Oak Park auto aficionado heads British car show
Updated: June 12, 2012 5:42PM
Excitement is the watchword at the Scottish Festival and Highland Games in Itasca on June 15-16. But after the thrills of the caber toss and the chills of the (frozen) haggis hurl, something a bit more sedate might be in order. Darryl Babuk, of Oak Park, has ordered up just the thing — rows of sleek, shiny autos, ready for a close up and personal inspection at the annual Highland Games British Car Show.
Babuk has been involved with the car show since 2007, chair of it since 2008. Via email, he explained how he got the job, and talked about the high points of the event.
Q. Are you in the job because you are a car aficionado? Do you own/restore or simply like them?
A. I am a car guy. When I started organizing the Highland Games British Car Show, I had a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair. At the time, I had my office in Scoville Square on Oak Park Avenue and I worked with local merchants to stage car shows along Oak Park Avenue. Using that background, I lent a hand to the Saint Andrew Society — The Chicago Scots — to organize the British Car Show at the Highland Games.
In the meantime, I acquired a 1977 Mini Clubman Estate. Very British, all 10-feet, 9 and one-half inches of it. Even had right hand drive and British plates. “Benny,” as it was known, became the mascot of the Thistle and Heather Highland Dancers because it would withstand parade speeds without overheating. It was recently in a car wreck and became just a bit shorter. Benny is now leading a life in Kansas City as a delivery vehicle for a tie dye t-shirt business.
I like British cars because I grew up with them. Being Canadian, British cars were considered to be imported but not “foreign” at all. I grew up wanting to buy a Mini from Cooke Motors in Calgary, but they stopped selling them by the time I graduated from high school. That said, I wouldn’t mind a 1963 Vauxhall Cresta PA, the model with fins and a wrap around rear window.
Q. How many cars will be on display? Are they all from local owners or do people travel to this show? What kinds of cars will be featured? Are they all working cars?
A. We should have about 15-20 cars on display, all from local owners. I’m working with various British car clubs — like Lotus Corps Chicago, the Chicagoland MG Club, MINIS and the Illinois Jaguar Club — to find cars to exhibit. Though many feel that British cars are best suited to be lawn ornaments, these cars are living proof that beautiful British cars are meant for enjoyment and frequent driving pleasure.
Q. The show is called British Car Show. Are there (or have there been) cars made in Scotland? If so, what kinds, where? And will some of these be featured at the show?
We ask that the cars displayed are British cars that were manufactured in the United Kingdom. There are but a few cars that were manufactured in Scotland, mainly from the Rootes Group, which eventually became part of Chrysler. A friend has displayed his Hillman Imp over the years. The Imp is very much a Scottish car. Humber Sceptres and Hillman Avengers were also produced in Scotland. We have many different British marques on display — I’ve already mentioned Austin and Morris Minis, Lotus, MG and Jaguar — but we’ve also had Rolls Royce, Triumph and Rover. The little British roadsters from the ’50s and ’60s are a staple. We usually get a tremendous selection of cars.
Many of the owners of these cars belong to the Scottish Motor Club of the Chicago Scots. Being the Highland Games, many drivers appear in full highland regalia and partake in many of the Scottish festivities offered at the Highland Games like bagpiping and rugby. I’ve mused over the years that kilts are probably the reason why we never seem to have any cars with suicide doors!
Q. Is there a strong interest in fine old cars in Scotland? Any models in particular that the Scots favor, or that have a special place in Scots history?
A. A couple years ago when my friend displayed his Hillman Imp, a fellow came up to me, speaking in a strong Scottish brogue and fighting back tears in his eyes with a story that this was his first car, that his father worked on the assembly line in the Rootes factory and that the plant has sinced closed and has been replaced by an office park and collection of fast food restaurants. It was a heartbreaking story.
Otherwise, a 1953 Austin A-20 was on display a couple years ago — huge fenders, jumpseat, burled walnut dashboard and grille badges celebrating the Royal Motor Association and the Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II. It was a crowd favourite.
Q. For a non-car person, what are some of the qualities to be appreciated in these cars?
A. They are beautiful pieces of art with absolutely sensational lines and shapes. From a history standpoint, they represent that part of British — and Scottish — society that is so attractive to Americans.
Q. If I have time to see only a handful of cars, which are the cars I should try to see, and why?
A. Personally, I’m a sucker for vintage Jaguars, like the 1960 Mk 10 that was displayed last year. A friend and his wife are bringing matching his and hers Minis — he has a Mini Traveller Estate Wagon with real wooden trim, while she has a Mini Clubman Saloon (known as a sedan here, stateside). They’ve won many awards and drive their minis daily.