A FALL CLASSIC FOR CLASSICS
It must have been around mile 160 on day two when I really noticed. Rocks pinged against the bare-metal floors of the stripped-out Datsun and the straight-through exhaust reverberated through the whole car like a 12-inch subwoofer. It was hot. Raw heat from the engine and transmission broiled up from the many holes in the firewall and coated us in a fine mist of oil.
And in all this noise and vibration, it was the complete silence and stillness of my phone that I noticed. Seems we had been out of cell reception for quite some time and the usual barrage of work emails and texts had been expunged from the world. Blissful isolation at last.
Of course, most logical people would say all I needed to do was switch off my phone now and then. But like all addicts, I’m constantly making excuses for leaving it running and letting it interrupt my life. Thus the 2017 Hagerty Maple Mille was a three-day, 1,000-kilometre detox program for me.
The Mille is not a race. It is not a competition, and there are no scorecards. It’s run by Classic Car Adventures and is open to all cars from 1979 or earlier. The event is run on the most scenic, meandering roads that Ontario has to offer. The start and finish locations change annually but generally start and stop within two hours of Toronto.
I entered this year’s event with my good friend, Alex, who has been my partner in crime for quite a few previous adventures. We entered the parking lot on the first day, not quite sure how people would react to Alex’s battered, bare-metal slingshot of a Datsun. He spent more than a year of late nights repairing rust damage on his 1968 Datsun Roadster that rivalled that of the Titanic. The body is a mix of red paint, primer, bare metal and rust; it looks mean and sounds angry. But the ratty red roadster immediately drew an admiring crowd and became the darling of the parking lot. The Mille is not a snobby event.
Over the course of three days the Mille runs 1,000 km, and we spent most of those kilometres smiling. Our scrappy Datsun was running well and we were whooping like children as we threw it into the corners with the tachometer swinging toward the red. There’s a joy in the purity of a classic sports car that not even a modern Miata can touch. The 1.6-litre engine isn’t mighty but sounds 40 feet tall when you stand on it. Every on-ramp is a 100dB event.
As Hagerty Insurance is the title sponsor of the event, two representatives from the classic car insurance company were present with two domestics yanked from the Hagerty collection: a very early 1964.5 Mustang with a 260-cubic inch (4.3-L) V8 and a three-speed manual, and a simply enormous 1960 Plymouth Fury convertible that they loaned to a fellow entrant after his car failed to make it to the starting line. It’s worth noting that every entrant is covered by Hagerty roadside assistance during the event, regardless of their insurance provider or plan.
As the sun was beginning to set on day two, we considered calling Hagerty to bail us out. Our cranky starter motor had grown increasingly angry at the world as the event went on and it had finally called it quits. Naturally, it did so on the side of a busy highway just five kilometres from the hotel. After cranking the battery nearly dead, there was nothing left to do but push start it. Luckily the Datsun only weighs a hair over 2,000 pounds, and after a good shove the car was back in action.
Many people were in tiny two-seat sports cars similar to ours but nearly half the group was driving hunky American beasts. The local Mustang club is a firm believer in the event and there were several first-generation Mustangs roaring through cottage country with us. But one of my favourite cars on the trip was a primrose yellow 1967 Ford Fairlane. It was an honest car with a 289 and an automatic and it looked majestic as it rolled (considerably) through the turns day after day. There was also a pristine Jaguar XK120 FHC, a Datsun 240Z and a lovely pair of Porsche 356s.
Even though the Mille entry list is pretty much a rolling car show, the best part of the event and the reason I’ll keep coming back is the fun I have with the other participants. The dinner on day two later spilled out into the parking lot around the cars, where stories were swapped and smiles were abundant up until around 1 a.m. These are great people.
It was a sweltering 33 C when we coasted back into Toronto. My phone buzzed urgently as a weekend’s worth of messages came flooding in. Back to reality. The Hagerty Maple Mille should be marketed on the fact that it drops your blood pressure considerably over the three days.
Sometimes it’s just good to get away and enjoy some unfamiliar roads in a classic car with other people who share the same affliction.
The route included no fewer than four ferries, a novelty for most Ontario drivers.
Complete and utter bliss. The roads on the Mille are the best: empty, scenic, and involving.