Michigan’s Waterford Hills Road Racing course has been a north-of-Detroit club racing institution for decades, but since 1995 I’ve only visited once a year: to attend their annual vintage racing weekend. It was glorious back in the ’90s (doesn’t that make me sound like a geezer?): Boss Mustangs vied for position with Alfa GTVs on Waterford’s sinuous layout. This year, I pulled in, looked around, and started to worry. As always, however, the parking lot offered me its most sincere condolences in the form of uncommon machinery, such as this Chevette race car.
On the other hand, the parking lot was the first harbinger of things gone wrong. There’s my Mustang over there; you can probably spot it (on a side note, did we all text each other that we were bringing red cars today?). Granted, Dad and I showed up a bit earlier than normal; Michigan’s been suffering through a humid yet droughty heat wave for a while, and we figured that we’d catch qualifying and head home before thermonuclear vinyl could melt the backs of our shirts on the hour-plus return trip. But we weren’t THAT early, maybe 15 minutes before the starting of engines.
Here’s Dad in the stands. A few people showed up later, but of more concern to me was the lack of cars out on the track. Contrary to the schedule on the website, the track ran a voluntary practice session in the morning, and there were only four groups of cars (down from seven or eight way back when). During one of the sessions, a solitary Spitfire cruised around the track at seven-tenths or so.
Watching Goodwood or the Monterey Historics on TV can give a person a false sense of security: People with money are still out beating on their historic race cars. But anecdotally, here in Michigan, at the grassroots level anyway, things aren’t looking very good. I know that track days have become the de rigueur way to enjoy one’s sporting vehicle, but the cars out there are modern high-performance machines.
It’s just another thing for me to worry about, like aging machine shop and body shop employees and the thinning hair on the back of my head where I can only see it in pictures.
But let’s get back to the parking lot and pull the nose up on this thing before we crash: Chevettes are rare enough, but a road race Chevette is rarer than a day without regrets.
Then again, Chevettes at car shows aren’t that uncommon anymore. Here are two at the 2021 Sloan Auto Fair, taking their rightful place on the show field. Chevettes were so ubiquitous for so long that you’d be forgiven to think they’d be the last thing to observe the sun’s expansion into Red Gianthood, or whatever gets us in the end. But they simply disappeared, with a few exceptions.
The Chevette in question, however, its racetrack-only status certainly saving it from an ignominious date with the crusher, was being offered for only three grand. Heck, for a second, I thought about buying a trailer and becoming a glamourous race car driver at 45 years old. If Paul Newman could do it, why can’t I? Oh wait…Paul Newman was about 56 percent better looking, richer, and certainly more talented. But my eyes are also blue. Well, if Newman were an average guy in Mid Michigan, he very well might have bought a Chevette race car. My favorite thing about the Chevette is that its glory days, like those of the event in which it found itself for sale, were back in the late 1990s.
Take it in everybody, take it in. The Summit Racing sticker on the air dam drops your lap time by five tenths; it’s been proven on the internet.
Here’s a left-rear three-quarter view of the quarry in question. I have little shame in what I drive, but I don’t know if I could race a Chevette; I’ve always dreamed of doing my best Group 44 impersonation in a Triumph Spitfire, but never in a Chevette. But then again, I’ve never really seen a racing Chevette (pictures of Vauxhall Chevettes yawing around in rallies don’t count).
Aside from the Chevette, one of my favorite cars in the parking lot was this Alfetta. I assume it’s from the mid-1970s, but I know nothing about Alfettas aside from the fact that Alfa Romeo built them. The vintage races are always good for a quirky-for-Michigan old car sighting, however, and this is no exception.
Its long-lived twin-cam four cylinder certainly must qualify as one of the most beautiful non-supercar engines on which one could turn a wrench.
The interior looks appropriately Italian, with big, clear gauges, sculpted bucket seats, and three-spoke steering wheel.
It’s a pretty sedan from this view, as well, especially with those cute twin tailpipes exiting from underneath the center of that too-prominent rear bumper.
I like the script on the trunk.
And you might as well have this sticker on the fender if you’re driving an Alfa anyway.
The MGA contingent showed up as usual, strewing flowers, beauty, and a feline ruggedness out into the world.
A Ginetta and a TR8 roadster parked near each other as if that’s something that ever happens in the Midwest, or indeed anywhere.
This Mini and this Morgan might as well be duking it out on an Alpine stretch of road, inches from a frosty end (RIP Paddy Hopkirk).
As you can see, people started showing up with their interesting machinery as the morning elapsed, but it didn’t feel like it was how it used to be (I dig that Porsche coupe though).
There might be a reason for that. Twenty years ago, this event was aligned with the Meadowbrook Concours d’Elegance (that’s my car in the program for the show back in 2002; it was parked at Waterford Hills). Considering that Pebble Beach is aligned with the Monterey Historics, maybe the lack of such an alliance has caused the event to suffer from a lack of prestige, and thus a lack of attendance. The old Meadowbrook is no more; it was replaced over 10 years ago by the Concours of America at St. John’s, and this year has become the Hagerty Detroit Concours on Woodward in September.
Whatever the cause, you know things are getting a little grim when I take a picture of a new toy pickup truck. In all honesty, I’m considering the purchase of a new Maverick someday soon to replace my 2012 Focus as a daily driver, and perhaps to tow a Chevette race car.
I’m already a man inclined to look inward, and as I find the world I live in apparently less and less inclined to enjoy the things I enjoy, it’s sometimes difficult to accentuate the positive. There is at least one thing to celebrate: I got to drive my Mustang home and it knocked down over 20 miles per gallon on the highway, which is better than it’s done since, well, probably the day that picture was taken back in the early 2000s. Not bad for a 289 four-barrel with a small cam and no overdrive.
And there are always Chevette race cars to buy.
Postscript: None of this is intended to be derogatory toward Waterford Hills or their staff. They’ve always run a good, fun event and it’s not their fault (as far as I know) that fewer owners seem to be participating in their vintage race weekend. This is also a two-day event, with the actual races being run in the afternoon, so maybe more people showed up later. Or maybe the weather had something to do with it. Or maybe it’s a post-COVID letdown. Or maybe I’m just a whiner who lives in the past.
It also might be a geographical problem; Grattan (in the southwest corner of the state) also has a vintage weekend that seemed well attended when I visited back in 2015 (but Waterford seemed more well-attended then, too).