately it is just a replica located about 100 yards from the Old Mission General Store. The Old Mission General Store is literally jammed full of all kinds of goods in a rats' maze of rooms, and had something for everyone. They also have a small deli to serve sandwiches. Everyone found something to purchase, and afterward we all headed back down the peninsula for a late lunch and a little relaxation.

Chateau Chantal, Mission Peninsula Old Light House, dam at Leland

Not too far south on M37 (aka Center Road), we stopped at the Bad Dog Deli for a quick lunch. Fresh sandwiches were served up with good drinks, and the stop gave the Brits a chance to relax a bit after a very busy morning of activities. But not far south is a ridge top winery with a large tasting room and big out door seating area.

We turned off M37 and headed uphill to Chateau Chantal to enjoy the view of both the East and West Arms of the Grand Traverse Bay. The views were indeed
spectacular on a sunny Friday, and the winery an enjoyable stop before the later afternoon and weekend crowds arrive. After numerous tastings of the wine selections and a few purchases, the group headed back down M37 to their hotels for a little relaxation before dinner.

Brits at the Chateau Chantal Winery

The evening's dinner was at Sue's J&S Hamburg Restaurant – a small restaurant in a little strip mall on the west side of Traverse City. The Petersen's had apparently solved the leaky tire problem with a new set of four tires, and joined us for dinner. Several minutes wait were required to get seating for 13, but it was worth it. The fish special dishes were good and all had a relaxing end of the day meal.

Saturday morning was to start with a visit to Coffee & Cars at MFD Classic Motors, a vehicle restoration business near the west side of the airport. After a couple of hiccups in locating the business, we drove into a large parking area filled with all kinds of classic cars. Inside their very large facility was a amazing number of cars either on display, in the restoration process, or for sale. We were treated to custom brewed coffee and scones and rolls and popcorn and the freedom to go everywhere in the facility. We saw a Glasser, Morgans, TR6, MGBs, all kinds of classic American cars and more cars than we can recall. One of the restorations had every nut and bolt shined or painted and the asking price was only $67,000! There was such a variety of vehicles the event turned out to be a real treat for everyone.

Custom coffee, scones, rolls and TR6 for enjoyment

Only one aisle of the huge MFD indoor facility

Perfect and Pricey Vehicles

After the visit to MFD, the group headed down to a public beach parking area where for posterity we photographed the cars and drivers. The Petersens then headed for home (and a NASCAR chase event to attend on Sunday), one driver headed to Cadillac to visit a friend, the Montgomerys went to visit with their hosts, and the remaining four cars headed out to drive the Leelanau Peninsula.

We headed up the Leelanau Peninsula on M22 which snakes along the east coast of the peninsula. Numerous large and small homes are located at the edge of the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay. Quaint towns such as Suttons Bay are still fairly busy with tourists after the Labor Day weekend. At a point where I lost track of our route, we cut west across the peninsula to the little town of Leland and its historic Old Fishtown. The town is very small and picturesque, with lots of shops to wonder into and several restaurants to visit for a relaxing meal. We enjoyed a casual lunch at one of the eateries and then took off on foot to visit shops and sightseeing. Just beyond and next to the small dam that spills Lake Leelanau water into Lake Michigan, is Old Fishtown. Old Fishtown is a set of wharves that support small buildings previously used by the fishermen who lived in this area. Most small buildings are now shops selling nautical and local items. The pier area still berths a Coast Guard rescue boat and some large private boats.

Leland's Old Fishtown wharf by lake waterway

Old Fishtown shops

Leaving Leland, we took several routes along the west shore of Lake Leelanau to M72 east back to the west side of Traverse City. On the west side and next to the lake, were several large tents hosting the Taste of Traverse City. The Taste activities were all contained in a fenced area in which were the tents – so we skipped it. A short distance away was downtown Traverse City with blocks of stores and shops along Front Street. Plenty of public parking for our LBCs, and we took off in separate groups for a couple of hours of shopping. Roger Deacon and myself found a large seating area along Front Street, where we sat down and waited for everyone's shopping to run its course. Eventually Debbie and Tom Shumaker stopped by for a rest, and Debbie texted the Petersen's to see how they were doing on their drive home. Not so good she reported – a tire had again gone flat and the small compressor would not pump up the spare tire. So they called their insurance company (Hagerty) for a tow truck. The tow truck arrived and lifted them for their ride back to South Bend. But not before Hagerty picked up their allotted mileage for the tow truck and Discount Tire covered the rest of the mileage. And Mary got on her iPhone and located some attractive Victoria British 8- spoke alloy wheels to replace the wire wheels, which spelled the eventual end of their wire wheel problems.

The evening meal was decided upon by popular acclaim, and it was at the Jonathan B. Pub which has “English Pub Fare with a Modern Flair”. The Pub is located in the Grand Traverse Mall and it took only one circumnavigation to locate it at the back of the Mall buildings. The meal was a good one and the wide selection of ales and beers made it even better. The Montgomery's hosts joined us for dinner and snapped a photo of our group.

Brits at Jonathan B. Pub, our LBC's at Grand Traverse Bay

Sunday September 15th was a cloudy, overcast day for our drive home from Traverse City. After the group had breakfast at various locations, our caravan of six cars headed out with one last look at Lake Michigan as we headed for our turn at Three mile Road. The drive was uneventful until about after an hour Roger Deacon's 1971 MGB/GT suddenly acceleration problems. The car would not drive above about 50 mph even with the accelerator pressed to the floor. Roger had lost the gas cap at a gas station the prior evening, and speculation was there might be a pressure problem. After a couple of minutes, the car started and drove OK for awhile until the problem reoccurred. So we tried duct tape over the fuel opening, installing my gas cap on Roger's car, none of which worked. When the car labored again, we pulled off the highway to a small gas station near a Wal-Mart where Roger looked, unsuccessfully, for a gas cap.

The guys looked over the car and decided to install a new fuel filter. When the old plastic filter was removed, all could see that on the backside was a layer of sediment and the gas was colored dark red. In 2012, Roger bought the MGB/GT after it had set in a garage for 24 years. Even though he drained the gas tank that was full, apparently there was much more sediment that got pumped through the fuel system and slowly built up in the filter. Once a new filter was installed, the problem was, at least temporarily, fixed.

Not too much later we stopped for lunch at a Big Boy Restaurant. The advantage of a four day trip is that eventually you will get to have dinner sitting next to or with the riders of each car, and can get to know much more about them and they about you. The pre- and post-lunch drive was through misty and sometimes light rain but not heavy enough to slow down the driving. Down around Three Rivers, MI, cars began to peel off from the caravan and head to their homes.

The Michiana Brits completed a 17th four day Fall Tour drive to a beautiful location with lots of activities and sights to see. For those members who annually join the drive, the Fall Tour has become a mini-vacation at the beginning of the Fall LBC driving season - free of the summer time crowds, in our small cars and during usually spectacular early Fall weather. The club already has some ideas for next year's drive.




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