Detroit irons dash into Copperstate rally

PHOENIX, Ariz. —  There was something different about this 22nd running of the Copperstate 1000 vintage sports car rally. Several of the more than 70 participating vehicles were not quite what you’d define as sports cars.

Now, it’s typical for a couple of such cars to show up. For example, every year, Ed Marshall brings his 1966 Pontiac GTO, and there’s usually a couple of vintage American classics on the cruise; this year they included 1935 Auburn 851 Phaeton and a 1937 Packard 12507 Dietrich Victoria convertible.

And, again as usual, Ferraris and Shelbys — Mustangs and Cobras — and Corvettes and Jaguars and Porsches comprised the majority of the Copperstate contingent.

And there were the breathtaking sports cars, including the 1942 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS — one of only six left on the planet — with its Aerodynamica bodywork, and the 1956 HRG — one of only four built with the Le Mans Twin Cam engine — and the bright red over white 1954 Arnolt Bristol, the 1957 Jaguar Cozzi Special, the 1956 Jaguar D-type racer, the stunning 1953 Viganle-bodied Ferrari 212, the 1955 Kurtis 500 from the famed Mexican road race, and even a trio of rare Porsche 911 RSs.

But what was different this year was the presence of some relatively late model Detroit iron — late meaning 1960s because no vehicle built after the 1973 model year is eligible for the trip. For example, not only was there Marshall’s GTO but a 1967 “goat” as well, plus a 1963 Buick Riviera, a 1969 Pontiac Firebird, a 1964 Pontiac Bonneville convertible, and even a 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertible with a Continental kit.

“I was somewhat shocked when they accepted my entry” admitted Craig Stull, owner of the power-blue ’64 Bonneville.

Stull built his Bonneville as a tribute to his mother. As a teenager back in Dayton, Ohio, he had learned to drive — “and to parallel park” — in his mother’s powder-blue ’64 Bonneville convertible.

Stull hunted for but couldn’t find a ’64 Bonneville convertible in the same interior and exterior color combination, so he finally bought what he thought was a well-restored one that was painted burgundy on the outside and had a black interior. Turns out the frame was fine, but once the exterior paint was removed, Stull discovered the body needed a lot of work. Stull’s restoration figured to take two years, but Stull hadn’t figured it would take an extra year to find the right exterior door panels.

But the car was finished and Stull thought “it would be fun” to take it on the annual 1000-mile rally around Arizona, so he applied — and, to his pleasant surprise — was accepted by the organizing committee.

Some sports car purists may not have been thrilled with such less exotic, less than svelte American cars, but others welcomed them.

“This rally is all about people driving cars that people like seeing on the road,” said Rick Rome, whose 1957 Jaguar Cozzi Special was among the most exotic of the Copperstate contingent.
</p><p>”And the people at the stadium loved the muscle cars,” added his wife and co-driver, Nancy.

“The stadium” would be Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team and the place from which the Copperstate 1000 launches its drive, which this year went from Phoenix on a roundabout route north to Flagstaff, then south to Tucson and on to just north of the U.S./Mexico border before coming back to Phoenix.

The Copperstate 1000 is organized by the Men’s Arts Council as a fund-raiser for the Phoenix Art Museum (money also is raised each year for the 10-90 Foundation which helps the families of Arizona state troopers who have been injured or killed in the line of duty).

Among the MAC’s many road-rally innovations is the “Field of Dreams” car show which arrays the 70-80 Copperstate cars around the baseball fields warning track, puts customs and hot rods on the stadium’s mezzanine, and opens the stadium parking lots to local cars clubs and car collectors for what has become one of the area’s major car shows.

This year, there was Detroit iron not only in the parking lot but arrayed around the baseball field.

Pointing to the Pontiacs and Buick and big Chevy convertible, one of the of Copperstate participants explained, “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.”

Ironically, it was Marshall, the Copperstate regular and GTO driver, who expressed any displeasure with the Detroit-built newcomers.

“I get to see these all the time,” he said. “I like to see the exotic foreign cars [on the Copperstate because] I don’t see them all the time.”

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at