On a hot afternoon in May, I found myself stranded on the side of a barren desert highway in middle-of-nowhere Utah, the alternator in my husband’s 1973 MGB on the fritz, with no sign of human life for hours in any direction. I was having the time of my life. I never expected to wind up stuck on the side of a desert highway, in a part of Utah I didn’t know existed, but the circumstances that led there were the stuff of wanderlust dreams, particularly for those with a penchant for classic cars and travel. It’s all courtesy of Classic Car Adventures, the Venn diagram of travel and vintage vehicles, and a collective of like-minded enthusiasts who hit the road en masse on tours through the oft-remote wilds of North America. One such tour, the springtime Silver Summit, marked my first foray into classic car travel — and despite getting hailed on in a convertible, sweltering in the hot Utah sun, and our car breaking fully down in Colorado, it’s an experience I can’t wait to repeat.
Spurred by a longtime love of classic cars and the desire for accessible driving tours, Classic Car Adventures was co-founded by Dave Hord in 2007, and sponsored by venerable classic car insurance company Hagerty, with the first organized rally taking place in 2008. Growing up on the east coast of Canada, car culture was in Hord’s blood. “I remember at family dinners, it was always car talk between my dad and my uncles,” he recalls. “I grew up in car culture, so the car thing was probably gonna come naturally to me.” Indeed, after his first trip to western Canada, where the mountainous terrain revealed a world of roving possibility, he was emboldened to take the leap. “In Ontario, owning a classic car doesn’t make sense,” Hord says. “You get three good months of weather, and the rest of the year was salt and bad weather. When I came out to the mountains, with gorgeous weather, I thought ‘I want a classic car.’”
Taking his love of classic cars to the next level, Hord sought out the North American equivalent of the kinds of classic car rallies that occur in Europe. At the time, there were only a few main events, and all were expensive. He entered his classic Beetle into all of the events anyway, but got turned down by each. Such exclusivity inspired Hord to start a tour of his own — one that could be more inclusive for all classic car enthusiasts eager to drive. After working in hospitality in Whistler, and formalizing Classic Car Adventures in 2007, he spent winter going around to car clubs and making presentations about his impending inaugural tour, Spring Thaw, in British Columbia. Upon opening registration, he initially hoped for 10 cars, and got 45. “That’s when we knew we were on to something,” says Hord. Spring Thaw has sold out every year since, paving the way for a slew of new tours across the continent, including the Colorado-based Silver Summit in May.
“That was the big launch of Classic Car Adventures, this idea of affordable driving tours, and actually using your classic car,” Hord recounts. Debunking stereotypes that classic car collectors just park their cars in garages all year, like vehicular trophies, Hord wants to celebrate the adventurous, action-packed aspect of car culture that takes drivers on winding roads through mountains, national parks, deserts and Million Dollar Highways. When mapping out routes, he takes a “roads first” approach: “You find roads first, and then hotels to support the event,” Hord explains. “I learned from Warwick [Patterson, a former business partner] how to pick roads that matched the types of cars we’re bringing. The best road in a small British sports car is not necessarily the best road in an American classic car. You want to include roads that are excellent for both.”
After 14 years, it now comes naturally. “I can pull out a map and twisty roads will jump off the page to me, and then I look at the towns that are available that have hotels and start to map it out in my head,” he says.
This year, that meant traveling through Utah. “After seven years, I’ve always wanted to take them a little bit further and explore some of the Utah,” Hord recalls. “This year, the whole event was circled around one road in Utah that I wanted to bring the group to. You drive dead straight for an hour, you think ‘Dave what are you doing?’ And after an hour, in the middle of nowhere, you suddenly enter one of the best driving roads in Utah.”
While I’ve never been a classic car enthusiast, and frankly I still can’t remember the difference between the make and model of a vehicle, I married someone who lives and breathes classic cars, sharing his passion with me on a spring tour he’s done for seven years with friends. Plus, the adventuresome premise of the Silver Summit has mass appeal: everyone meets somewhere in Colorado, and drive hundreds of miles over three days along the route Hord has dreamed up that year. Even being a neophyte with cars, it’s an exciting outing that feels like a less competitive Amazing Race, as dozens of vintage vehicles embark on twisty roads while following elaborate printed guide books detailing directions and historical facts along the way. This year’s Silver Summit began in Grand Junction, before meandering into Utah through Moab, Bryce Canyon National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Capitol Reef National Park and Escalante, and looping back into Colorado to Durango, Silverton and the Million Dollar Highway through the snowy San Juan Mountains. No one knows the exact itinerary ahead of time, and that’s part of the fun — coupled with the risky thrill of hoping your decades-old car doesn’t break down someplace so remote it looks lawless.
Along the way, you see parts of the country you’d never see on a flight. You stop for barbecue in endearingly dusty small towns like Hanksville, Utah, and venture into convenience stores carved into mountainsides. You wake up early to catch sunrise over Bryce Canyon. You break bread with each other over convivial buffets. It quickly becomes apparent that, sheer adventure and scenery aside, this is an experience that’s rooted in community. These are people, from all walks of life and from all over the continent, who come together over a shared passion. It feels like a family reunion of sorts, as drivers and passengers reminisce over years past and catch up on life, and everyone looks out for each other on the road. When our car broke down in the Utah desert, a dozen other cars pulled over to help — and no one left until we all left together.
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The fact that Hord intentionally makes these rallies as accessible as possible is a big part of that communal appeal. Along with Spring Thaw and three other events per year, the Silver Summit is open to anyone, with the sole caveat that cars should be from 1979 or earlier. Even still, Hord has a “Delorean Rule” that means later cars are considered on a case-by-case basis. This year, and on any given rally, attendees drive everything from vintage Porsche 911s and De Tomaso Panteras to Alfa Romeo Spider, 1960s Mustangs and vintage Mini Coopers. The cost for entry was $750, but rose to $1,000-1,200 to cover the cost of the event, mostly due to pandemic-induced pricing upticks for food and lodging. Regardless, it’s still dramatically cheaper than the kinds of rallies Hord was initially trying to partake in, and the fee covers hotels and buffet-style dinners. It also still feels intimate, so attendees can easily catch up with old friends and meet new ones. That sweet spot, Hord says, is about 50-60 cars for the Silver Summit, and about 120 people.
Because, at the end of the day, this is about people. It’s a shared love for adventure, for twisty roads through sprawling nature, and for classic cars, all linked by people who care as much about each other as they do the open road.
“The truth is, I run a business that is supposedly all about cars and driving roads,” says Hord. “But I run a business about people. You know from hanging out in the parking lot at the end of the day, if it wasn’t for the people that are there, the event wouldn’t be any good.”
I can attest. Marrying into this world, I didn’t feel like just a passenger, and I wasn’t just awed by the Utah canyons and Colorado mountains — I was awed by the fact that my favorite part was the sense of community around us as my husband grappled with that pesky accelerator, or when everyone was sharing late-night beers in the Ruby Inn parking lot in Bryce Canyon City. Even when another electrical issue popped up in Durango, forcing us to drop out of the last day of the trip and fly home, we were awarded a hand-made “Hard Luck” trophy to commemorate the epic ups and endearing downs.
“There’s this moment, during the first drivers’ meeting, where I pause, and it looks like I’ve lost my spot in my notebook, but it’s actually a moment where I just look out into the crowd and realize…I did this.” For Hord, it’s the culmination of a dream, and an adventure he can share with others. “It’s that appreciation that 15 years ago, this idea that if we love driving our classic cars on twisty roads, surely somebody else would too.”
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