Rare, exotic British cars to roll into Bristol

The British Motorcar Festival is scheduled for June 11-12 at Colt State Park

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A few weeks before honoring America, the “most patriotic town” will pay tribute to the motherland as exotic British vehicles roar into town for the British Motorcar Festival.

As many as 300 luxurious cars - new and old - including Jaguars, Bentleys, Rolls Royce and Lotuses will be on display at Colt State Park June 11-12, along with Aston Martins (the James Bond car), MGs and Austin-Healeys. Some more accessible vehicles like Land Rovers and Minis will join the show, contrasting with some of the most unobtainable cars in the world, including a 1947 Mach 6 Bentley and even the rare Triumph Italia, of which there are only 11 in the United States.

“These are not cars you would see in any other car show, said event organizer Michael Gaetano. “These are unique, award-winning cars. I’m a Bentley owner, so I certainly love Bentleys. But there will be Aston Martins, classic Jaguars — who could not love those. You’ll get to see stuff you don’t get to see at other car shows. This stuff is like rolling art.”

In its second year in Bristol, the British Motorcar Festival is more than your typical car show. Rather, the festival is “a rather exceptional British lifestyle event.” Attendees are encouraged to dress in their fanciest British attire and most elaborate hats. Awards will be handed out to those decked out in the best British regalia, and guests will have to chance to meet “the queen.”

The main festival is scheduled for Saturday, June 11 and Sunday, June 12 beginning at 9 a.m. each day, when the show field opens to attendees. But the event actually begins Thursday with the Hidden Highway Hundred Rally, a 100-mile drive throughout the East Bay to Horseneck Beach in Westport, Mass., through back roads in Tiverton and Little Compton, ending back at Colt State Park.

The public portion of the festival gets started Friday, June 10, at 5:45 p.m., when participating vehicles parade through Bristol, cruising down Hope Street, to Constitution Street to Thames Street, ending at Independence Park, where organizers will host a public party. The free and open-to-the-public street party, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., will feature live music by Beatles tribute band Abbey Road.

Back at Colt State Park Saturday and Sunday, visitors can mill around gazing at the exotic cars and speaking to car owners. The main event — the Concours d’Elegance — is scheduled for Saturday at 2:30 p.m., when judges declare their winners, including the best in show. On Sunday, the winners will show off their rides during a rolling review with commentary at 11 a.m., followed by a tailgate competition at 1 p.m. Food, beer and wine will be available.

Tickets good for both Saturday and Sunday cost $15 and are available at the gate. There is also a $5 parking fee, which will be donated to local charities.

Gaetano said he is hoping to attract as many as 2,500 people from Bristol and beyond. Being the only all-British car show, he expects attendees to travel from as far away as New York and Pennsylvania, bringing new visitors into the town.

Last year, about 1,200 people strolled among 200 cars, numbers Gaetano said the festival can build on.

“People loved the town, loved the restaurants and said the people were friendly,” Gaetano said. “A lot of people had never been to Bristol. They knew Newport, but not Bristol. I think it will be bigger this year.”

To help promote good will toward the visitors for the show, event organizers are asking residents and businesses to display their British regalia, decorating their businesses and hanging the British flag outside their homes. A merchant competition will award prizes to best decorated shops around town.

“It’s meant to be a lot of fun,” Gaetano said. “What we’re trying to do is show people they can come see cars they don’t normally get a chance to see. It’s a jolly-good time.”

For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit www.britishmotorcarfestval.com. For more information on the merchant decorating competition, email janelavender@verizon.net.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.