The 22nd annual Copperstate 1000 vintage and sports car rally was held April 15-19, 2012. Each year, the event sends five or six dozen pre-1974 classics, their drivers and co-drivers on a 1000-mile tour of Arizona’s amazing landscape by way of the state’s smooth but often delightfully serpentine and primarily two-lane byways.
Although there were serious doubts when the Copperstate was launched nearly a quarter-century ago, the event has become an important fund-raiser for the Phoenix Art Museum and draws cars and participants from across the country (and sometimes from overseas as well).
Remember, however, that from 1989-91, downtown Phoenix streets were the site of the ill-fated U.S. Grand Prix race, so when Louis Laflin of the Phoenix Men’s Arts Council suggested staging a vintage sports car rally, there was less than enthusiastic response from several fronts. Indeed, Laflin and those who liked his idea had to buy so-called bonds against any potential financial losses the event might experience.
But what the event and those who participated experienced were delightful days of driving and fellowship. In the ensuing two decades, the Copperstate 1000, with support from several businesses and title sponsorship from Phoenix-area auto dealership Bell Lexus, has grown into a major event for the Phoenix Art Museum. Some Copperstate participants even have become museum trustees and several loaned some of their most historic and valuable vehicles for the museum’s acclaimed Curves of Steel exhibition of the automobile as art. Staged in 2007, the exhibition’s showcase of rolling sculpture has been adopted by several other major American art museums.
More recently, the participants’ generosity has led to the creation of a second beneficiary as the Men’s Arts Council has launched the 10-90 Foundation to benefit the families of Arizona Department of Public Safety officers who have been injured or died in the line of duty. (10-90 is the radio code in Arizona for “officer needs assistance.”)
For the last several years, the Copperstate 1000 has launched from yet another of the Men’s Arts Council’s innovations — the Field of Dreams car show which turns Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels major league baseball team, into a vintage vehicle venue that showcases the Copperstate cars as well as collector cars from several Phoenix area car clubs. With the Copperstate contingent arrayed along the warning track around the baseball diamond, with customs and hot rods parked on on the stadium’s mezzanine, and with other collector cars in the stadium parking lots, the Field of Dreams has become one of Arizona’s leading car shows.
This year, the Copperstate cars drove out of the stadium gates and turned northwest across the Sonoran Desert, where the saguaros finally give way to forest of Joshua trees. The route then turned to the northeast and started its climb toward Flagstaff and snowcapped Humphreys Peak, at 12,643 feet the tallest of Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks.
Day Two took the Copperstate contingent down the Mogollon Rim, along Roosevelt Lake and Dam, and through historic copper mining country and on to Tucson, which would serve as base camp for two nights.
The third day included exploration of southern Arizona with a route that got close to the U.S./Mexico border before turning back through tall-grass ranch land. On the final day, the rally returned to Phoenix, making a pit stop at the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving for an autocross, go-karting and some laps around one of the school’s race tracks.
Ferraris, Shelbys — Cobras and Mustangs — Corvettes, Jaguars and Porsches comprised the majority of the Copperstate contingent in 2012, just as they seem to do every year. But there were a couple of twists this time: A surprising number of classic American machines and a participants’ list that included more than 30 drivers making their Copperstate debuts.
“What do you think of all the American cars?” one Copperstate veteran asked during the Field of Dreams show. We don’t think he was talking about vehicles such as the 1935 Auburn 851 Phaeton or the 1937 Packard 1507 Dietrich Victoria convertible. More likely it was the 1963 Buick Riviera, the 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertible, or the four — count ‘em — four Pontiacs — a ’64 Bonneville convertible, a pair of GTOs and a ’69 Firebird.
But Rick Rome, a Copperstate veteran from Dallas and driver of the exotic 1957 Jaguar Cozzi Special, said he welcomed such cars.
“This rally is all about people driving cars that people like seeing on the road,” he said.
“And the people at the stadium loved the muscle cars,” added his wife and co-driver, Nancy.
Or, as another participant put it: “These are the cars that people can say, ‘that was like my first car’ or ‘that was like the car my dad had,’ and very few people are going to say that about a Ferrari 212.”
Indeed, Craig Stull of Scottsdale, Arizona, spent nearly three years restoring the ’64 Bonneville convertible in a tribute to his mother, whose similar car was the one on which he learned to drive, “and to parallel park,” he added, back in Dayton, Ohio.
Stull was driving the Copperstate for the first time. Jim McDowell is a regular, but the 2012 event marked the debut for his recently acquired ’37 Packard, a car he bought because his uncle has had one since 1953, one that McDowell has repeatedly offered to buy, only to be put off so often that he finally found another.
Of course, every vintage car has its story. Here were some we found among the most fascinating:
* Richard Mattei’s 1942 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Berlinetta Aerodynamica originally wore a spyder body. In 1945, it was acquired by Donald A. Jones, an American living in northern Italy. Jones, it turns out, was an OSS agent, code-number 809 and code-named “Scotti,” who was a liaison with the Italian resistance movement and played an heroic role at the end of World War II. Jones survived the war but the Alfa’s body did not. It reportedly was transformed into a coupe before former Chrysler designer David Cummins was commissioned to do the Aeodynamica-inspired coachwork, which was completed by the Jim Stokes Workshops in England.
* Rick Rome’s 1957 Jaguar Cozzi Special was created by a teenager, Dan Cozzi, who found a wrecked XK120 and friends who could help him craft a sports/racer around its remains. Cozzi’s parents wouldn’t let him drive the street-legal car in races, but they recruited Nadeau Bourgeault, who in one race finished ahead of the likes of Carroll Shelby, John von Neumann and Richie Ginther.
* With its red-over-white sports/racer bodywork, Chuck Schoendorf’s 1954 Arnolt Bristol was perhaps the most photogenic of all the Copperstate cars. Designed by Franco Scaglione at Bertone for Chicago industrialists “Wacky” Arnolt, the car had a long history in vintage racing before Schoendorf acquired it and set it up for long-distance touring.
* Chris Andrews’ 1955 Kurtis 500 carries “Swallow” bodywork by Allied Bodies of Los Angeles and was built for that year’s La Carrera Panamerica, but it didn’t get to compete because the race was canceled. However, the car did participate in 1980s’ revival runs of the Mexican road race.
* Formerly owned by the late Tom Mittler and driven on this trip by his sons, T.G. and Will, the 1956 Jaguar D-type was selected by the Copperstate contingent as the car it would most like to be driving back home.
2012 Copperstate 1000 Rally – Photo Gallery (click image for large picture and description)