Scions of Britain — The Love of English Cars
by Brian R. Sheridan
Most people might be offended at being called an S.O.B. However, the term is one of pride and enjoyment for one local group of car enthusiasts. S.O.B. stands for Scions of Britain, a club comprised of British car owners who love tooling around Erie’s roadways.
“When we drive these cars around, we always get beeps from other drivers, or a thumbs-up. I don’t think I have a big ego, but my car is my ego trip,” says Dale Kallenbach, organizer of the 21st Annual British Car Gathering held every summer in Waterford Park.
This year’s show attracted dozens of British cars of all makes and models, all of them classics. Many of them rare, including a 1955 Bentley and a 1979 Panther Lima. S.O.B. members own Jaguars, MGs, Austin-Healys and Triumphs. A number of the owners have won awards for their cars at auto shows. Often, the garage of a member contains more than just one vintage British car.
“Normally you can’t get just one,” Kallenbach says. “You usually find two or three in a garage because they will find something better and try to fix it up. It is an investment like the stock market. But it’s a whole lot more fun.” One of the club’s members even built an extra garage on his new house to store his Jaguar XKE, Jaguar sedan XJ8L and MG TD.
The S.O.B. started nearly 25 years ago when British car enthusiasts Joe and Karen Mazur, of Waterford, and Ben Green, of Union City, met while driving around Presque Isle. They thought it would be fun to find other British car owners. Two years later, the first gathering occurred in Waterford Square. The meeting location reflected the club’s roots because the park features one of the few George Washington statues in America where he is wearing his British officer’s uniform. It also has plenty of parking.
“We are just a fun-loving club,” says longtime member John Welsbacher, the owner of a classic Jaguar sedan. “There are no fees or dues. You just have to own a British car.”
The club meets on the third Thursday of each month (except December), at Jake’s on the Park in Waterford. They also take Sunday drives to interesting landmarks and historic sites in the area.
“Our last run was a guided tour of area cemeteries. We had 19 cars show up and we stopped to see different grave sites. One year, we drove down to Kinzua Dam for a picnic. Usually, we can go about 150–175 miles round trip on a Sunday afternoon drive,” Kallenbach says.
The thrill of driving one of these classic British cars isn’t in the speed. Many of them aren’t very fast. They weren’t designed for the speed of American highways, but for the smaller, narrower back roads of English villages. What makes these cars so special is their styling. Frank Juhasz, the owner of a fully restored Bentley and a pristine 1986 Rolls-Royce, compares their design to groundbreaking architecture.
“Their design comes close to breaking rules of architecture. It mixes masculine and feminine lines together. The manufacturers were masters of design when they figured out ways that the feminine lines would not interfere with the masculine lines. If you look at the gorgeous curved fenders and tapered doors, it plays against the masculine design of the automobile. That’s the beauty. Just so many wonderfully designed masterpieces,” Juhasz enthuses.
The British cars are also fun for the gear heads who enjoy tinkering with motors. In fact, it would be helpful to understand how to repair these sometimes temperamental automobiles.
“I like English cars,” says Marvin Lockwood, of Fairview, “Because I can work on them myself.” Lockwood owns a rare 1979 Panther Lima. “I have a lot of fun with it. There are no electronics to them — they are all mechanical. It is pretty simple working on them and parts are easily available online.”
While they may be easy to work on, you can still easily spend many, many hours — and dollars — fixing up the cars, especially if you want them restored to their original grandeur. When Juhasz bought his Bentley, it needed work after being neglected for decades. He says the leather interior, for instance, was a disaster.
“I can’t even begin to think about how many hours I put into that car,” he says. “You have the highest quality material but you need to spend hundreds of hours treating the leather and bringing it back to soft condition. It would cost $25,000 to re-leather the car. And the leather was in perfect shape — it just needed work.”
American servicemen shipped the first British cars to American shores after discovering the fun of driving them while stationed in England during World War II. Today, the Scions of Britain keep that tradition alive on local roadways. The vintage British cars may not have the power of American muscle cars, the reliability of Japanese cars, or the engineering of German cars, but for what they lack in those areas, they make up for in personality, style and fun.
Originally published at www.goerie.com on October 27, 2013.